2012 Spoonflower Staff Challenge Pt 12: Building A Spoonflower Streamliner

MAR 13, 2012

This is the twelfth in a series of posts describing the projects that are part of our 2012 Spoonflower Staff Challenge. Voting begins on Thursday, March 15, 2012.


Gart: Stephen had mentioned the idea of a project-based staff contest working in teams.  Hmmm, I thought, how do I convince my teamie that this needs to be all about recumbent bicycles?  Anyone who remembers last year’s staff contest may recall the ‘velveteen bike’ entry.  Well, as it turned out, that wasn’t a problem!

Allie: When it was announced that I would be working with Gart I knew we both shared a common interest in biking and thought something in relation to that would make an awesome project!  In our first meeting Gart and I discussed the possibility of making a wind sock for his recumbent bicycle and I must admit, initially I was a bit skeptical of how we would make this work but thought it would be a fun challenge to tackle.

Gart: So when I learned that I was teamed with Allie, and she talked about doing something relating to bicycles, I was psyched.  Not only is Allie a genuinely artistic person, but she is also completely un-intimidatable, if that’s a word.  No crazy idea too big.

I started thinking about ennobling the honorable bones of my antique recumbent bike with a fabric streamline shell.  This had loads of nerd appeal for me.  Streamlining was a cultural movement paralleling art deco in the 30’s, with no less than one of the greatest design nerds of all time as its wizard-king: Buckminster Fuller.  And of course Streamliners are a genuine custom engineering mandate on the Bonneville Salt Flats if you want to set a speed record.  Finally, Streamliners have become a fixture in setting human powered vehicle speed records.  Allie was game to try this, so we had a project.

When Allie asked me about the design, I knew right away what I thought would be cool.  I grew up in the NorthWest corner of Puerto Rico in the late 70s and early 80s.  There was nothing cooler than surfing, no cool surfer was without a custom van, and these vans were a canvas for local airbrush artists that seemed to focus on nothing but waves and sunsets.  And of course the gnarliest wave in myth or reality is the Great Wave off Kanagawa.  

So, in one project we were going to touch on recumbent bicycles, Buckminster Fuller, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Surfing, Sunsets, 70s Vans, epic waves, and human powered vehicle speed records.  


Allie:  The idea for our fabric came from Gart.  He wanted something wave related and left color and design up to me.  He mentioned the iconic print The Great Wave off Kanagawa so I used that as inspiration and was happy to hear he liked what I came up with. 

I sketched out a few waves and used colored pencils to fill in some color.  The background of the photo came from a picture I took while in Denham, Western Australia.  During Spring Break of the semester I spend in Perth, WA we drove North from Perth about 800 miles and Denham was one of our stops.  I have never seen sunsets quite like those and thought it would be perfect for the background of this fabric, and the end result did not disappoint. 

Construction:  While it probably comes as no surprise, I had no experience sewing anything to be mounted onto a bicycle, and honestly don’t have much other sewing experience so this was quite the challenge for me.  Luckily it was basically all straight lines so it was easier than I had anticipated but working with six yards of cotton silk was no walk in the park.  When it came to actually attaching the fabric to the bike, I left that up to Gart.

Gart: Well Allie did a fantastic job.  I can’t imagine a surfer that would not have been proud to have her design on their van.

The next step was to design the rigging.  I decided to use velcro to attach the fabric to the front, and to use the rack on the back of the bike to support a PVC pipe as the attachment point for the back.  We mocked this up, and it became clear that the fabric would foul in the rear tire, the chain, and the pedals without an internal frame, so we set about designing that.

I knew I wanted  a teardrop shape with a relatively long tail.  I thought the least we could get away with was an upper and lower batten holding the shape.  With materials and design questions on the brain, I went to the hardware store to think.  Several hours and a couple trips later, I settled on using a combination of PVC and Pex piping from the plumbing aisle.  These had the benefit of being light weight, cheap, with lots of sizes and connecting options.  It was kind of like assembling legos, except you get to saw up all the bits to make them fit your size.

The frame started with a 45 degree joint at the nose with two ¾ inch pex pipes going out about 18 inches, attached to two 6 foot lengths of of ½ inche pex flowing back to the tail of the tear drop.

Allie:  I created pockets on the inside of the fabric to insert the ribs. This helped it all stay together and hold its shape.  After a few adjustments, cuts, and new seams here and there we started to see this thing really coming together!

Gart: once the pockets for the ribs were in place, we needed to work out the dimensions for each of the ribs.  We did this by successive approximation, which means we sawed up a LOT of different versions.

At first it looked like a bike powered shower stall, but that didn’t last too long.  As we tweaked it started to take shape.

Allie: The final changes were pretty minor.  We had to move the whole thing up a bit in the front to keep the frame out of the pedals, and after a few changes here and there we had sucessfully made a usable streamliner!


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