Monday, November 18, 2013

The frame

Bicycle frames have evolved over 200 years, and there isn't much I'm going to do in my workshop to improve them.  A thin wall steel tube frame is probably the best choice for a cargo bike anyhow, as it won't fracture or splinter like carbon or wood when the bike gets dropped down some stairs, and is more easily repairable or modified than aluminum.  (I've seen projects that I've built a year or two after they were finished, and sometimes I've wondered "How on earth did this happen???")  Steel can take some abuse, which is good for a working bike that is carrying someone at 20 mph with no routine maintenance plan.

In general the walls of the bike frames I cut apart were about 1/16" thickness (0.060"), and they had a bead running down the inside of the seam, so they were not Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM).  Many bike frames are made of chrome moly (CrMo) steel, which is stronger than more common carbon steel.  (The tensile/yield properties for CrMo are around 70,000 to 85,000 psi, whereas 1020 is more like 45,000 to 60,000.)  However CrMo is slightly more likely to crack around welds, and isn't as workable.  So I used a good carbon steel and sized the tube slightly larger to make up for the psi.  It's a few ounces heavier, which will be more of a concern several bikes from now.

Down tube (behind front wheel), in jig ready for welding

One of the nice things about making a frame is that it can be made to suit the job better.  For example I used a 69 degree angle on the front fork stem, which gives slightly slower steering than most bikes, making the cargo bike more stable.  Also I dropped the crank as far as possible, to make it easier for riders to step through, or to stop and stand at an intersection.

MIG welding was used, which is not as pretty as TIG, but still serviceable.  My opinion here (Warning!) is that since abrupt changes in section create stress risers, the many ridges going across a TIG weld aren't as good as a smoother MIG weld, and the reason why either works is because the root section is so thick the stress risers don't matter.

I'm off grid, and the welding was solar powered.

The finished frame getting a coat of paint.

The frame, box, and lid were built concurrently, to make sure they fit together.  Porsche has been using water based paints on it's cars for several years now, so I wanted to try something other than the usual automotive spray cans.  Latex generally is too soft, so I tried to find some water based polyurethane at first, but it doesn't seem to be available anymore.  The final choice was a high gloss brush on exterior acrylic latex.  It works well, with some caveats:
-A good primer coat is needed or the steel will rust and turn the paint brown.
-Good prep work is needed for a good primer coat.
-It takes at least two months to dry.  The frame can be worked on the next day if you treat it very, very carefully, but it won't be hard.
-As it dries the brush strokes flatten out, and well brushed sections can turn out like automotive paint.
I'm planning on continuing to use paint like this, and improve the application technique.  A further experiment will be a clear topcoat, but that will require scheduling so that the first coat can dry thoroughly.


  1. Hello I just read your blog about the beautiful bike cargo . I wonder if you have a framework of realization of plan and the solar plant . I would like to realize a Sound Bike cargo in order to animate multiple festivitèes
    D thank you in advance for answer me if there is a way or no have these schemas
    Bonjour je viens de lire ton blog a propos du magnifique velo cargo. Je voudrais savoir si tu as un plan de realisation du cadre et de la centrale solaire. Je voudrais realiser un Sound Bike cargo en vue d animer multiples festivitèes
    D avance merci pour me repondre si il y a moyen ou pas d avoir ces schemas

  2. Hi,
    I am planing a similar bike build. My target is bakfiets type bike, which could carry me and two kids. This would amount to 350 lbs of weight. What size of tubing have you used for your bike frame, have you tried it with bigger loads than yourself? Thanks.

    1. The main tube on the bakfiets is 2" (inch) diameter. The box is 31" long, and the longest tube span of 32" is under it (and it is 54" overall to the pedals). My weight and the heaviest loads I carry have been about 250 lbs, and it has not bent at all. The 31" box is very big and a shorter box would be even stronger, but there are too many variables for me to say it would definitely work at 350 lbs. I've been using 0.060" wall tubing and am trying to change to 0.040" to save weight, but you do have to be more careful with the welding. I'm also exploring using two small tubes as the top and bottom of a truss (i.e. the longtail). Mike Burrow's 8Freight bikes use a fairly small lower main tube over a long span, but he also has a top hoop that is helping to support the load. (He has had cracking problems in the tubing, I think because it is flexing a lot around the corners and is aluminum.) You can get a stronger frame if you make the cargo box part of the structure. I'll also mention that the Bullitt uses much taller frame tubing under the cargo area, but it is a long, open cargo span.