Introduction: Vintage Tricycle Resurrection With Modern Technology
I am calling this a "Resurrection" not a "Restoration" as I took some liberties with materials and methods in bringing this childs tricycle back to life. But at the end of the day it is true to the spirit of the original and the smile on a little girls face 40 or 50 years ago would look the same as the smile on my god-daughters face when she saw her "new" tricycle for the first time.
My "Modern Resurrection" involved some very hi-tech features: 3D printed pedals; laser etched & cut leather seat; computer reproduced & cut vinyl fender graphics & lastly: laser cut and engraved acrylic "head badge". I personalized most of the custom parts with her initials (she now has her own logo!) and the vinyl graphics were digital reproductions of the original graphics found on the fender as I was stripping away the layers of paint. Without technology I would not have had the skills to "Make it Real" and in the process bring this tricycle back for, hopefully, another 50 years of enjoyment.
This instructable will show the steps I went through, both the hi-tech and the low tech, to resurrect the little red trike.
I have posted the 3D file to 123D - Here is the link: http://www.123dapp.com/stl-3D-Model/Vintage-Tricycle-Pedals/605620
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Step 1: In the Beginning...
I wish I could say that this bike was passed down in our family and I could detail its history but it did not... Our paths crossed at a country auction in November 2011 when I saw this sad little bike with too many coats of bad paint and too many layers of dirt and rust sitting on the auction floor. I was able to buy it for $13 with the goal of restoring it to its original splendor for my 19 month old god-daughter. Luckily it was complete and not bent or dented in any way which says much about its sturdy vintage construction. Some parts, like the pedals, hubcaps & handle bar grips, were too far gone to save so I spent several months searching the internet and eBay looking for the right replacement parts. I found most of what I needed but with the pedals I was out of luck, they were a size that did not seem to exist anywhere anymore.
Everyone asks how old this bike is and that is a hard question to answer. When a company found a design that sold they would sell then for years or even decades. I originally thought (and hoped) that it may be 1940's because of the size of the front fender but in doing some research and based on certain finding (as I stripped away the dirt and paint) I am leaning more to the 1960's at this time. Still the little red trike survived for 50 years so it deserved this make-over.
So to begin... Disassemble and clean all the parts...
Step 2: Let the Stripping Commence...
Wanting to be a good citizen I used a Soy based Green pain stripper called "Soy-it Paint Stripper" (http://bbdb.ca/Index.asp?MId=45) It is easy to work with and did a great job especially with removing the past "re-paints" which looked to be just regular household oil paint.
There were several things I wanted to uncover with the stripping: the original paint colour & pattern, any paint details such as highlights or pin-stripes and the "Head-badge". Almost every bike has a badge on the front support bar below the handle bars which shows the model and the manufacturer of the bike. Once you have this it is easier to date and track the history of your bike. In the early days (until the 1960s) these badges where generally metals such as brass. Higher end bikes, even today, still have intricate head-badges. Cheaper mass produced bikes starting in the 60's would use stickers for the head badge. As there were several layers of paint on my bike I could not tell what was there until the paint was stripped.
It turns out that my head badge was a metallic sticker that said "Made in Canada" & "Supreme". I could not determine a maker from this as all Google searches turned up empty. It was most likely a mass produced bike sold through a department store in the 60's or maybe early 70's and relabled as a "store exclusive" brand.
Once I got the paint off down to the original finish I was able to see that it was a originally a traditional fire-engine red trike with white highlights under the handle bars and a white graphic on each fender. I took several hi-res digital pictures of the fender graphic so that I could load them into a graphics program to be reproduced.
Add more paint stripper to get the original paint of then bring out the Dremel with a sanding wheel to take the trike down to bare metal.
Step 3: Paint...
Once all the metal was stripped and cleaned it is time to repaint. First step is a high adhesion primer. For no real reason I used two types: the yellow on the frame and the normal grey on the other parts.
After two coats of primer and a light sanding I sprayed the frame with two coats of fire engine red, another light sanding and then two coats of a metallic red. While this is not true to the original colour I still remember how much I loved my metallic green stingray bike as a kid when it sparkled in the sun so I wanted to add that extra bit of flair! The two types of red seem to give the paint an extra depth as well as the metallic red seems to be semi transparent to allow the metal flakes to shine through.
For the other parts I used a light tan color instead of pure white. This softens the bike a bit and is more vintage looking as many old cars and 30's bikes would use this color. I also masked off the front of the frame (as in the original paint scheme) to highlight the handle bar mount in the same tan color. I taped off the area and them covered the rest of the frame so that I would not get any over spray on the metallic red. After a light sanding and two coats of the tan I unwrapped everything and sprayed at least four coats of clear coat for protection.
Step 4: 3D Pedals...
I could not find replacement pedals that would fit on the trike, all of them were too wide for this small childs bike. The original pedals were cracked and worn so needed to be replaced. I had always wanted to play with 3D printing so this gave me the perfect chance. I signed up for an account on www.Shapeways.com and started researching how to do this. Google Sketchup (http://sketchup.google.com) seemed like the easiest and cheapest (free) design option so I downloaded it and began "playing".
I tried several different types of pedals the first being a "solid block" but when I uploaded it into Shapeways and saw the price I had to rethink my design! ($1,000 for two pedals was a little steep!) After several of these iterations I settled on my design that you see in the pictures. It has my god-daughters initials on the top and is a tear drop shape which not only keeps that amount of material down but also goes with the 30's style aaero dynamical fender on the trike! The interior "web" was added to make the pedals stronger but seeing how well they turned out I probably could have even cut some of that out (If I had my own 3D printer I could have prototyped more options... hint.. hint.. ). The Initials on the top serve a practical purpose, along with the personalization, by carving the initials you use less product making the build cheaper and it also creates a textured surface so little feet do not slide off as easily. I used spray clear coat to seal the pedals against moisture and wear.
I would have loved to print these in Shapeways option of "Stainless Steel" but the cost would have been $500. I chose to print the pedals in "Red Strong & Flexible" as it seemed to have the best strength but also the right color. At the end of the day the two pedals cost me about $80 to get made but I think they are well worth it. There are two minor issues with them: the hole where the metal rod from the wheel goes through is a little tight but I am hoping that with use it will lloosen up & the balance is off (I did not think this through in the design) so the pedals are a bit bottom heavy and ass they loosen up they may droop. With my own 3D printer I could have prototyped and balanced the design. But spending another $80 to fix these two minor problems did not seem worth it.
Attached is the design file for these pedals.
Step 5: Laser Cut Leather Seat...
When I saw the bike I knew I wanted to do a leather seat. The original seat was full of Bondo to fill a big divot where the support bar was welded. I removed this down to bare metal and then filled the gap with epoxy so that it was smooth. I tossed around several seat ideas in my head from a wrap around seat to a sewn seat to just a painted seat. As the seat pan had a bit of an inset around its perimeter I figured a nice thick piece of leather could be inset and as there were three existing holes in the pan (and since I always wanted to rivet something!) I figured I could use contact cement to secure the seat in place and then rivet through the holes for a cool look and added security.
I traced the seat pan on a piece of paper and determined center lines for my curves. I then manually transferred this into CorelDraw on my computer. I then replicated the same "Logo" that I designed for the pedals (PQY - my god-daughters initials) as an etching on the leather. The version of CorelDraw I have is very old so I could not export it in the correct format for Ponoko (which had the best selection of materials and good prices) so once I created the correct shape and logo I cut and pasted the line art into inkScape ( www.inkscape.org). Once in inkScape I followed the Ponoko instructions (http://www.ponoko.com/starter-kits/inkscape#how-this-works) to make the lines either "cut" lines or "etching" lines and made sure the sizing of the seat was correct. (Since the shape of the seat allowed for some extra area I also threw in two leather key fobs just for fun! - waste not, want not!).
I exported the final file and uploaded it to the www.ponoko.com website and chose their "2.5 mm Vege Tanned - Natural Russet Leather" as my material. The price came out to just under $30 which I thought was very fair... Nothing to do now but wait..
When my package arrived I was very impressed by the quality and thickness of the leather and the etching. (Loved the laser burns on the paper backing!) Once the seat pan was fully painted and clear coated and left for the paint to cure for several days I applied a coat of contact cement to both the seat and the bottom of the leather. After waiting 30 minutes I joined the two pieces very carefully and made sure they had full adhesion over the complete surface.
Once the glue had cured I pulled out my new rivot gun and tested it with the key fobs. It worked like a charm! so I put in the three seat rivots into the leather. I then liberally applied 4 coats of mink oil to the exposed leather to seal it against moisture.
I was very happy the way the seat turned out. In retrospect I should have added a bit of a design around the edge of the seat to soften the look (a darker edge would have blended the edge with the red paint). I have attached the design file below that I used to create the seat.
Step 6: Vinyl-cut Fender Graphics...
As I stripped away the paint I uncovered the original fender graphics which were in remarkably good shape. They were a cool retro arrow design that I really liked. I knew that I had to replicate them on the restored trike. I imported the hi-res photo of the fender graphics into CorelPaint and cleaned them up as best I could. Reduced colours, erased defects, converted to Black & White etc. This image was then imported into CorelDraw to make a vector. I hand traced the image using the line tool then deleted the original image to be left with only a vector drawing. I then cleaned up the vector to make the curves smooth and the corners sharp. Using guidelines I adjusted for the curve on the original fender photo and resized the image to match the fender. I flipped the image for the reverse side of the fender (and doubled it in case I screwed up the installation), finally I exported the vector to an Adobe Illustrator file suitable for my local sign guy.
I dropped off the file on a usb key at noon and chose a light tan vinyl that perfectly matched the paint color on the rest of the bike. 3 hours & $15 later I had the cut graphic in my hand! Application was easy just peel and stick, it went on perfect and looked amazing! Without a computer and a digital cutter this would have to have been manually cut or even worse manually painted. I cannot see any way that it would have turned out as perfect as it did without today's technology for an amateur restorer like myself.
Step 7: Laser-cut Acrylic Head Badge
As the revelation of the original head badge sticker did not reveal anything exciting or exceptional and since the sticker was in such bad shape that it would be very difficult to determine what the original would have actually looked like I pulled out my "Creative Licence" and had some fun... I was hoping to find a service that could have milled a metal head badge or etched something in brass but I could not find anything that I felt would work. I could have gone the 3D printing route as it needed to form around the curved metal of the handle bar support but I felt that was overkill for something that I just wanted to be slightly embossed.
I chose to laser engrave red Acrylic using the Ponoko service (3.0 mm Red Acrylic) then heat it up and bend it to the curve I needed. There was a minimum size sheet of acrylic that I could choose so I made two different versions one embossed, one engraved with several of each so that if I screwed one up I would have backups.
When the acrylic was delivered it had paper stuck on the front and back for protection which turned out perfect for me as I could easily spray paint the tan over the badge and it would only go where the acrylic was laser etched away. Once the paint was dry I just peeled away the protective paper and was left with shiny red acrylic with the etched area painted tan. I then needed to bend the badge. I used a kitchen creme brulee torch, a piece of copper sheet (so the flame would not directly hit the plastic) and a glass salt shaker that was the same diameter as the curve I needed.
With an oven mitt handy I heated up the back of the acrylic and then when I felt it was warm enough I picked it up, placed it over the salt shaker and pressed. I could feel it bend so I let it cool a bit and it kept the curve. I had to repeat this one more time to get the exact diameter I needed. Luckily the paint survived the heating and my badge was now complete. I used extra strength thin double sided "tape" (it was not really tape but a glue type gel with protective plastic on each side. You peel the plastic way from one side and stick it to the badge. Then peel the plastic from the other side and stick it to the bike.
The cost for this was $40 because of the minimum order size. But I now have a bunch of custom red "Pogs" for her to play with as well.
Step 8: Vintage Parts...
Not everything I needed was made new, there is a huge market in vintage bike parts and many things can be found on online shops and eBay. The handle bar grips were faded, dried up and cracked but I was lucky enough to find a pair of NOS grips (New Old Stock - grips made in the 60's that have been sitting in a box for 50 years!) These were the perfect red colour with the little finger divots and textured tops.
I was also able to find a pair of NOS Murray Hubcaps. Murray was the leading maker of tricycles in the 50's & 60's so these hubcaps fit perfectly not only size wise but also the vintage styling. And again like the grips they look brand new even though they are 50 years old.
You may notice the bell... I know it is a little big but it is a vintage "double" bell, when she hits the little lever it goes "Bbbbbrrrriiiinggggg, Bbbbbrrrriiiinggggg" just like a bike bell should not some sissy little "ting, ting" sound. I mounted the bell over a piece of sheet cork so that it would not scratch the handle bar paint.
Lastly the handle bar streamers.. you would think that red & white streamers for a kids bike would be easy to find... think again.. I could not find any online, and visited every bicycle store and toy store in a 20 mile radius and could not find any and no-one knew where to get any. So the night before trike delivery I bought a red & white vinyl "Canada" tote bag that was made out of the perfect material weight. Luckily the outside of the bag was red but the inside was white so all I needed to do was to cut it into thin strips tie the ends with some wire and poke them through the ends of the handle bar grips. I am glad I took the extra effort as one of the first things my god-daughter commented on was the streamers!
Step 9: Making It Real...
I think this little red tricycle is the perfect example of "Making it Real", without modern technology it would not be worth the investment required to get the custom parts that were needed to restore this old bike. I do not have the expertise to hand tool leather, paint stripes, forge pedals BUT with a computer and today's making technology I could do it all!
This Instructable not only used computer technology create 3D Parts, Laser-cut Leather, Laser-cut Acrylic & Computer-cut Vinyl graphics but without the internet to search for the vintage parts from around the world I would have never been able to make this trike what it is today.
And lastly and most importantly the only "Real" thing about this project that counts to me is the smile on a little girls face!