Leamington Raft Race – 2014 – Vanessa’s Return

It’s that time of the year again, the annual Leamington raft race, organised by the Rotary Club of RLS. My team and I had so much fun last year that we decided to go for it again, after making a few upgrades to last years set up.

Van-essa, the van roof come boat has been sitting in my garden since last year but all she really needed was a good clean and a little fibreglass to repair some of the larger holes we picked up at the last race. We prefer to think of Van-essa as a boat that sinks constantly…but predictably. The main issue we were having last year was that the boat did not want to go in a straight line. Primarily I think this was due to the ribs running horizontally along the roof, acting like chinings but in the wrong direction. The boat isn’t much longer than it is wide so this seemed to give it a tendency to veer off course at every given opportunity. To fix this I attached 2 pieces of hardboard (not ideal but cheap) to the bottom of the hull to flatten off the underside, then added some 2×4’s to both stiffen the hull slightly and force the water to flow in the correct direction. This was all screwed up through the hull and in to the inner frame, small screw holes would leak slightly but it was a nice quick way to attached the sheet besides, going quicker would mean less time in the water which would mean less water would make it in to the boat?


This solution clearly worked pretty well, 17mins shaved off of our time for last year an a very respectable 3rd place. The boat seemed a lot easier to steer but perhaps that was just me being optimistic, the sped up footage below makes us look like we are playing a game of Pong to get along the river!

The smaller amount of work on the boat meant that I could focus more time on the trailer! Last years design worked fine but was pretty dangerous and a lot of hard work. I wanted to address both of these issues and fortunately a quick call to Action 21 in Leamington soon saw me with a few steel bike frames to play with.


I am calling this a ‘bicycle pick-up truck’. It has full suspension and 2 front V brakes (plenty of stopping power for the speeds we were achieving). Both bikes are welded together and extended (3 and a bit lengths of chain required per side!), with the steering linked with some rudimentary Ackerman set up. A bed made from 2×4’s and OSB was bolted to the back to give me something to rest the raft on. Not only does this solution allow for 2x the power of my previous design, it is also much more stable and comfortable. We certainly got a lot of great looks cycling it down the parade to the race. Both bikes are set up with a single gear ratio and despite having a lot of chain droop we didn’t drop a chain once!


This year we managed to get some video of the race/eventful journey to it! So here is is in full, my first proper attempt at video editing, thanks to Matt for getting the shots on the way down. If you were a big fan of Van-essa the boat I suggest not watching the final 30 seconds, where she meets her end, sorry all I just can’t keep it in the back garden for another year!

Thanks again to the great team who crewed with me and helped prepare the boat for race, we will be back next year with a much faster design to hopefully take home gold.

Leamington Raft Race

Recently some friends and I decided to enter the Leamington Spa Rotary Club Raft Race. With a few weeks to go we were still struggling to source some kind of buoyancy we could easily get a hold of for free. Eventually this led to the realisation that the roof from a van would make a perfect boat, all we needed was a roof. A quick call later and we had secured one (nice work Robin and the guys at Truck Busters), and that Friday we went equipped with angle grinders and a large trailer.

After scouring the lot we settled on a lovely white LDV convoy. This had the advantage of the side door not interfering with the roof (one less hole to fill), a high roof line and, most importantly, it was fibreglass so wouldn’t be too heavy for us to move around. An hour or so later and we were done.


Some cutting and re-welding was done to remove as must rust/weight as possible. Shawn and I then cut a piece of 6mm ply to make a stern (where the rear doors went). This was sealed on with silicon sealant and screwed in to the metal frame around the back. Although this mostly held water out during testing we later added some ‘sticks like shi*t’ to fully seal the joint.


A floor was added to spread the load of the 9 occupants of the raft across the fibreglass, then decoration was all that we required to be ready for the race. This lead to the problem of how to move a 4m long and 1.8m wide ‘boat’ 2 miles down to the river. None of us owned a big enough car trailer and it was too big to go on to my roof rack.

Enter the Bike Trailer

In the UK there are plenty or laws about towing by car. However, I could find fairly little relating specifically to towing by bike (note: this does not guarantee this is legal). A giant trailer could double up as a launch for our boat and be towed, albiet slowly, behind my mountain bike. Fortunately I had some spare steel left over from our Ambulance Adventure so I managed to whip together a bike trailer fairly quickly.


This thing is huge. Brakes have been added but with such length on the cable (over 4m) I struggle to achieve any actuation with all the cable stretch and outer flex. As a result the brakes are set so they are permanently on very slightly. Due to the weight of this thing (I estimate around 90kg) the constant rubbing of the brakes just about keeps the trailer in control, believe me I tried without.

This was just a quick project to get the boat to and from the race and we had some great comments about it, despite being in the way a LOT on the road. Despite how quickly it came together it has survived around 12 road miles with the boat on the back, going up and downhill through Leamington town centre. The next iteration will probably have servo actuated brakes and I will get rid of the camber on the front wheel.


We had a lot of fun with the race and ended up coming 4th out of 15 rafts. We also managed to raise some money for Help for Heroes, and we are still collecting on justgiving if you are feeling generous. Hopefully a race video is still to come.

eCumbent – Welding Begins

This post is a little late in coming and the eCumbent trike is now a lot further along in development, as usual I find myself forever playing catchup.

The first step was to harvest some donor bikes for parts and build the rear forks. Every time I use my chop saw on steel I realise just how useful it is, this thing cuts through so easily and saves me from hacksaw hell. The forks were jigged up and some axle holding tabs fabricated to hold the wheel in place. These have been made from much thicker (5mm) steel plate: heavy but they should hold down the torque provided by the rear hub motor that I plan to add.


Once the fork came together I started building the spine of the frame. The pictures below show a crude setup using toolboxes of convenient heights to get the frame geometry correct to the plans. It took several attempts to get the spine of the frame true. After using a myriad of distinctly average measurement techniques I eventually settled on a set of tack welds I was happy with and managed to weld the spine together.

I also received the components to build my front wheels, 20″ with 20mm axles. I haven’t laced wheels in a while and the small rims with 3cross lacing proved a challenge but as always it all pulled true in the end. Lacing wheels is a very therapeutic part of building a bike and I would recommend it to anyone who has some level of patience.


More progress to come.

Nexus 4 Bike Mount – Review/Modifications

So I recently upgraded my phone to googles flagship the Nexus 4. So far a great phone, the only problem is that I couldn’t find a dedicated phone mount for a bicycle. Now my previous phone (Galax S2) had a dedicated mount, which I loved. It keeps the phone away from rain and is very robust, allowing me to use maps on my phone easily when I go cycle touring.

Although I couldn’t find a Nexus 4 specific mount for my phone I did find a mount of the same brand I had used before for the s3 here. Now the s3 and the Nexus 4 are pretty similar in size so would it work? A quick bit of ‘internetting’ prooved that yes it might well do, 2 days and £30 later and I had one on my desk ready to play.


So a quick review. The mount seems to have all the nice features of my older S2 mount and includes some improvements. Although the volume buttons are no longer accessible the headphone socket is. There is also an option to add a ‘charge pack’ and even though I didn’t buy this version you can see the connections are still included inside (these lead to the outside via 2 pads on the back of the mount); perhaps I will add an external USB plug at a later date using this breakout. The mount is also far more secure thanks to an updated click and lock system that uses a small bolt with finger friendly tightening nob to really give you piece of mind that the device in case can’t separate from the part that attaches to the bike. The catches on the outside are also even more robust than my previous mount. Overall I am pretty pleased with it.

Will it fit a Nexus 4? Short answer, yes. The device fits (physically) inside perfectly. Deatails:

  • Headphone port, the phones port is slightly far left. No worries for me as I don’t listen to music while riding though an external speaker may make an appearance for me at a later date. There is enough room before the hinge to drill a new hole for headphones if required.
  • Cameras, both seem to be in the correct places (clear windows on the case). winner!
  • Charge port, although my mount doesn’t have the built in battery pack it seems there would be room to accommodate a USB plug within the case, good for a future modification i think.
  • Power button. Now this is my biggest problem, the button on the Nexus 4 is around 10mm higher than that of the S3. Now I believe there is a way to have the phone come out of sleep with a special screen swipe (root and special app required), but I didn’t want to use this method. I came up with the below modification to solve this.

To modify the power button for a Nexus 4. I have carved out some of the rubber holder using a stanley blade. Then cut down some sheet steel to act as a lever from the intended power button. This is all secured in place with a drop of super-glue and a small run of black tape. The hardest part of this was to get the metal bent correctly to accurate the power button when the phone is sealed in (lid closed and clamped shut). Due to the small throw of the power button on the Nexus 4 it was easy to accidentally press this simply by closing the case. Once working correctly though it seems reliable.


So far it is working out well on the desk. Will keep progress updated as I put some miles on it.