The Playa Marauder

The Playa Marauder was a very fun build begun in June 2015 and finished in August 2015.  This bike project was built for Burning Man 2015.

Like the Gitche Gumee Tadpole built the year prior, the Playa Marauder employed a three-wheel “tadpole” design.  The tadpole design is perfect for the soft and unpredictable surface conditions of the playa.  Such a design has all the stability of a trike, but also the direct-drive traction provided by a single rear wheel drive.

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When I unveiled this bad-boy to the interwebs this was the introduction accompanying the unveiling..

Introducing my latest mutant bike build for Burning Man 2015: the Playa Marauder.  One part Mongoose Beast, two parts Genesis Super 32, and eight parts attitude add up to an eleven on the 10-point Badass scale.

A Mad-Max:Fury-Road-inspired pillager on three wheels, this human-powered playa vehicle features a supersized all-terrain 4-1/4”-wide knobby fat tire on the rear and dual 32” front wheels tadpole-configured on an 38” axle track — allowing this bad boy to effortlessly traverse the deepest playa serpents. Built on pieces chopped from more than seven bicycles, this amalgamation of repurposed bike parts sports inverted cow-catcher-esque fenders in front and a turret-mounted pneumatic harpoon in the rear resulting in a monster trike that is as striking as it is terrifying.

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The Marauder build begins

Because I had built essentially the same design the previous year (see Gitche Gumee Tadpole), this build went very smoothly and quickly. [As always, a big Thank You goes out to Atomic Zombie DIY bike projects for providing the plans for this project! Note: I utilized Atomic Zombie’s step-by-step “Hammerhead Winter Trike” plans for this build. These plans can be found online and in AZ’s “Bicycle Bonanza” book of plans.]

The goal was to create a monster-sized tadpole-design three-wheeler with the aesthetics seen on the mutant vehicles depicted in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

The monster size was achieve by utilizing the frame and rear drive train of a 26″ Mongoose Beast All-Terrain Fat Tire Mountain bike and the front ends (forks, wheels and tires) of two 32″ Genesis Super 32 Cruisers. [Yes, I had these laying around the shop.]

The Mongoose Beast I found on Craigslist a couple years previously for less than $100. Because of the tall profile (sidewall height) of the Beast’s tires, the overall tire’s outside diameter matched that of the Genesis Super 32’s tires.

craigslist beast

One of the Genesis Super 32’s I purchased new online for $179; the other I picked up at the Kiwanis Bike Program for $100.

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I had already used the rear wheels of these two bikes for another project [in process], so I needed to find a home for the two front wheels anyway.

As the name implies the Genesis Super 32 features 32″ wheels! The size of these incredibly tall wheels really need to be seen in person to be truly appreciated.

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[Note: In actuality, despite the marketing of “32”, the outside diameter of the tire is closer to 31″ than 32″; but still, these suckers are huge.

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I also utilized the handle bars and stem from one of the Super 32’s; and saved the chains and seats for parts. But because the frame is aluminum (as opposed to steel), there isn’t much I can do with the frame (from a weldability standpoint), because the welder I use can only weld steel.

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So, unfortunately, the two Super 32 frames may have to become scrap. [You never know though — a project may present itself.] [And, in fact, at the end of the steps of this build you’ll see that the rear fenders were also modded and utilized. – Ed.]

Fabricating the headtubes

One of the first hurdles I encountered was that Genesis Super 32’s frame was made of aluminum, which meant I could not weld it. [The welder I use can only weld steel.]

This presented a challenge in that I could no longer use the Genesis Super 32’s head tubes, which I totally needed because of the unique size of the Super 32’s head tube — it was quite large; both in diameter and length. And nothing in my stockpile of bike frames would fit the Super 32’s bearing cups and fork.

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Next I thought I would simply cut a piece of steel pipe to the appropriate length. Unfortunately none of the pieces of steel pipe that I had in my materials bin had the appropriate inside diameter to seat the bearing cups. The picture below shows that I got close with a piece of 1.5″ EMT conduit, alas not close enough.

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So it was off to the hardware store; bearing cup and magnet in hand. …bearing cup to make sure the found item was the correct size; and magnet to make sure the found item was steel.

After a little digging around I found a coupling for 1.5″ EMT conduit that fit the bearing cups nicely. [See an EMT 1-1/2 in. Set Screw Coupling from Home Depot pictured below].

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Unfortunately, off the shelf, the coupling was too short for the fork’s length. [See the coupling matched against the Super 32’s head tube pictured below.]

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Not a problem. I would simply cut the coupling in half and then extend it appropriately with a piece of 1.5″ EMT conduit and weld the whole thing together.

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The coupling made this task easy in that it had a grove in the center offering the perfect cutting guide, as well as set screws to hold the conduit in place during welding.

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Pictured below is the homemade steering tube assembled (pre-weld) with bearing cups and bearings mounted onto a Genesis Super 32 fork.

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It was as though the little coupling was destined to become a head tube. Pictured below are two homemade head tubes.

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Creating the steering tube

Typically, when converting a bicycle to a three-wheel tadpole design, the bike’s original fork is chopped to create the steering tube to which to connect the tie rods.

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However, because the main bike was a “fat tire” bike with a front fork that fit a 4-1/4″-wide tire, I chose to save the fork (and wheel).  […for some other project TBD.]

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…And so it was off to my parts bin to find a new fork that would fit the Beast’s head tube.

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Unfortunately I did not possess the correct size. So, it was off to the Reno Bike Project to find a fork to fit. As you can see from the picture below, the Reno Bike Project has a little more variety in forks than I do.

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I found one that fit for $10.  Love Reno Bike Project! ♥

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Next the legs were chopped off the found fork…

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…and then the cut edges were ground smooth.

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Then the connector plate for the tie rods was welded onto the bottom of the steering tube.

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Btw, detailed step-by-step plans for building a “tadpole” design trike can be found in Atomic Zombie’s “Bicycle Bonanza” book of plans.  Note: I utilized Atomic Zombie’s step-by-step “Hammerhead Winter Trike” plans for this build.  A BIG Thank You to Atomic Zombie.

Bicycle Builders Bonanza

Building the cross members

I cut four equal lengths of 1″ EMT conduit and then cut and ground fishmouth cutouts into the ends to ensure a flush 90-degree joint. [Hint: use a fishmouth template. Google it.]

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Pictured below are the homemade steering tubes welded up.

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Pictured below are the head tubes welded to the cross members.

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They match!72

Cross members are then mounted at 90-degrees to the Beast’s middle head tube. Alignment is critical here.
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Tying it all together

Go-kart tie rods are used to link the two outside forks to the center steering tube.

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Before welding on the steering connector plates to the bottom of the forks make sure the forks are in perfect alignment. I use a steel rod for this.

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Then make sure you employ a bit of Ackerman steering geometry to the steering plates on the bottom of the forks.  Again the Atomic Zombie plans have step-by-instructions on achieving the correct steering geometry. Pictured below you can see the steering tabs welded to the bottom side of my left and right forks, respectively. [Remember you’re looking at this forks from the bottom.]

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The center steering plate welded on to the bottom of the center steering tube.

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Connecting the steering tabs with the tie rods.

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Mad Max touches

A shout out to Rat Rod Bikes forum user, LocoJoe, who posted pics of his “Post Apocalypse Bike” in one of the RRB galleries. On his bike build LocoJoe cut a bike rim into pieces and used the pieces to create a cowcatcher-esque front fender.  I thought it looked cool and decided the Playa Marauder needed something similar.  Four 12″ rims from little kids bikes were chopped to build these features.

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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.