Development Log

part three

last updated 10/5/98

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We left off of the previous log page at 121 hours, with a machine actually ready to test-drive.

July 21, 1998. Take it out for a SPIN! It doesn't go to well; the toothed belt was hopping on the little pulley and the v-belt pulley was slipping on the shaft. Nonetheless, it was the maiden voyage and it actually went under its own power. My wonderful wife looked on with amusement and interest that the thing actually worked.

MILESTONE: That's right, you got it, maiden voyage!

August 22, 1998. Tweaking. I put in a tensioner on the timing belt (crude... just a RollerBlade wheel on an aluminum strut, bolted and clamped to the frame.) But it allows the belt to deliver more power without skipping, and I drive up and down our street for about an hour. Here's the text of an email that I sent to a motorcycle design list server...

I am proud and tickled to announce that I took my tilting trike for its first ride today.

The coolest thing? I have been pushing the tilter here and there in the garage, and the driveway, as I do the work on it, and the tilting was stiff, and the steering cranky (friction of the tire on the tarmac) but damn, once you get rolling, HAH! Heaven!

Just as you can't ride no-hands on a bike at low speeds but get stability once you get moving, so too with the tilt trike: the steering became comfortable, solid-feeling, and, that's right... neutral after about 5 or 8 mph. Steering became a matter of gentle pushes of my toes against the tilt control pedals, and the steering levers would just do what they had to if you left them alone. And for anyone who doesn't believe in countersteering, well, this becomes a laboratory for the phenomenon: no choice for sharp turns.

Two hours today...

Total time so far: 123 hours.
August 22 and 23, 1998. Thinking. My wife and I went to a wedding (which means time for a-drivin' and a-thinkin') and we stayed over at her folks' house (which means, because her father is like-minded, time for a-chattin' and a-thinkin').
It's time for a little redesign: Consequently, the next step is to price out the pulley options. Away I go: Olmstead-Flint, my pulley pushers, are about to get a call.

I was a-drivin'and a-chattin' anyhow, so I am not counting this a-thinkin' time.

Total time: holding at 123 hours.
August 26, 1998. Take apart the drive train, take the parts to my the pusherman (pulley pusher, that is) to make damn sure everything will fit. Visit Olmstead-Flint and drop another $130 on pulleys and a shaft coupling. It's hard to wait to reassemble the thing!

2 hrs

Total time: 125 hours.
August 27 - September 13 1998. Put the thing back together kind of, take it out, drive it 60', have it disassemble itself sort of, push it back in the garage.
Now, if you are wondering where I have been, my new job started, and dang! I am busy again. So work is slower. But it won't stop. No, nay, never. Keep watching.

5 hrs

Total time: 130 hours.
September 14 - 18, 1998. Put the thing back together a little better this time, take it out, drive it and panic as it seems to fail somehow. Mop brow at the realization that I have just got dead batteries. Ahh. Charge it up while I tighten this and that. Then take it out and tool up and down the street, followed by (and, sad to say, passed by) some of the neighborhood kids on their bikes. I am chagrined that my neighbor, on his bike, clocked me at only 23 or so mph. (Good for him, slow for me!) He's a great guy, my neighbor Jamie. He helped me push the damn thing back down the street after the tack weld on the drive shaft let go. Not an easy push, I'll tell you what.

Anyway, I am about to go out and take apart the motor to see what the scary "click click" is that's coming from inside. Summary: a little good news, a little bad news, but inspiring to drive.

8 hrs

Total time: 138 hours.
September 18, 1998, continued. The motor dissection was scary, fascinating, and useful. An aluminum ring, once part of the casting of an end plate of the motor, and once responsible for holding one of the end bearings in place longitudinally, had broken off. I'll bet it had something to do with tightening the heavy bolts which hold the motor steady. Spilled milk now.

The shame of it is, it knicked to breaking one of the wires on the armature winding. I have repaired it as best I can, and epoxied it down, and epoxied other places where the insulating lacquer had been scraped away by the violent rotations of the torn ring. I'll find out soon if the repair works, and second, whether it will add any more torque and improve my top-end speed. My bet, though, is I'll be needing a new motor.

2 hrs

Total time: 140 hours.
September 19, 1998. I took the beauty out for a couple o'spins today, up and down our cul-de-sac with the repaired motor, and it went better for sure but still not any 45 mph. I noticed that the motor still gets hot as hell (not that I've ever been to hell, and I hope not to go, despite my foul language). It seems to be the armature that is getting really hot; a short is not out of the question. I think I will have to disassemble it again and inspect it. Also, I seem to have my batteries discharged after only about a half hour of driving, and that doesn't bode well IF there is no short. A new motor might take care of everything.

Flying along in this thing, even at 30 instead of 45, is really fun. The tilt steering really truly works. Onward and upward. More later. Other stuff done:

4 hrs

Total time: 144 hours.
September 24, 1998. My father- and mother-in-law come down for a visit. I'll be darned if my father-in-law didn't just hop in and take it out for a spin. His observations were similar to mine about steering, stability, and the beauty of the feeling once you get up to speed.

September 20-27, 1998. Big doings. I added a 4th 12v battery; the Curtis controller is happy with 36 or 48 volts. It went fast. Very fast. I still don't know if it was over 40, but it had to have been close.

Then disaster (small-scale disaster) struck. As I tooled along on our dead-end street, a moment came where I needed to zig and not zag. Unfortunately, the tilt mechanism jammed. (the tilting part shifted fore-and-aft relative to the non-tilting part. That's all it took.) Instead of steering away from the curb, I hit it. The front end did fine, but my welds broke on the shock absorbers and in two or three other places where I had only tacked things together.

One of the batteries came half out of its cage and the plywood under it dug into the soil and plowed a furrow a farmer would be proud of.

Fortunately, it was no one's front lawn. I shoved the battery back in place and checked for other trouble. Finding none, I hopped in, and drove it home, slowly and tilt-less-ly. My wife, unaware of my magical tilting-trike-becomes-plow trick, was smiling and waving in the driveway. It's always nice to see her, even if it meant explaining the dirt and moss hanging off the back.

Before giving up for the day, I...

Total time: 160 hours.
September 28, 1998. Momentous: I think I am going to take out the tilt and convert it to a conventional trike. What would it buy me? - whole cabin can be lower - safer - room for passenger seat But what do I lose? - the gee-whiz factor of a tilting trike. I think it's a done decision, but I need to sleep on it to make sure.

September 29, 1998. Here's the philosophical collision:

On the one hand, I am trying to build, quickly, cheaply, and using as many re-used and recycled parts as I can, a commuting vehicle for myself. The Church of Pragmatism frowns on risk and gadgetry as fundamentally impractical.

On the other hand, I am fascinated by the obscure, unique, and clever; thinking unconventionally is a pursuit I prize. A tilting trike certainly fits this fascination and valuation.

What to do, what to do?

October 4, 1998. I have received a few emails since the 9/28 and 9/29 log entries urging me to keep on tiltin'. The common thread that made me warm all over, though, was the absence of demand and presence instead of warm wishes for luck, lucid thought, and even suggestions for how to approach problem solving in this situation.

Thanks, all. I am amazed again at the ad hoc communities which form on the web around common interests, and how supportive and helpful these communities of interest can be. I haven't met any one of the aforementioned correspondents. Sheesh. I have to dab my teary eye... hold on... ok, I'm alright.

I have had some time to think, and your good thoughts and good wishes as guides and bouys, and I have come to what no seems like an obvious and simple answer: I am going to keep on tilting. I may not have the tilter become the commuter vehicle I had in mind at the outset, at least not until I come to truly trust its safety. For commuting, a second vehicle is in the works.

This way the philosphical collision (9/29)is avoided: the second vehicle I would build as "quickly, cheaply, and using as many re-used and recycled parts as I can, a commuting vehicle for myself" will be just that, but it won't be the Commutamatic. The Commutamatic, on the other hand, is happily excommunicated from the Church of Pragmatism, and so unburdened can thrive as its unconventional, obscure, unique, and, so what, impractical self. This means, of course, there's a page in the offing about the Commutamatic's non-tilting electric trike made from scrap brother, The Maxion.

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