Category Archives: Bicycles

How to Build a Cartbike

Cartbike Building Misadventurescartbikefrontside

(From Resist Zine #42)

I wrote this article many years ago, and to be perfectly honest… this isn’t the best cargo bike design.  However, this is one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written, so I thought I’d copy it here before I let the website where it is hosted die. Also, although it’s not the best designs, I’ve never seen another bike like this that can be built without welding which is a HUGE thing for someone without access to a welder.

For months Dan, Gus, Ben, Lisa & myself have been talking about building bicycles. I’ve mentioned before about me & Ben’s obsession with High Wheeler/Penny Farthing bikes. But neither of us knew how to weld, and we were having trouble figuring out all the details. So gradually, our focus shifted towards more utilitarian bicycles. Mostly pickup/truck bikes and cart bikes. We still were planning on doing welding though. Two people offered their assistance. Since Gus was as excited about the prospects as we were, it seemed like things would work. Once problem still remained. Gus didn’t have equipment, and the equipment at the community house where Dan lives was frozen in the garage. (The garage door couldn’t be moved for at least a month due to inches of ice around it) And we didn’t even know if we had the right equipment, because the only person who ever used it was gone for 5 months or more.
But when I ran across plans for a bicycle cart with no need for welding, ideas started churning. I didn’t like the plans, and they were kind of incomplete besides. But the basic idea that I latched onto was the use of U-clamps. A lot could be accomplished with those little wonders. The plans I found (they were either in Seedhead, Luddite Tech Zine or How 2 Zine.) suggested U-clamping forks to the side of a cart. We thought they’d move around too much and decided to try an axle (still using u-clamps to attach everything.) Their plans also called for some weird bent pipe contraption for steering. We decided to clamp the forks directly to the cart. This of course was all before we even had a cart in our possession. So it was all just speculation. Then we got our hands on some carts & Monday, got together for our first building session.

Gus towed a cart I’d left in Ben’s backyard over to my garage where we had plenty of parts and tools. We set about to finding pieces to put it together. We wanted a girls frame, so it’d be easy to get on and off. I didn’t have many, but we found a nice yellow one with no wheels or handlebars (or neck.) We found a back wheel and a couple front ones and started piecing it together It was about 4 hours that night, and mostly we just learned what wouldn’t work The allthread axle wasn’t the same thread as bicycle axles, so we had to jerry-rig it. I’ll save you the boring details of how that worked, because it ended up that the axle was too flimsy anyway. We tried to clamp the forks to the cart & had trouble there too. First we clamped it too low so that the pedals hit the ground, and we didn’t clamp it to main braces, so it broke the little welds on the cart. We had a brain storming session and put the parts away for the night.
cartinjury-1(Left:Picture from before brakes, & shifters were hooked up)I had to work the next day, so I gave Ben the key to the garage and showed him where the tools were. When I got home, they were putting the finishing touches on the basic design. I’ll give details on it’s assembly later. We took it for a test drive, and it was hella hard to drive! Wow! It took muscle to steer, and if you steered too sharp, it would tip over. And when you started to steer, it would pull even harder in that direction, so that you had to hold it back. At this point it had no brakes or gears. We had Lisa sit in it, since she was smallest. With a load, it was much easier to drive. We each took turns in it, and even with 165 pounds, it held up and drove fine. So then we brought it back to the garage and put a neck on it, which we clamped to the grocery cart for extra support and to attach the gear shifters to. (You should definitely have some gears on a cart bike.) We hooked up a back brake, which was also attached to the handle.



cartblack_textOkay, the first thing you’re going to have to do is get your hands on a cart. Metal ones are the only ones worth grabbing. I say, grab the biggest one you can find (but then I’ve never tried a small one.) Once you have that, you just grab yourself a hacksaw, and cut the basket off the bottom half of the cart. Just cut the four legs as close as you can to the basket. We also took the plastic handle off the cart, so that whoever originally owned the cart wouldn’t come after us trying to get it back. Take off any identifying marks, even if you dumpstered the thing. (rather than finding it on the side of the road or in a vacant lot or something.)

Next you’re going to need an adult sized bike to attach the cart to. I would highly suggest a women’s bike, since they’re much easier to get on and off of. I would also highly suggest that it be a 10 speed, since you’ll be happy to have the extra gears when you’re trying to pedal a basket full of groceries (or bricks, or people, or whatever) uphill.

Here’s a list of other things you’ll need to complete this project:

  • 6 or more small U-clamps (about an inch across)
  • 1 large U-clamp (big enough to fit around the head tube of your bike)
  • 2 matching front wheels & coinciding forks. (I would suggest at least 26inch wheels)
  • 2-4 hose clamps
  • 1 tin can

cartbikeforkshighlightedTake the forks and wheels and position them on the sides of the cart. You can screw around with this and try to figure out where they work best, but we found that the forks should stick past the bottom of the cart a couple inches, and should be pretty close to the back. One reason for this is that most of a cart is composed of weak little bars. If you attach the forks to those, the little welds will break, and it won’t be very strong. There are only a few strong bars that forks should be attached to. We chose a point near the back where some of the main supports are. Two of these strong bars crossed each other, and we put the U-clamps there. Put the U-clamps on, and tighten them down a bit. Make sure the cart sits level, and then tighten everything up. (I’ve highlighted the strong bars red, so they’re more visible in the picture. Notice the clamps (circled in yellow) are all attached to at least one of these.)

cartbikeforks-1Now, pull the front wheel off your bike. Remove the front brake, and both the brake handles. Now spread open the neck and remove your handlebars. (You’ll want to leave the neck, as you’ll be using it later. Also, using the handlebars to spread the neck open will make the job easier later on.)


cartbikehandlehighlighted_4199437_origWe tried to file the dropouts on the fork wide enough to accept the bar that runs across the bottom of the back of the basket, but gave up as we were in such a hurry to get the thing done. It evidently didn’t need to be done, but I think it might be a good idea anyway. So then you just turn the forks around, so they’re backwards and center them on the bar that runs across the bottom of the back of the cart. Use a U-clamp on each side of the fork near the bottom to attach it to a strong part of the back of the cart. Then use your big U-clamp to attach the neck to the back part of the cart. To make the attachment just a little more secure, we spread open the neck, and twisted the two pieces of the handle with a channel locks so they would slide into it, then tightened it up. To get a really tight fit, we would have needed some old tubing or tin can strips or something, but we left it as is. We also attached our gear shift levers to the neck. Because the backs of most carts flap open, you’ll need to use a few hose clamps to hold it shut. We put a couple on the bottom, and a couple on the sides.

Now you’ve kind of got a choice with the brakes. You can just leave off the front one, and attach the back handle to the cart like we did. Or you can put brakes on both the forks attached to the cart, and have them up in front where all the stopping power is. This is what I would have done, but the bike I was using didn’t have any brakes, and I had trouble scrounging up even one. This is where that tin can will come in handy. You’ll have to cut strips of it to wrap around the cart handle, so you can tightly attach the brake handles. In the pictures, it looks like we duct taped ours on, but that’s just there to cover the edges of the tin can. Some grips would make the handle a bit more comfortable. (maybe some of those foam 10 speed ones or something)

I haven’t gone into every single detail about putting one of these together, because every single bike/cart combination is going to be different. With each you’ll encounter your own special brand of problems along the way. If you’ve never worked on a bike before, this might not be the project for you. Probably learning to adjust your brakes & gears, and change your tires is a good place to start. If you’ve done some work on bikes, this should come pretty easy for you. The hardest part for us was coming up with the basic design, and doing it without any welds. We’ve fixed that problem for you. Now go to it!
cartbikefull4-1Just to let you know, our concern about the forks moving was well founded. Our forks do move a bit, but if the bike is moving forward, and especially with a load, the problem is self-correcting. It has yet to be a real problem. These things are pretty difficult to drive. I found that it’s much easier to steer by leaning, than by trying to turn the cart. The problem is that you have to shift your weight the opposite of the way you want to go. It’s sort of difficult to explain, but once you have yours built, you’ll see what I mean. It’s definitely not built for speed. In order to keep control, you have to move sort of slow. It’s good for getting loads of stuff (like groceries) but I wouldn’t want to use it as an every day bike (unless I was hauling a lot of stuff every day, and then I would build a trailer.)

Build it and they will…


ride it, and they will…


Then Bring it to the Grocery Store and Load it up


Building an Emergency Pedal

This was something I put together years ago.  I just ran across it while I was working in the garage and thought I’d pass it along.

I was on my way to have a free meal and after that was going on a bike ride.  I was riding my tallbike, and about a mile from where I was heading my pedal broke off.  I don’t remember that I even felt it going.  If I did feel it start to go, it didn’t give me more than a block or two warning.  The whole spindle broke off leaving me no way to pedal.  Fortunately although I was miles from any bike shop, I was just a couple blocks from a hardware store.  I didn’t want to walk home or miss my bike ride, so I stopped in at the hardware store to see what I could come up with.  I guess I was hoping to come up with some pedals.  Sometimes hardware stores will have a few bike parts, but this one didn’t.

After looking around a bit, I came up with a plan.  I grabbed a large stove bolt, a large washer, a lock washer and a nut.  I figured that would give me a spindle, but I’ve ridden with just a spindle before and it ain’t a lot of fun.  Your foot always wants to roll off of it because it doesn’t spin.  So I set about trying to find something I could slide over the bolt.  I couldn’t find anything the right size, so I asked an employee if they might have a short length of PVC.  He brought me in back and let me pick a piece out of a scrap barrel.  I grabbed a couple more nuts to hold the PVC on and went up to the counter to even up.  I think it cost me about $5 for the parts.

I went out to my bike and got to work putting it all together.  I always carry a 6″ adjustable wrench, so I didn’t have any trouble getting the rest of the old pedal out.  I slipped the stove bolt through the crank arm and then slipped the washers on.  I tightened the nut on until the square section of the bolt bit into the aluminum of the crankarm and the lockring flattened out.  Now it wasn’t going anywhere.I slipped the PVC on and then put the other two nuts on.  I must have had another wrench on me because I tightened the two nuts against each other with enough room to allow the PVC to spin without having it slide back and forth on the bolt. 

I rode to my free meal, arriving just a little bit late.  After my meal I went on my bike ride, and then rode home.  Near as I can figure, I put about 20 miles on that “pedal” before I got home.  I think I might have actually ridden it that way for another day or two before I got a replacement crankarm on there.  I’m sure the original crankarm would have been fine, but I guess I wanted to keep the evidence (which is why I can provide a picture of it now.) 

Removing a seized bottom bracket cup

Just hours before the Black Label Bike Club’s Worst Friends Ever bicycle race on the 26th, I decided that it would be a good time to overhaul my bottom bracket.  Actually, I knew that the good time had passed and that now I was entering the bad time territory.  I kept putting it off because it’s just too darn cold to work in the garage and I was hoping for a nice warm day to tackle the task.  The thing is, it suddenly went from “I should probably do that soon” to “this is really bad! I need to take care of this!”  I did plan far enough ahead to make sure that the local bike shop would be open if I needed to run over for parts.  The way the thing felt, replacement parts would most assuredly be necessary.  The question was whether or not I would be able to find the parts in my stockpiles or have to run to the shop. 

The race started at 6pm so I guess I figured 2pm would be a good time to get started.  To be fair, I’d brought the kids to 3rd Lair Skatepark for the first time that morning and didn’t get home until almost 1pm and had some lunch.  I head out to the garage, unbury my workstand from behind the pile of instrument building supplies, and find a clean rag for my parts. 

I started out with the adjustable side of the bottom bracket which did not want to budge.  That’s a bad sign.  Usually if one side is going to get stuck it’s the non-adjustable side which is easy to work around because that side is usually in pretty good shape.  If that happens I just clean it up while it’s still in the frame before putting everything back together.  The adjustable side (being on the side with the gear and getting more brute force applied to it) is the side that’s going to be bad if one is.  This was a bad start, but it had to be done so I removed the other side.  That side looked fine, but of course when I pulled out the spindle the other side was just a pile of parts.  

At 2:26PM I sent this picture from my phone to facebook with the caption “What’s left of my bottom bracket.” 


I got out the PB Blaster and started to work on getting that other cup out.  I got out my biggest wrench but still couldn’t get enough leverage to get it to turn.  I let the oil sit on there for a while, and then tried it again with the big wrench.  And then with a large channel locks on the protruding threads.  Still no movement at all!

I got what I thought was a pretty brilliant idea.  I’d run down to the bike shop and buy a bottom bracket cartridge.  Those screw in from the non-adjustable side, and then just have a little plastic insert on the other side.  I figured I’d be able to screw in the cartridge and the adjustable cup would just take the place of the plastic insert. 

 So my daughter Esther & I hopped in the car and headed to the bike shop.  Being the nice warm day that it was, somewhere in the 30’s, the bike shop was busier than I had ever seen it.  I had to wait around a bit until someone could help with my question.  The first guy that came over to help put together a spindle and set of cups and bearings for me.  Then I explained again that I was looking for a cartridge because my adjustable cup wouldn’t come out.  Another guy walked up about this time and told me that it wouldn’t work.  He said the cartridge wouldn’t screw all the way in unless I got that cup out. 

“So how do I remove a seized cup?” I asked.

He went on to tell me a couple different methods.  The first was using a vice grips on the protruding threads.  I’d already given that a shot with the channel locks, because my large vice grips had gone missing.  The second was trying to use heat.  I’d thought about that one, but didn’t try it because I didn’t want to screw up the paint.  I’d also tried one other method which is using a hammer.

This may sound like a bad idea, but I learned it when I used to work on motorcycles which frequently have seized nuts, bolts and screws.  You can either put the wrench on and tap the wrench, or you can just tap the end of the bolt or screw with the hammer.  The idea is to break up the corrosion or whatever it is that’s keeping the bolt from turning.  Using brute force to try to turn a bolt or screw is a good way to just twist the end right off of it.  Getting things loosened up with a hammer can sometimes prevent that from happening.  Well, that didn’t work either. 

I stopped by Menards to pick up a vice grips and some other items we needed and went home to try to finish up that bike.  By this time it was getting quite late; after 4PM I think.  I tried the vice grip on the threads.  No luck.  I tried heat.  No luck.  That left the last suggestion that he gave me which was to cut the cup out.

“Get a hacksaw blade in there, and start cutting.  Don’t cut all the way through.  Just cut until you reach the threads.  Sometimes one cut will do it, and you’ll be able to turn it out.  Other times you’ll have to make two cuts and then hopefully it will just fall apart.”

I grabbed a hacksaw blade, stuck it through the bottom bracket and with a hand on either side started sawing the cup.  It didn’t take long for me to realize this was going to be a painfully long process.  Perhaps if I’d put the blade through and then fastened it in a hacksaw it would have been easier and faster.  I grabbed an angle grinder with a cutting blade and cut into the face of the cup until I nearly hit the bike frame.  I figured that would give me less metal to cut through.  I also did it in 3 other places, just in case I’d have to make more than one cut.  I started in with the hacksaw blade again but it was still painfully slow.  There’s no way I was going to make the race at this pace.  I didn’t want to screw up my bike, but I wanted to get this thing done.  I decided to try a reciprocating saw (commonly referred to as a Sawzall®).  Mine is kind of screwed up and the blade won’t stay straight, but I gave it shot anyway.


Even that wasn’t having much effect until I put a new blade in there.  Then I got the blade a little cockeyed and cut a little slot in the threads on the opposite side of the bottom frame.  Dang! Ok, more careful from here on out! I cut almost all the way through the cup and then hit it a few times with the hacksaw blade.  Then I flipped the frame over and did the other side of the cup with the reciprocating saw. I tried knocking the pieces free with a cold chisel, but that didn’t work.  So I took the wrench to it.  Now the cup turned right out! Awesome! 

I didn’t take any pictures while I was working on this because I was in such a hurry, but here’s what that cup looked like when I finally got it removed.

I got the threads all cleaned up, and liberally applied some grease.  Grabbed my bottom bracket tool and turned that new cartridge in.  Unfortunately the spindle was just a little bit longer than the old one, and the chain line was no longer perfect.  It was close enough though.  I got the bike together and got ready to leave. 

As for the race?  I ended up getting a last minute call requesting help at one of the stops and I never ended up racing.

Proposed Mandatory Helmet Law in Minnesota

This is the email I sent to my representatives regarding the proposed helmet law in MN. (for more info go to and search for HF918)
If you want to contact your representatives, this website will help –

I am writing you to request that you do NOT support H.F. No. 918 requiring bicycle operators under age 16 to wear protect headgear.

First off the efficacy of bicycle helmets to reduce brain injuries has yet to be conclusively proven.  Some of studies cited as proof are seriously flawed in their methodologies.  There is still debate as to whether bicycle helmets may actually contribute to more serious brain injuries like diffuse axonal injury.  Some studies have shown that motorists behave more aggressively around cyclists with helmets, presumably because they think the cyclist is better protected against injury.  Some studies have shown that the cyclist actually rides more aggressively because of the false sense of safety he feels from wearing a helmet.  The one way we can be sure that injuries will be reduced is by a reduction in the number of people riding bicycles.  Studies have shown reductions by 4% to as much as 50% depending on the location and the severity of the helmet law.  At a time when physical activity among children is sorely lacking, do we really want to reduce it?

However, even if the helmet is effective in preventing brain injuries, it is not the place of the state to force my children, or any children to wear one.  Even if it were, why are bicycle riders being singled out?  A 1998 report from the Federal Office of Road Safety showed that brain injuries among motorists would be cut by 25% percent if motorists were required to wear bicycle helmets (even where airbags were used.) In 2009 in the U.S. 33,800 people died in automobile accidents.  4,092 pedestrians were killed by automobiles.  During that same time period only 630 died riding their bicycle (again, the vast majority from accidents involving motor vehicles.)  Both pedestrians and motorists have a much greater risk of being killed.  Are we going to pass helmet laws for them too? The death rates for heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are higher than all of those.  Should we try to legislate healthy eating habits after we get everybody wearing helmets? Even a toothless law like this one is overstepping the bounds of government.  We don’t need the state dictating every decision to us.  The point of FREEDOM is being able to make your own decisions.  The way I see it there can only be one purpose for this law and that is to open the door for farther reaching enforceable helmet laws in the future.

If the state is actually interested in bicycle safety, Europe has shown that education and infrastructure are the path to safety for cyclists, not helmets.  Helmets are going to have very little effect if motorists keep hitting cyclists.  This is either about appearing to be pro-bicycle without being willing to invest in true bicycle safety, or it’s about control.  When helmet laws have come up in France, Italy, Spain, & England they have looked at the example of Australia whose helmet law was basically a complete failure because it reduced bike use and therefore bike culture and advocacy and made cycling less safe than it was to begin with.  In each of those countries helmet laws have been voted down, sometimes multiple times.  We don’t need a helmet law here either.  Please vote against this law.