Constructing the rotor mount

Next, the rotor and right-angle drill attachment must be mounted to the top of the rotor tower. The mount needs to be strong enough to withstand the force exerted upon it by the drive system.

The design I came up with was a three-point mounting bracket to securely hold the right-angle drill attachment (shown above). Utilizing the left and right bolt holes intended for the drill attachment’s handle, I bolted the attachment to two pieces of steel (bed frame). I then drilled a hole through a third piece of bed frame just large enough for the attachment’s drive shaft spacer to slip through and easily spin.

Here’s another shot of the right-angle drill attachment mounting bracket (above).  The pieces are clamped and ready to be tacked.

Pictured above is the finished rotor mount.

Pictured above is the completed rotor tower and rotor mount (viewed from above).  Prior to welding, the mount was clamped to the tower and the tower bolted to the trike frame in order to position mount accurately for proper chain alignment of the drive system. This took a little adjusting of both the rotor mount above and positioning of the freewheel on the trike rear axel.

However, once correctly aligned, the drive system worked as planned. With the use of plenty of C clamps I was able to perform a roll test of the Flying Machine prior to final welding.

Building the rotor tower

The rotor had to be mounted high enough above the rider’s head to prevent accidental contact with the rider’s head or hands. And, of course, the tower had to be strong enough to support a spinning rotor.

I did not want to weld the rotor tower to the trike frame because I wanted to be able to mount and unmount the entire assembly (tower and rotor) when desired. So, a bolt-on tower was necessitated.

The Torker Trike has four pre-drilled holes through it’s rear frame (shown in the photo above).  These holes are provided to mount the trike’s rear basket, however they also support installation of a rear canopy structure.

I chose to use these holes to mount the rotor tower.

The simple design of the rotor tower (shown in the photo above) consisted two open rectangular frames (a top and bottom) welded to four corner supports. Keeping the bottom frame open allows for the drive system’s chain to run up and down through the middle of the tower — lending a cool steampunk aesthetic, as well.

For the top and bottom rectangular frame material I used my go-to source of steel — repurposed bed frames (leftover lengths from previous projects pictured above). Used bed frames can be found very inexpensively off of Craigslist or at your local thrift store. I have even found them for free in Craigslist’s “Free Stuff” section.

For the tower supports I used my other favorite go-to material — EMT Conduit. For this project I used 3/4″ diameter EMT Conduit. 10′ lengths of this material can be purchased for less than $4 a piece at your local hardware store.

And, yes, I considered using the steel bed frame angle iron for the tower supports as well, but I felt the use of EMT conduit would look better as well as reduce weight.

I sized the tower’s bottom and top frames to match the depth between the trike’s two rear cross members.

Use a corner clamp (shown above) to hold the pieces in place for tack welding.

Pictured above is the rotor tower’s bottom support frame. Make an identical 2nd one for the top frame.

With the EMT cut to length use magnetic 90-degree welding supports to hold the EMT in place for tack welding.

Pictured above is the completed frame for rotor tower. Strong, Sturdy, bombproof.  Now to construct the rotor mount.

Sourcing the chain for the drive

I didn’t realize at the onset of this build, but the project ultimately required about 14 feet of bicycle chain.

I had some used chains in my parts bins, but some were in pretty bad shape (i.e. rusted, froze, etc.). After collecting usable pieces I was still short. At this point I could have simply purchased new chain, but what’s the fun in that.

Rather than purchase new I visited my go-to place for inexpensive bike parts to find all the chain I needed. The Kiwanis Bike Program (pictured above) is a great source for bikes, frames, parts, and more, AND at a fraction of the cost of new. Oftentimes a small monetary donation is all that is asked for parts. [AND it goes to a good cause. Check out http://www.kiwanisbikes.org for more info – Ed.]

After sourcing enough chain it was time to clean the dirty ones. I have a ultrasonic cleaner that I picked up at Harbor Freight that I use as a parts cleaner for my dirty greasy bike parts.

In the photos above you can see the “before” and “after” shots of the same chain after going for dip in the ultrasonic parts cleaner.

The Drive System — freewheel, sprocket, and other bits

With the rotor built it was time to move on to the drive system. The Da Vinci Flying Machine’s drive system consisted of simply connecting the trike’s rear (live) axel to the right-angle drill attachment via a long length of bicycle chain.

I purchased a 13-tooth sprocket to attach to the drive of the right-angle drill attachment and a 22-tooth freewheel to mount on the live axel. Also purchased the appropriate freewheel adaptors (see photo above and parts list below.)

In the photo above the 22T freewheel is seen installed on the rear axle.

In order to mount the 13T sprocket (5/8″ ID) on to the right-angle drill attachment’s 1/2″ drive I needed a spacer (shown in the photo above).

The photo above shows the 13T sprocket, the sprocket adaptor, and the spacer attached to the right-angle drill attachment’s drive shaft.

Parts list for the above…

[Update: For the final version of the build I swapped placement of the freewheel and sprocket. In other words, I used the 13-tooth sprocket on the trike axle and used the 22-tooth freewheel on the right-angle drill attachment. For more detail see the Comments in this post: The Da Vinci Flying Machine in Action.]

Building the rotor

In the spirit of repurposing, I picked up a used ceiling fan from the “free” section of Craigslist. [This was either in 2014 or 2015 – Ed.] The fan has been sitting in my shop [taking up space] until now.

First thing I did was remove the fan blades and their brackets. These are the pieces I repurposed for the Flying Machine’s rotor.

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Next, I prepared a 5″ blank metal plate ($1.18 from Home Depot) for attaching the fan blade brackets and blades to.

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First I drilled a 3/8″ center hole.

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This hole is for the rotor’s main vertical shaft.

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Then, using a compass, I marked a concentric circle on which to align the holes to be drilled for the fan blade brackets.  Note: Alignment is crucial here; take your time and get this right.

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Use whatever method suits you to ensure equal spacing between the fan blades.

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Once marked, drill the holes.  I drilled pilot holes and then stepped up to a 1/4″ drill bit. The finished plate is pictured below.

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After the holes were drilled I attached the fan blade brackets using 1/4″ hex bolts and nyloc nuts.

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…And then installed the rotor’s shaft. I used a 3/8″ bolt for the rotor’s shaft.  Note: all nuts used on the rotor assembly are nylon insert lock nuts (aka nylon nuts).  I used these type of nuts because the expected vibration and motion on the assembly.

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…And, finally, install the rotor’s blades. In the picture below the rotor’s blades have been installed and the rotor’s shaft is inserted into the 90° drive. Note: another plus of using a right-angle drill attachment for the 90° gear box is that the drill attachment’s chuck makes attaching and removing the rotor [e.g. for transport] very easy.

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Why a right-angle drill attachment?

What is this thing and what will it be used for?

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You’re looking at a right-angle drill attachment.

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This little device performs the same function as a 90° gear box.

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…specifically, to accept power (torque) onto the input drive shaft and to turn the direction of drive through 90 degrees (a right angle) to the output drive shaft.

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The drill attachment achieves this functionality in the same way a 90° gear box does — through the use of two bevel gears.

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Using this apparatus is more cost-effective and practical than building my own 90° gear drive system or gear box. And why do I need a 90° drive system? Because the power from pedaling the trike [where the sprockets are aligned vertically] needs to transfer to the rotor blades of the Flying Machine [where the rotor is aligned horizontally (or at 90° to the trike’s drive system)].

[Although, building a gear box would have been a fun project in itself; after noodling around with some designs and looking at the cost of supplies {gears are expensive!}, I determined that this piece of the Flying Machine project could best be attained with this right-angle drill attachment. Plus, I found one for less than $12. – Ed.]

Chariot for the Kids (aka Makeshift Pedicab Trailer)

For our third Burning Man experience (2010) my wife and I decided to take our kids with us. We knew they would have a blast riding their bikes across the flat expanses of the playa. But having experienced the sheer size of Black Rock City in years prior we also knew that the distances travelled to get from one art installation to the next would quickly tire our children. So I began to think of a solution that would allow us to bike across the open playa as a family.

The main mode of transportation in BRC is by bicycle. The obvious solution was some kind of bike trailer in which to pull the kids around. In 2010, I had not yet begun building custom and mutated bikes.  I had no welder, grinder, or materials.  Heck, I didn’t even have a workshop back then.

So, my trailer design needed to be simple, and built from repurposed items. I searched Craigslist for bike trailers, and found a used one for $30.  The canopy was torn and dirty, but that was fine because all I needed were the wheels and bottom frame.

I removed the canopy and canopy’s support rods. As luck would have it, the steel frame had four brackets welded to it for connecting the canopy’s supporting frame.  These brackets were positioned nicely for attaching a chair to. The chair I had in mind was a reclining camp chair, which I already had.

Again, as luck would have it, the width of the recliner’s legs matched the width of the trailer’s frame. When opened the recliner’s legs fit nicely between the front and rear canopy mounting brackets on the frame. I then securely fastened the recliner to the trailer frame and took it for a spin.

Success! My first build — pre-welder days. Of course, I admit I got lucky that the used trailer I picked up and the camp chair that I had in the garage sized so well together. Also, the design of the recliner was such that when the rider reclined the center of gravity remained over the trailer’s wheels and axle.

Pictured below is my daughter in “The Kids Chariot” at Burning Man 2010.

Of course what Burning Man chariot wouldn’t be complete without some protection from the sun. In the photo below you can see a repurposed beach umbrella stuck inside a piece of PVC pipe.


This was a quick and easy DIY build and would mark the beginning of many more bike builds to come.

Our family at Burning Man 2010.

Da Vinci’s Flying Machine

The art theme for 2016’s Burning Man was Da Vinci’s Workshop. I was particularly excited with this theme because I knew it would bring out even a greater number of mechanical-related builds, projects and art pieces to the event. But more so, this theme provided me an excuse a reason to finally build something that I had been thinking about for some time.

I had always wanted to place a rotor (think helicopter) on a bike (or better yet, trike), which would spin when the rider pedaled. This project seemed to fit nicely with 2016’s Burning Man art theme. On top of that, I had recently retaken possession of the Torker Trike. How could I not build this?

Hence the build that came to be known as Da Vinci’s Flying Machine.

The Marauder returns to Burning Man 2016 – after a repair and a mod

The Playa Marauder remains my favorite bike Burning Man. The sheer size of it continues to strike fear into the hearts of the citizens of BRC. 🙂

For 2016 I made a repair and a modification to the beast. During the 2015 festival I lost a couple spokes on one of the front wheels. I thought I’d simply purchase a couple new spokes and install them. Wrong!

As you may or may not be aware, typically when a spoke drops out of a rim while moving the spoke will tangle around the rotating axle tightening against itself until it brings the bike to a complete stop …unless discovered immediately and stopped.

In my case I was unaware of the dropped spoke until the Marauder was slowed to a halt each time. At that point I was forced to dismount the beast and unwind the steel spoke from the axle in order to proceed.

What I was unaware at time and did not discover until I attempted to replace the spokes was that the weight and momentum of the Marauder wrapped the steel spoke so tightly around the axle that the entire front hub twisted.

Here’s a shot of the torqued front hub.

How the heck did that happen?!

Pretty gnarly, huh?

So, my thought of a relatively quick and easy spoke replacement turned into sourcing a new front hub and a complete re-lacing of the wheel.  [Given the unique size of the wheels (32″) this was not an easy task.]

You can be sure that I tightened the spokes on this re-lacing quite tight. And I’m happy to report that not a single spoke was dropped during the 2016 festival.

The modification I made was to make a new set of front fenders utilizing the original rear fenders from the Genesis Super 32’s.  Because the rear fenders are longer than the front fenders, using them in the front really lowered their profile (see photo below).

As you can see I modified the rear fenders in the same cow-catcher style that I had used on the original front fenders.

Above is a photo of the Playa Marauder in its element at Burning Man 2016.

I’m always thinking of new builds for the playa.  Not sure what I’ll build for 2017’s festival, but regardless the Marauder will accompany me as well.

My First Burning Man Bike Project

[Because this was my first build and was completed many years prior to the creation of this blog, I did not take step-by-step photos of the build process at the time.  Therefore I am writing this account a few years after the fact; consequently this is the only post in this particular build thread. – Ed.]

I attended Burning Man for the first time in 2008. After seeing all the amazing art installations and mutated (modified) vehicles and bicycles I knew that I had to make something for my next visit to Burning Man, which occurred the following year — 2009.

Music is a big part of the festival.  In fact, music can be heard everywhere; at all times. All types of music can be found, but predominantly consists of EDM.  Multiple sources being played simultaneously across the city truly creates a cacophony of sound.

So for 2009 I thought I’d add to the atmosphere with a mobile sound system. My thought was for a self-sustained rig that I could bring anywhere via a bike — since bicycles are the main mode of transportation in Black Rock City.

As I thought about the size of the sound system that I wanted to build I realized that an adult-size trike rather than a bicycle would provide greater possibilities.

Searching Craigslist I found a used trike for sale which I snapped up.  It was a Torker Tristar with 24″ wheels all around.  Now the build could commence.

Above is the sound system on the trike.  I took this rig out to Burning Man for four or five years in a row. It never failed me and its sounds (mainly 70s AM pop) brought joy to many a burner.

Along the years some enhancements were made. For example in 2010 I swapped the Torker Tristar’s 24″ front wheel and fork for a 26″ front wheel and fork — a nice improvement for traversing the (soft, at times) playa surface.

I also replaced the original motor cycle 12V battery for a Werker deep cycle 12V batter — another nice improvement that added hours of playing time between recharges.

Recently I found some notes from when I built the original incarnation of the Torker Tristar mobile sound system. Below you’ll see a scan of the list of parts I sourced (mainly from Craigslist) for the build.

One amp drives the 12″ sub-woofer and the other drives the mid-ranges and tweeter.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this thing gets LOUD!

Also, looking at the list above I see that another enhancement I made to the system was to replace the crappy Roadmaster 2-way speaker system with a much more efficient (read: LOUDER) Cerwin-Vega speaker box (pictured on top of the subwoofer above).

All components of the system were mounted (with large, bomb-proof, wood screws) to the subwoofer’s wooden box.  I then added handles to the sub so that the entire system could be lifted out of it’s form-fitting, framed platform.  In this way I could remove the system from the trike for those times I did not want to carry around the weight of the system.

The handles also served as a nice back-up tie down point to secure the sound system to the trike’s frame.  All-in-all the entire rig was pretty bombproof.

Because this was pre-bluetooth days, I played music through a 1st-generation iPod Touch. I had many mixes pre-loaded on to the iPod Touch, but as I mentioned above the 70’s AM pop was always a crowd pleaser.