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Spollen Wizzer Trike

July 2004

Our mother’s trike: this is the inspiration behind the Wizzer. This machine was created on her request after she suffered two strokes and could not drive or walk. Knowing that we make bikes, she asked us to create for her something that she could get about in. Working from parts found lying around the shop, her machine was assembled. Turns out she took to it really well and rode off down the street on her first test ride. It simply gave her something she did not have: mobility. Needless to say, she loves it. She does need a little help getting in and out - my stepfather provides her with that - but beyond that, it works!

Tom and I have a rental unit that we both maintain and do all the repairs ourselves, providing us with a small income. This bit of financial freedom gives us both some time with which to create. We got to thinking that a three-wheeler would be perfect to pedal to the property and back once a week. We could do the lawn work, not wanting to use a car and waste gas as well as transport tools back and forth. So the Wizzer idea was born out of necessity and frugality, a somewhat humble beginning. And if that was not a good enough reason to start this project, the last tenant left a mountain bike in the rear shed, a little rusty and with flat tires, but perfect for the main support of our new machine.

Here is the start of the construction: note the diamond frame top bar has been removed. The forks are laid out for side rear wheel consideration, and the spare handlebar is perfect for going through the bottom bracket and making the bridge to hold the two spare forks laid sideways.

Tom finished the look-see process. This is something that years of building has taught us. Think, think, think, then walk away and think some more. OK, we need a seat. Without a seat there’s no sense in starting to build.

This is my department, so I marked a mat board and molded it with a razor blade into a bucket-like shape. I knew from brief rides on the trike we made for my mother that a bucket-type racing seat would be needed to hold the body in on turns. I sat on the seat and measured and glued. I originally tried to design a template that could be used to cut a seat out of stronger material, but Tom came in from work one night as it sat in my studio and said it looked pretty good as is, so why not just fiberglass the cardboard.

This turned out to be a very good idea. We went to a local auto store and were able to buy both resin and cloth. This is the good stuff, heavy cloth designed for bad body work. I was able to get the strength up very quickly with only a few lay-ups. After each lay-up I bent the seat and sat on it to test for strength. We did five or six separate lay-ups altogether. Note the block of light foam laid into the form for lumbar support already glassed in. This shape seat is what is coming out of Europe.

Here you can see the back of the seat just before glassing. The foam on the back is glued on to hold the cardboard in place when applying the glass. I also liked the form and shape it made.

After I glassed the cardboard bucket, I hot-glued an aluminum backbone into position for bike attachment points and internal strength. This was then glassed as well. We went to Space Surplus Metal (325 Church St., New York, NY) where they have great piles of steel and copper, all sizes and shapes. And they let you poke and pick, no plastic wrap stuff here.

This was our first "look-see". The seat was laid in position and the handlebars have the forks taped to it. At this point we again measured the length and rear tire width. The rear tires are 22” apart.

A front view, again looking before doing anything.

This is the machine after a lot of brazing and cromoly cutting. Note the gussets on back of seat, on the down pipe, and under the seat, which make the frame stiffer and compensate for the removal of the top bar of the original diamond frame, reforming the original triangle. Note the name already on the frame.

Here we are putting the foam on the fiberglass bucket. The foam is a camping mat from Campmor (Paramus, NJ, and mail order). This was a job. Tom pushed and pulled while I heated. We taped it into position, then after it was heated and formed, I contact-cemented it to the bucket.

This shows the foam heated, formed and glued into position. Note the gussets on the forks - they were all cut from discarded bike frames and they match on both sides of the trike. This was a conscious effort on our part at aesthetics, something that comes with doing this stuff for a while. Not in the photo, but Tom put a bolt in the rear drop-outs which works like an anti-sway bar, making the frame much tighter, especially in turns.

Here is the finished machine in Ford Black. Henry had four wheels, we prefer three. So far she is working very well. The front wheel drive combined with the internal three-speed hub is a sweet combination. What was conceived as a workhorse is running a little like a racehorse. The internal hub lets you shift while standing still at a stoplight, and with a trike you do not have to de-cleat at stops. The front wheel drive is very efficient - less chain, and no rollers or idlers means little if no power loss, very impressive. I have had her running on the flats several times at 23-24 mph. She has a seven-speed cassette on the front tire and uses a retro stem shifter. Actually, with a simple jig this machine could be made from common recycled bike parts rather quickly, a great project for high school students who like to tinker.

Here’s Tom showing the body position on the Wizzer. The handlebar boom was heated and bent down slightly, and we just had a front side pull break go boom. Replaced it with a new center V-brake. She’s feisty, coming in at 42 pounds, not bad for a home brew. Strange, but somehow it’s like we are getting a little bit out of bikes here. Tom refers to her as a "fuel-less buggy".

Yes, the frame does flex a little, and it’s weird on rough roads, as the flex dampens out the bumps. It kind of feels like a spider doing push-ups on a mirror. The ride feels like an Indy car with the little steering wheel directly in front of you and the bucket-like racing seat. Remember, a trike does not lean. You must brake and add a little body English to make the machine turn. Fun stuff!

To be continued. If she runs well this fall, we may add a fairing.

A foam fairing was added in October 2004.

Chris & Tom Spollen
Staten Island, NY
July 2004