Introduction: Handy Tricks 7: Bike Mods and Projects

Picture of Handy Tricks 7: Bike Mods and Projects

Handy Tricks Seven! Things to do to and with bicycles!

To see even more handy tricks, check out the rest of the saga at
Handy Tricks 9: Oodles of random tricks
and Handy Tricks 8: Island Handy Tricks
and Fifty Handy Tricks.
and 40 More Handy Tricks
and Australian Handy Tricks
and Guatemalan Handy Tricks
and Yet More Handy Tricks
and Handy Tricks Six!
For a bunch of things that didn't work, check out How Not To.

First trick: Improvised Freewheel Removal Wrench
Every brand of freewheel has a different pattern of grooves inside it. If you don't have the right wrench you usually can't take it apart. Unless you can improvise one. This method works well for the most common shimano freewheels.
Remove the axle from the wheel.
Insert the biggest hex wrench you can find into the freewheel. Pound some nails or a big staple as seen here into the grooves to lock the wrench in place. Unscrew the freewheel. Wiggle the nails out.

To learn about why you'd use this tool, what the real one looks like, and everything else about bicycle mechanics, look at Sheldon Brown's site and Park Tool.

Step 1: Chain Whips

Picture of Chain Whips

These two fancy "chain whip" wrenches are used to disassemble a freewheel. The "freewheel" is the cone-shaped cluster of sprockets on the rear wheel. The little sprocket unscrews and the others pull off, with spacers between them.

To make a chain whip, use your "chain breaker" tool to take a chain apart making two pieces of chain with as many links as seen here. Then drill three holes in a piece of steel bar and grind a curved divot where the short chunk of chain rests. Use the chain breaker to attach the chunks of chain to the steel bar, and you're in business. If your breaker doesn't reach to attach the chains to your wrench, just pound the pins in place with a hammer.

You probably don't need two of these, but it's easier that way and they're quick to make.

Step 2: Wheelchair = Bike Wagon

Picture of Wheelchair = Bike Wagon

Pretty simple to do. Take the canvas back off the chair and innertube lash two sticks to the arms or seat. Cut the curved tube off the back of a metal chair. Lash that to the two sticks at the bike end.
Lash a loop of cord to the middle of that for a trailer hitch. To hitch up, innertube lash that loop to your seat post or rear rack.
Looks like someone has taken one of the wheelchair's wheels, but you get the idea.

This is a strong wagon. It'll carry a lot of lumber.

Step 3: Spoke Nut Screwdriver

Picture of Spoke Nut Screwdriver

This is the quick way to remove spokes.
Grind a slot in the middle of a flathead screwdriver bit. Don't shoot sparks into your eye.
Then spin the spoke nipples off the spokes with a drill just like Franziska.
If it's a rear wheel you might need to remove the freewheel to get the spokes off.

Save the spokes. In the U.S. they're often made of stainless steel and make good TIG welding rod etc. etc.

Step 4: Stretch Cargo Bike

Picture of Stretch Cargo Bike

Here's Matt Ritter with his "Longfellow" cargo bike.
He's carried a lot of gear and a couple of passengers with it.
He says that with a chain this long you can make it derail if you shake the bike hard while riding it.

Step 5: Bike Storage Safe

Picture of Bike Storage Safe

Bike theft is a real problem in the Boston area. It seems like most of the bike anti-theft inventions come from this part of the country. Here are some funny hinged shells you can lock down over your bike to discourage thieves. They're just outside the Sydney-Pacific dorm at MIT. They're empty, I don't know if that says anything about their effectiveness.

Step 6: Instant Bulk Panniers

Picture of Instant Bulk Panniers

Emily took me scavenging in Manhattan. We got so many veggies she needed more cargo capacity. I tied loops of twine between two milk crates and hung them over her back basket.
She writes: "My new panniers hold more than a refrigerator and do not fit on the subway
elevator. I had to bike a special gradually increasing inclined route tonight
up to 175 with all baskets brimming."

Step 7: Emily's Instant Basket Supports From Fork

Picture of Emily's Instant Basket Supports From Fork

I should have gotten a better photo, but her front basket support is very solid and nifty.
It's the front fork from a bike bolted onto her axle on top her other fork's dropouts.

Step 8: Paint a Bike

Picture of Paint a Bike

My cargo bike was rusting pretty badly from alkali Burningman dust on bare metal. My parents decided to paint it. My dad got a can of "forest green" paint that matched the original color and a wire brush. Then they used the same techniques my dad learned on the farm as a boy.

1: Use the wire brush to clean off all the loose dirt and rust.

2: Use masking tape to cover the edges stuff you don't want painted (tires and some chrome)

3: Get some pieces of cardboard handy to hold in front of stuff you don't want to bother masking with tape.

4. Painting motions: Move the can at a constant velocity and don't push the button until the can is moving. Release the button before decellerating at the end of the stroke.

5. Paint with multiple light passes so the paint doesn't get thick enough to run before it's dry.

6. To paint the rims, turn the bike upside down and spin the wheels. Hold the can stationary and paint the whole rim as it spins by.

7. Wear proper safety equipment such as a respirator mask and safety glasses. If you'd rather skip the respirator, wear a "grim reaper" costume like my dad has on.

The bike looks really great now. People are asking me where I got it and what all the features are for. And if they can buy it from me.

Step 9: Key Fob and Business Card Holder

Picture of Key Fob and Business Card Holder

Trouble getting your keys back when you loan them out? Attach them to an aluminum crank.
Need a business card stand? A couple of cuts in an aluminum hub will make a nice one.
Spotted at Cambridge Bicycle

Step 10: Welded Tall Bike

Picture of Welded Tall Bike

Now that everyone has a welder there are all kinds of bike mods you can do.

Here's a tallbikeStar and I made at MITERS with an extra frame welded on to make a banana seat.

The handlebar/fork arrangement turned out really well. It's strong and was pretty easy to make.
It bottom handlebar/fork/thingy just shoves down into the side tubes of that motorcycle-style fork.

The seat is made by bolting a crutch handle into the rear old dropouts to keep them from crushing together, folding a nylon cushionand wrapping it onto the frame with innertubes. It's more comfortable than you'd expect. It could be an inch or so wider.

You can see that the front seat frame tube is bending, another tube brace should be welded on to triangulate that part of the frame.

Step 11: Arm Chair Bike

Picture of Arm Chair Bike

Or is it "Chair Arm Bike"?
We made this one using the arm of a danish chair to make a springy seatpost and a fender at the same time. It's innertube-lashed onto some brackets we welded from whatchamacallit "chainstay" tubes. The bike looks like it's made to ride in a swamp.

The steering column is a small thick pipe that just slides into the headset. We drilled a hole through it at the bottom and put a bolt through it and the fork where the fender used to be.
Yes the handlebars are a lot lower than they should be, but we wanted to try out the bike.
It's pretty weird to be so high and crouched over at the same time.

Step 12: Amazing Unistrut Traveling Bike Racks

Picture of Amazing Unistrut Traveling Bike Racks

Spotted outside Shaw's, in Cambridge.

Whoever rides this bicycle has clearly figured out how to carry a lot of stuff.
Unistrut back racks go a long way. It's galvanized, so it doesn't rust.

The front basket and front panniers are also supported by unistrut.

Galvanized steel means that welding is out, so this uses all-bolt construction.

I normally don't like using unistrut, because it twists around a lot.
Bolting them back-to-back solves that.

There's a hidden support behind the white basket on the rear rack,
supporting the extra length of the triangle (as compared to commercial rear racks).

The unistrut is extra-neat, because it gives you 2.2 million spots to hook bungee cords.

Step 13: Futon Frame Bike Wagon

Picture of Futon Frame Bike Wagon

I met Jess at the Emeryville Traderjoe's dumpster.
Jess has an ingenious bike trailer made from conduit, and part of a metal futon couch.
Here are some details of how it's held together.

Joe had a problem with his refrigerator and threw out a whole lot of food.
This particular location loves mother earth and their fellow man and allows dumpster divers.
Thanks Joe!

Step 14: Welding Clamp Without Marring Paint

Picture of Welding Clamp Without Marring Paint

Star says:

I've been learning a ton of stuff from Mars lately at MITERS:.
Need to weld your new chop-tacular? Where do you clamp onto the frame without screwing up the
paint job?

THE PEDALS! It works!

Step 15: Twin Frame Cargo Tallbike

Picture of Twin Frame Cargo Tallbike

Mars made this glitzy tallbike at MITERS:.
Originally it had a baby wheel riding on top the rear wheel, which made it extra festive.

That blue bundle is my checked bag. I'm on my way to the airport in a hurry.
I spread out a sheet, dumped my stuff on it, tied the corners together making a furoshiki, and off I went.
The bag worked fine, and didn't even have one of those "we ransacked your bag" notes in it at the destination carousel.

The bike has half of a third frame welded on the front, perfect for carrying big loads, such as that blue furoshiki or the two milk crates tied together with an extension cord seen in the second photo.

Step 16: Animal Stampede Bike Horn

Picture of Animal Stampede Bike Horn

Have you been searching for the best bike horn ever?

Turns out they're all mis-organized into the "Dog Toys" section at any walgreens.
I got this duck-horn duck there, and lashed it to my handlebars with strips of plastic shopping bag (note: another handy trick).

Leaving the store, I honked the duck, because I was riding down the sidewalk and didn't want to hit anyone. A homeless guy sleeping outside leapt up.

"Donny! Did you hear that!? It sounded like a duck!!"

Donny replied. "It IS a duck. IT IS a duck!" and pointed at me.

Get a bunch of friends together, each with a different animal, and it could be better than going to the zoo.

Step 17: Brazillian Delivery Bikes

Picture of Brazillian Delivery Bikes

The bikes in Brazil are all very rugged, and can carry huge loads. I saw one bicycle trucking around 40 gallons of water. They are very popular for delivery in the cities. Everything you could imagine was delivered with bicycles.

Most of them have front baskets supported by automobile springs. The small front wheel underneath the front basket helps with road friction and stability.

I'm a huge fan of their motorcycle-style kickstands.

Each one appeared to be custom-made. They use very thick, strong tubing. The rear racks were especially well supported. The front axle must also be very strong, as the kickstand and the front load are all mounted entirely on the axle.

Bikes with two front wheels and pushcart-style steering tended to have really neat rod brakes using a foot pedal to brake, just like a car.

Step 18: The Mod Chopper

Picture of The Mod Chopper

These tiny cruisers had 6 rear-view mirrors mounted on the handlebars, each.

It's probably a reference to English mod culture. After some law passed that required vespas have at least one rear-view mirror, the mods would attach anywhere from four to twenty-two mirrors to their ride.

Spotted in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Step 19: Laundry Bicycle

Picture of Laundry Bicycle

Star recently lost laundry facilities, but still wants to wear clean clothes.

Solution? Laundry bike!

She can wash her clothes in any sink, and then clothespin garments to the rear derailleurs cable to let it hang dry! It's summertime in Boston now, so the clothes dry out rather quickly, either by virtue of the fresh breeze while biking, or by being parked in the bright summer sunshine.

This works well for the "wear one pair of clothes per day, wash one pair of clothes per day", and can be incorporated into a daily showering routine.

Pants and shirt can be dried at the same time, each hanging over one side of the frame.

Step 20: Padded Vice Is Bike Mechanic's Stand

Picture of Padded Vice Is Bike Mechanic's Stand

A junked cafe table provided the base for this vice. A folded towel in the vice jaws makes it into a great stand for working on bikes.


dnyd2dlrs (author)2016-07-27

In Step 14 How to weld on a bike and not mare the paint: the method of grounding is not a good idea. By grounding thru the pedal crank will cause the current from the electrode to pass through the bearing in the peddle crank housing and this will pit the balls in the bearing causing them to become rough and cause them to soon fail.

MT-LB (author)2009-10-01

one of the first things in the manual for my welder says "do not run circuit through bearings"

boston7513 (author)MT-LB2014-02-01

This was my first thought when I saw the pis! When we covered welding at mechanics school they made it clear not to run current through the bearing of an axle or piston like on a backhoe.

Bidul (author)MT-LB2009-10-14

Even if it seems to be a great idea at first sight, heavy current isgoing to "solder" balls in the ball-bearing.
Use any other paint-free metalic area on the frame (seat support, for instance)

3366carlos (author)2013-10-30

very nice, be careful when cutting with the rotary tool (as shown in the spoke screwdriver), you can easily cut your finger off and it would cost at least 5K usd to have it fixed. Cut away from your body and use a vice.

Rich1953 (author)2013-08-17

Connecting the welding clamp to the pedals is not advisable,
You are risking welding the bearings in place, make the pedals impossible to turh

mysss (author)2012-04-01

Seems like it might be a bit too easy to squish the tubing, impacting the integrity of your frame?

BottomlessPizzaPit (author)2010-11-11

Like everyone else has said, there are plenty of chain tensioner devices. The idler gear thing seems like it works fairly well, as I own an old Schwinn Twinn tandem and that's what it uses -just a cog on a bearing with a bolt holding it to a slotted bracket- and it moves on a vertical axis where you can tension it to the desired level.

dstras (author)2010-10-26

yah - safety first, no?

I want them to be resourceful and dig making/modding your own tools, _BUT_ I wouldn't want my students (or kids) taking shop tips from this -- lets model sensible tool use. Please. You don't need OSHA to tell you that this is not good practice.

struckbyanarrow (author)2010-09-17

Wait, was that the bicycle wizard?

jwolski (author)2010-09-14

Great idea!

jwolski (author)2010-09-14

Be sure to use the safety guards that come with your tools. Those cutoff disks can break and send chunks of it flying. Judging by the sparks coming off of that disk, the pieces will fly right at the user's face.

As others mentioned, this is also an easy way to lose a finger. Please be careful people.

mwwdesign (author)2008-06-16

Interesting black outfit. Where is it from/what is it for?

KrakenFan69 (author)mwwdesign2010-09-06

Apparently David Carradine is an avid cyclist when not acting. Killer.

Kraken Fan #69

sarliaee (author)2010-02-22

you've got a new rear fender too!

sarliaee (author)2010-02-22

please strip the frame before painiting, you'd hate to get paint on those moving parts.

sarliaee (author)2010-02-22

a little more expensive but plenty of companies make chain tension devices.
loving the cheap bike mods anyway.

harigast (author)2009-08-25

lose a finger doing this? that thing isnt a light saber. if anyone has used one alot you know that you cant really chop off a finger unless you wanted to.

wrenchead (author)harigast2009-12-16

CUT-OFF wheel on an air tool? Admittedly not as cool as a lightsabre, but you can seriously injure yourself.  They are designed to cut through metal which is a fair bit tougher than your finger.

Loose, they'll hurt and can give you a good gash.  If your finger is pinned between the wheel and oh, say a chuck in a drill, yes, you could easily cut it off faster than you can say "get a ziplock bag and start the car".

Just be careful, secure your work [vise, clamped to the edge of a table... anything] and wear eye protection.

paulocr (author)2008-12-11

The ones with small front wheel are factory made. This model go back to the fifties and perhaps even before that. They are slowly disappearing and motorcycles are taking over.

juanoporras (author)paulocr2009-12-06

believe it or not back where I come from some people do some similar stuff to motorcicles so they can carry even heavier loads. for instance, back in my town some people rent laundry machines, the company delivers them by motorcicle with racks on it just like in the picture.

HughBothwell (author)2009-10-28

I would recommend finding a junk seatpost. Drill a hole through it side-to-side about two inches from the top, stick a bolt through, and weld it in place.

Now remove your seat, stick the ground-post in, and clamp your ground on the bolt. Voila! Nice clean ground without paint damage.

csorrows (author)2009-08-14

I have never heard that stuff called "unistrut" before.

Hycro (author)csorrows2009-09-23

Looking in the last picture there, it kinda reminds me of the corner reinforcements for drywall--those things you put on projecting corners, only even has the "long" holes like those corner reinforcements...

masterochicken (author)2009-09-20

Would the spoke nut screwdriver eliminate the need for a set of spoke wrenches?

guerrilla.1 (author)2009-09-11

actually these are an extension of the Californian low rider car culture. from what I understand these are anything from lightly modified to full on custom construction.

sharlston (author)2009-08-25

hi tim please reply to this comment do you need any more tricks for this ible cos i work in a bike shop is west yorkshire and i know loads of nifty little tricks

TimAnderson (author)sharlston2009-08-25

please! actually since you have a bunch, do your own ible and I'll link to it!

sharlston (author)TimAnderson2009-08-25

well i only have 3 or 4 so ill tell you them and just credit me a bit ya know the little 3 in 1 oil cans with the red nozzle when oiling small parts i attach a oil can straw to the end for those nifty places i always put duct tape round the inside of the tyre to prevent big punctures when im gonna throw away a old bike i always strip it for spare parts like cdbales and chains if you need pictures ill reply with them

csorrows (author)2009-08-14

There are holes in your shirt...

csorrows (author)2009-08-14

To put it simply, DO NOT DO THIS!

strangebike (author)2009-07-06

awesome fella but about the quickest way to loose a finger use a vice or grips or just not shower your silly self with the waste as you cut. always show the safest way to do things or some other person following your instructions may well loose the finger you were lucky enough to keep. other then that great mutant waste bikes !!!

goeon (author)2009-07-03

great! 5*ed and faved, the chain whip idea was great

g.petinati (author)2009-07-02
Grey_Wolfe (author)2008-08-21

Probably would be more effective if they were actually bolted down. Something about a bike rack that itself can be stolen doesn't incite me to lock my bike to it, lol. Other than that issue, they look like they'd probably work pretty good. And it discourages stripping, too.

Grey_Wolfe (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-08-21

*Probably work pretty well, I should say.

JKibs95 (author)Grey_Wolfe2009-05-31


Derin (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-09-01

my school once had racks rebared into the concrete of the playground,but they removed it since no bikes are allowed and kids jump on it

Grey_Wolfe (author)Derin2008-09-02

Interesting to have bike rack and not allow bikes. lol

dagwoody (author)2009-05-14

Behind the scenes of the new sequel "Bridges of Madison county 2"

mdlmusic (author)2009-04-25

What a great idea! I picked up a mallard squeaky toy at WalMart for $5.00 and wired it to my handlebars with twist ties. Got quite a few strange looks when I honked it as I came up behind pedestrians.

Schaftt (author)2009-04-02

Shoulda used duct (duck) tape. (insert rimshot here)

sovereign (author)2008-09-08

step 3: use a vice, or risk losing a finger WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???

_soapy_ (author)sovereign2009-03-19

Wow, I just saw that! Bit mental to do it that way. Also, in the picture the sparks are flying towards the eyes... which is not good. However, the odds of loosing a finger is very small. Even if you severed it you'd find it at your feet. (Truly, though, you don't need to worry about a slight accidental touch of a cutting abrasive disc like this. You just get a friction burn, rather than devastation. Yes, it hurts, but it isn't life altering.)

craig4542 (author)2008-12-12

about using the pedals for a welder ground. this generally is discouraged, since this runs the current through the crank bearings. While it probably won't weld them solid, it will cause some pitting and shorten their life.

_soapy_ (author)craig45422009-03-19

It also looks like the chrome plate has been blown off by the current through it, on the crank itself. Might I suggest fixing the clamp via the handlebars instead? Take off the grip and attach there, and any marking would be recovered afterwards. Any minor damage to the bearings in the steering would be far less likely to lead to issues, too, as the steering bearings never turn a full rotation and are under far less load.

Tavor (author)2009-02-25

I think I have a possible solution to the chain derailing problem. Add some 'idler' gears in the middle to prevent the chain from bouncing or swaying. In an ideal world, they'd be mounted in the center of that LONG chain run, but anywhere between the front of the cargo section and the front of the back tire should be sufficient.

MediaMarc (author)2008-06-11

Nice list!! How do the baskets stay put when riding over bumpy roads? In picture 3 it seems that there is a black support on the side of the basket.. And what's with the shades while it's dark? ;)

Hycro (author)MediaMarc2009-01-29

Could be for camera flash, or headlights:P...or they just like to wear their sunglasses at night...:P

frogmeetcog (author)2008-10-23

Heeeey... I do like that. My dog tends to lose/hide for amusement his toys underneath our furniure, so we have a wealth of assorted dogtoys around our house. I recall last halloween the local Petsmart had a sale, and the dog aquired a softball-sized squeeky Frankenstein. Fairly smooth green rubber, and it made a piercing noise at close range. Even if it had not reeked like a chinese rubber-factory it would have made our dog deaf, but it would be pefect for my handlebars. I can't imagine we threw it away...

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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