Archive for April, 2013

New-Old Xtracycle Bag

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Just finished a four-year-old project.

I started on a pair of leather bags for my bike back in 2009, but somehow only ended up finishing one of them. The basic panel for this one sat in a milk crate under a spare industrial sewing machine motor and some other hemp Xtracycle panels that we cut in 2011(?)

I think that reason that I only made one back in 2009 was that these bags are deceptively complicated, and the first one took so long. I forget about this until somebody finds a picture of one of our bags online and sends me a custom order like this one. Then I say that I can do it for $200 and it takes me 20 hours. Man, they are a lot of work.

I was feeling it yesterday, though, and had a little time in the shop with Penny Lee and KZFR. I wanted to make a new one that incorporated the tweed and leather style that we have been toying with for our new handlebar bags. The tweed is backed with heavy-duty cordura packcloth.

One reason that the bags take so long is that we build a separate suspension/harness out of seatbelt webbing that distributes the load across the whole panel – I was worried that if we just used leather, that the loops that go over the top of the Xtracycle frame would stretch or sag – you can see the harness as 2 lines of horizontal stitching about 3 inches down from the top.

Another reason I quit on the last one was that our walking foot machine wasn’t working very well, and it kept choking right in the middle of each line of decorative stitching. Unlike nylon or other textiles, if you blow a line of stitching in leather, when you pull the thread, you are stuck with a bunch of holes in the fabric that don’t rub out – you have to start over. The main panels for these bags use 9 square feet of leather each, so mistakes are expensive, or you just have to live with them. Leather is fairly heavy but so are Xtracycles! These bags probably weigh more than some road bikes, but we aren’t weight Nazis around here – we’d rather look cool. Also, Chico is flat.

I sure like rivets.

The straps are military-surplus cam buckles. One day a guy showed up at our house with a shoebox full of them (about 80). He said ‘Some of your friends from Westwood go you our church and they told us about you, do you have a use for these?’ They are great. Thanks Larry and Seren! I have been liking having tie-downs for ratchet straps and bungees, so we added extra loops to the webbing that holds the buckles, and ask some sewn loops between each buckles.

Inside pocket with snaps.
We can make you a pair, but it might take us a few years to finish them.

Cultivating Communities North Valley hired us to develop a handout/curriculum for a workshop on tool maintenance and repair. Here is the first draft.all_handtools

We are putting on a tool repair and maintenace workshop next Friday for Cultivating Communities North Valley. CCNV’s mission is to:
…increase food security by serving the … needs of low-income residents, local growers, and service agencies.

Getting invited to ‘perform’ for an event like this makes me mull what it is that we have that is worth sharing, so here are some thoughts on tools and repair in a story about one small project.

Repair is about knowing: how the broken object functions, why it broke, what the broken part is made of, and which tools and materials to use to make a replacement part. You could take it one step further and say that if you take good care of your tools, you won’t have to fix them.

I don’t think of repair as a skill set – I think of it as a living expression of culture. It is in our collective DNA. Our ancestors were handy people who knew how to repair things because that was what you did if something broke. Repair is not dead in our culture – Google ‘Repair Iphone screen’ and you will get 106,000,000 results.

Our accumulated knowledge. Hand-written sheet metal pattern book from mid-20th century.

The knowledge to fix ANYTHING mechanical exists here in our community.

We can even fix things when we have no idea what they do.

And the raw materials are here too.

My dad grew up on a wheat farm about 20 miles from the nearest hardware store. Like most farmers they were poor – my Grandpa was born in a sod-roofed dirt shack dug into the prairie. Nothing was ever thrown away, but in1956, they went broke, auctioned off all of their equipment (most of it still owned by the Bank), and moved to a Hayward, California suburb. My Grandpa became a builder, as his father had been, and spent the next 20 years putting up big buildings in the Bay Area. My dad became a builder too. Grandpa started a new bonepile, bringing home leftover screws and bolts, nails, boxes of tile, and hinges from the various jobs they did. A lot of it went into a house he built, but eventually we inherited all of that booty, and bits and pieces are still finding their way into our projects.

The bonepile. I used some of this stuff today to fix a trowel.

Time is the only thing that we really have, and I think we need to renegotiate our relationship with it. I’d rather spend an hour in the shop than an hour going to Home Depot. The idea that it is cheaper to buy a new shovel when the handle breaks only pencils out your only choice is to either buy a $10 handle or new piece-of-shit $12 shovel. If your original shovel is of high-quality (Made in the USA, England, Germany, or somewhere other than China), by all means you should fix it – you may never find a better one from here on out, and the satisfaction that you get from doing the job will come back to you every time that you use the tool.

First question – Is this tool worth fixing? If you have a cheap Chinese garden fork with tines that keep bending, the answer is probably no – you will just end up with a shitty tool with a nice handle. I got this broken garden fork in an auction for $2. It was intact, but the handle was badly cracked. It was forged in the USA – this is a quality tool, made from good carbon steel. If the person who had this before me was able to crank on it hard enough to break the handle without bending the tines, that is also a good sign that they are solid.

Another thought about my Grandad’s generation – in the early 1940s, steel scrap prices were high, and trains came through Montana loading up all of the old tractors, plows, and scrap. It was all sold to Japan, which used the steel to militarize their country in preparation for WWII. During the war my Grandma and Grandpa were both employed at the Alameda Naval Air Station repairing shot-up airplanes from the Pacific Theatre. My Grandpa said that he couldn’t help but wonder if the guns that did the damage were made from his old tractors.

Recycling is a losing proposition. Scrap prices are high now too, and the high-quality tool that you haul to the dump or scrap yard will go to China (for sure) and come back as a disposable shovel, or something else of lesser value than what it is now. Also, instead of turning our good steel into guns, the Chinese are turning our good steel into USA debt, which we seem to be happy to exchange for garbage. Good tools are a resource to our community, and Nation. Don’t throw them away.

Baseball bats are a great source of handle stock. They are premium-grade hardwood, selected for their tight grain and lack of knots. This trowel needed a new handle, so I shaved the butt-end of a bat down to fit within the ferrule (metal band) salvaged from a broken rake (thanks Bonepile). This bat was $1 at a yard sale.

I flattened the side of the bat with a sharp hatchet, and scribed the shape of the old handle socket onto the bat. Used the hatchet for all of the rough shaping of the new handle.

Carpenter’s hatchet with a flat face – kept razor sharp, kind of like a big chisel on a stick. Here the handle has it’s rough shape, and is ready for smoothing with a block plane.

Used an electric drill and chisel to prepare a hole in the handle end for the bar on the fork – the drill was the only electric tool used on the project.

I used a center punch to tap a small pilot hole to guide a drill bit into the center of the rivet, and then drilled the head off of the rivet.

Using a drift punch to remove the rivets from the old T-handle.

New handle shaped, fitted to the original socket, and hammered onto the fork.

A simple job using these simple tools.
Block plane
Hammers and punches
Crescent wrench

It still needs a piece of wood for the cross-piece on the T-handle, better find another bat.

I just finished a bag for our friend Ron, who is a bike mechanic, pacifist, former Marine, and man of action. Ron is passionate about bikes as a solution to oil-driven war and violence, and has made building low-cost bikes his life’s work. He has also ridden his bike across the country several times on rallies to protest war and militarism.

Ron Bikes 4 Peace

Ron left Chico yesterday to ride on part of a cross-country tour that is being led by Cindy Sheehan, who became a major voice in the antiwar movement after losing her son in the Iraq war. The ride is called Tour de Peace, and it is a fundraiser for charities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ron is riding as far as Flagstaff, and the rest of the riders will follow Route 66 to Chicago, and finish their ride in Washington D.C. The riders demand: To end wars, to end immunity for U.S. war crimes, to end suppression of our civil rights, to end the use of fossil fuels, to end persecution of whistleblowers, to end partisan apathy and inaction.

The riders in action:

I decided to make Ron a bag for his ride, and hoped that the bag would make it across the country with the tour. Ron just built a bike for Cindy using spare parts and with donations from a lot of our local bike shops. He said that he’ll give Cindy the bag once they get to Arizona.

Made in the USA

This was an introspective project – what do you make for a woman who is riding to mourn her son and raise money for the innocent people in the countries that we have destroyed? I thought about making the bag all out of military surplus fabric as a metaphor for healing the cycle of wasted potential, squandered resources, and ruined lives, but I ended up thinking that I wanted to make a piece that was beautiful, calm, rich, and fit for a grandmother – a dignified woman out on an important errand.

This bag ended up being a little larger than our stock handlebar bags, and it barely fits inside of Ron’s mustache bars. It is supported by our locally-forged steel frame.

I used repurposed tweed, upholstery scrap, and a bit of a waxed-cotton tarp that was the roof of our friend Lauren’s family’s Sierra Nevada summer tent cabin.

Most of our handlebar bags haven’t had lids on them, as I like being able to graze out of mine as I ride, and they are deep enough that things don’t usually fall out, but Ron wanted a cover for foul weather, so we came up with this first draft – it is made from repurposed drysuit material that we got from a friend who does fisheries research. The back is attached with snaps, so you can remove it when the sun is shining. Trim and clip on the front are military surplus.

We ended up with a bit of military surplus in there after all – the trim on the sides, buckles, and brass D-rings are all surplus. Actually the only new or virgin materials in this project are the rivets, thread, and steel rod in the frame that holds up the bag.

Salvage is the new patriotism. We salute the peace riders.