Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Unstable / Surge Voltage for XL6009 Buck Convertor

Unstable / Surge Voltage for XL6009 Buck Convertor

I am new to electronics, and this small boost convertor has me baffled. It displays some weird behaviour. One sets the voltage using the small brass screw, but then if you watch and wait the voltage climbs from the set voltage, 5 Volts in my case up to 28v or higher. I have also observed the same behaviour when setting the boost converter to 10v.

This has resulted in me destroying a bluetooth amplifier, because after setting the voltage at 5V, and connecting the voltage climbed to 28v and killed the amplifier board (PAM8403).

I am powering the XL6009 board, with a headway 8ah LIfePO4 battery at 3.9V, which is rated for 100A output. So I do not think insufficient power is the problem.

If you have had any joy with this sort of thing O would appreciate some help.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier - Intro

Do you have an old speaker or two hanging around in the garage or loft? Would you like to make a kick @$$ portable speaker for just £3 / $6? Left me show you how.

Lets get real here, you are not going to save lots of money you can probably buy a portable speaker, for you iphone or android phone direct from china for £6 / $12, but this way you get to save a trip to the dump, and get some satisfaction.

Old Speaker + £3 = Disco

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier - Ingredients

You will need the following ingredients:

  • An old speaker (4, 6 or 8 ohm) lower ohms = more volume.
  • Some wire (door bell, lead from old adaptor. . . )
  • Battery Holder to hold 3 x AA or 3x AAA batteries  
  • PAM8403 amplifier board
  • A drill 
  • screw driver
  • Soldering iron
  • solder
I have gone in to detail regarding the battery holder and the PAM8403 amplifier below.

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier - The Amplifier

You can buy the vanilla PAM8403 board on ebay for next to nothing but for a few £/$ more you could get hold of a blue tooth variant. This is useful if you want to use a phone without the 3.5mm jack socket.

There also variants with a volume control, and a smoothing capacitor. This may be worth getting if you do not have a spare capacitor

Bluetooth . . . . . volume control . . . . . or vanilla (normal) the choice to yours.

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier - Power Source

The amplifier run on a any voltage between 2.5V and 5.0V. This means you can power it with:

  • 3 x AA batteries
  • 3 x AAA batteries
  • USB power lead from PC or Wall Adaptor
  • 1 x 18650 Battery
  • A USB power bank
I have tried with a USB power lead, and then 3 x AA batteries both worked very well. 

The amp have two channels (left and right) and as far as I know you have to use both channels. You cannot splice the two channels together to make one. 

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier - How To

So the old speaker I have had a tweeter (small high frequency speaker) and woofer / midrange speaker. I used one "channel" from the amop for each. I cant remember which way around I put them. 

You will need to remove the cross over if there is one, save the capacitors for re-use.

In order to do this you will need to open up the speaker and, take a wire from either the woofer or the tweeter, you may find that you have a cross over unit in there, you will need to by-pass this so you can create two separate channels. Keep the cross over and carefully remove one of the capacitors for reuse, in a moment. You will need to solder this in to the positive wire of the tweeter. Like this:

Adding a capacitor as above will improve sound quality.

I first tried the amp and speaker together without this capacitor and the tweeter sounded distorted. However, after adding the capacitor all was well. 

The amplifier is tiny. . . note pinky (little finger) for scale.

Next up we need to start soldering all the bits together, if you do not have a soldering iron just buy one. They are useful for all sort of mending and fixing and making. As you can see the PAM8403 amplifier is tiny. And this makes for fiddly soldering, you can only use thin wire as the holes are too small for thick wire. 

Wiring is simple. . .but fiddly!

So for simplicity I house the wiring in a surface mounted junction box on the rear of the seapker, I had one of these spare in the garage. But you could actually just put all of the wires inside the speaker if you wanted to. Although it would be more fiddly to work on. 

3 x AA Battery Holder - £1.99

This cheap battery holder from ebay has a built in switch (counter sunk). I screwed it on to the rear of the speaker. With 3xAA batteries in side in produced 4.5V, good quality rechargeable batteries are preferable to disposable, as they hold a higher charge for longer, so voltage stays are close to the optimum (5V) as possible. 

Toggle switch. . . if you like.

I also added a toggle switch that I had as it is a nicer switch to use, than the one on the battery holder. You can also use a piece of cord, rope or strapping as a carry handle. 

Carry Handle

Make a Portable Speaker with PAM8403 Amplifier - Performance 

The sound level of the finished speaker (4 ohms / 4.5V ) is approximately 60 - 70 decibels. You cannot really have a normal conversation in the same room. As a 35+ year old man, I find it unpleasantly load at full volume.

There is quite a lot of midrange and high pitch sound, and perhaps some more bass would be a good, but overall for a piece of hardware that cost 99p, and is the size or a postage stamp it is amazing . . almost alchemy in terms of its performance. 

This is a fun, low cost project that I have enjoyed doing, and I would urge you to do the same if you require a speaker of this type rather than buying some other hard to recycle item from china.

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Living with iOS 9.3.5 on an iPhone 4S

Living with iOS 9.3.5 on an iPhone 4S  - Intro

I have been avoiding upgrading my iOS since iOS 7. However, on wednesday night I drank too much red wine and upgraded, because an app I wanted to use requires iOS 9 or higher.

What a mistake to make. My snappy adequately fast phone was rendered sluggish and virtually useless. So what can I do?

Living with iOS 9.3.5 on an iPhone 4S  - Down-Grade - NO WAY

Apple must know that older devices will not run there newer iOS properly, and hope that the performance of iOS 9 on older devices will force people to upgrade. For this reason they do not offer a way to downgrade your iOS. 

There is one exception, and that is 6.1.3 which is still "signed" for use on the iPhone 4 (not 4S). There is 3rd party software avaiable to do this, if you have iOS 9.3.4, but not for iOS 9.3.5.

So this is impossible for 9.3.5.

Living with iOS 9.3.5 on an iPhone 4S  - Jail-Break - NOOOO WAY

This is also not possible, iOS 9.3.5 is not jail-break-able.

Living with iOS 9.3.5 on an iPhone 4S  - Re-Install and Performance Mods - WORTH A SHOT

This is the only way left for people, and I think by following the below steps you can claw back the usability of you iphone 4S.

9.3.5 Reinstall

  1. Back-Up Your Iphone (Use iTunes)
  2. Reset (Settings > General) Choose (Erase All Content and Settings) 
  3. Restore from Back Up when Done.
Note: This freed up a lot of storage space for me. Despite having most the same apps and music on the phone after restore. Perhaps the old iOS is not deleted from the phone when it is upgraded?

9.3.5 Performance Mods

Do the following:
  1. Turn Off Animations (Settings > General >Accessibility)
  2. Turn Off Transparency (Settings > General >Accessibility)
  3. Turn Off Back Ground App Refresh (Settings > General)
  4. Enable Low Power Mode (Settings > Battery)
  5. Delete All Unwanted Apps (Hold Down Any App Icon Until Wobble)

Living with iOS 9.3.5 on an iPhone 4S  - Conclusions

APPLE! It should not be like this, serve the customer please. If I want to install Windows 3.1 on my PC I can. . . . this means I do not have to send my old PC to india, for kids to dismantle, and go to early graves with lead poisoning. . . there is a moral element here!

Every time you make a new iphone there is also a carbon cost, it is no good prattling on about how considerate you are in you CSR reporting if your belligerent attitude towards legacy hardware is causing mountains of E-Waste, and unnecessary Carbon Emissions. You know global warming, that thing that Trump Ignores. . . but then he is a pretty good guy after all.   

Illustrator Devon

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Intro

WHo wants a new blue tooth portable speaker when you can use a chunky black box, attached to your phone with a cable? I appreciate that this is a guitar amp, but I also thought it might be good for playing music through. . . . .turns out NOT. It is not even a very good amp, and yes I am considering the fact it is small and runs on batteries.

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review
A nice looking amp with a quality feel. . . . 

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Battery

This GA-1 takes a 9v power pack (LR6) what a faff that is , why not 6 xAA? That would be so much cheaper and easier. So that is a really annoying feature. Considering the amps performance (low) then you need to keep the battery in prime condition to deliver good sound, otherwise more distortion, and there is PLENTY of that any way.

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review BAttery
Really? That is the best battery option you could think of?

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Sound Quality

Terrible. There is something to be said for it small size, and if you are playing in your bedroom or maybe at a BBQ in the woods. . . . but the sound quality is so so poor, its hardly worth having. Using it a speaker for say music from an iphone is a terrible idea, as the sound distorts at an incredibly low volume. 

The Insides let this amp down. . .badly

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Insides

Inside the amp we see the board is centered around a panasonic (AN7142) 0.9W chip. This is well below the advertised 2W output, or leagues away from 5W max output touted.

Now I am not a electronic guy, but you can get amp chips that support 5W. So what have they done in there? Whatever they are doing it certainly looks as though the internals could be better.

A low power chip may be to blame for the terrible sound?

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Manufacturers Blurb

This is the blurb straight from daphon:

Portable Performance Amp

A perfect beginner guitar amp or a busker's best friend. Because of it's battery power you can have amplification wherever you are. The amp has the capacity to produce decent volume and you have control over your sound through tone control. Flick the drive button for a crunchy overdrive. Also suitable for microphones, though an impedance transformer is recommend for best performance.

Hours of Fun on a Single Battery

Runs on a single 9 volt battery (the rectangle type) that can last many hours depending on volume, can also be powered by a 9V ac adapter. The amp is 20cm / 16cm / 8cm in size and a headphone output is included for silent playing.

Music On-The-Go

Also a great portable music speaker. Just plug in your Mp3, Ipod or Discman via the input and you can have access to music wherever you go.

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Dimensions

Dimensions: 20cm x 16cm x 8cm
Weight: 1.2kg
Maximum power output: 5W
RMS power output: 2W

Daphon GA-1 Amplifier Review - Conclusions

A well built case a solid feeling controls, let down by very poor quality internals.

Environmental Consultants

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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Schwalbe Dirty Harry BMX Tire Review

Schwalbe Dirty Harry BMX Tire Review - Intro

These are a cheap BMX tire from Schwalbe. However, do not be fooled by the price, this is an excellent tire that could be used on folding bikes, kids bikes as well as BMXs and have an excellent building quality and a good multipurpose grip. It comes in 20" (406) variant only, and is 1.95" wide.

Schwalbe Dirty Harry
Not Just for BMX

Schwalbe Dirty Harry BMX Tire Review - Grip

The tread pattern is ideal suited to street riding, loose gravel riding, and dry dirt. Where it quickly comes undone is claggy mud, where the closed block tread pattern quickly clogs. The tread pattern is also quite shallow, this is advantageous in that the "knobs" do not flex when under load but a disadvantage as they clog more readily. 

Schwalbe Dirty Harry
Tread Pattern Looks Flash and is Good for All Except Thick Mud

The rubber compound is SBC (Schwalbe Basic Compound) as used on early Big Apple Tires and is perfectly adequate, although not as good as some of their high end compounds. 

Schwalbe Dirty Harry BMX Tire Review - Build Quality 

These are a moderately high quality tire. But is has one blinding feature that most other BMX tires do not have, a kevlar puncture protection belt (Kevlar Guard). This is an excellent feature, and will stop punctures from just about anything, except hawthorns. 

Side View

The TPI is s little low if you want to carry large loads, but for normal riding is is very good. These have a soft feel when riding when compared to a very high TPI tire such as the Eclat Ridgestone.

Tread Deatil

Schwalbe Dirty Harry BMX Tire Review - Conclusions

A cheap reliable tire form a quality brand, with excellent puncture protection. A tread pattern suitable for all sorts of surfaces. . . .whats not to like?

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - Buyer's Guide

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - Buyer's Guide - Intro

I am not an expert. But we have recently bid on a property using the Informal Tender or Sealed Bids process, and here are some observations which may be useful to you.

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - The Property's Price

This is set by the estate agents to generate interest in the property, so it is likley to be below the actual value of the property.

You could complicate things here my trying to work out how much the property is worth. But the really the simple fact is, it is worth whatever you are willing to pay for it.

You don't really like it? - Bid 20% below  Price

You really want it? - Bid as much as you can afford*.

*I did look at some other similar properties nearby and this confirmed my suspicions that the property was under priced. For example if you are looking at a 3 bedroom terrace house for £180,000, and most property that are similar  sold recently for £220,000, then this will give you some idea of the level of bid that could be placed. Remember if you bid too much the mortgage company will find that the property is over-valued, and likley not lend you the money to buy it.

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - How are the Bids Decided

Price would be a major factor with the buyer likley accepting the highest offer.

However, if to similar offers are received, then the buyer will likley choose the offer that which does not rely on chains or borrowing.

A chain free cash buyer would be most favourable, although I have read on line that cash buyers are not always the first to be picked.

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - How to Bid

Ask the estate agent for a Informal Tender form or proforma, for you to fill out. If they do not have one then include the following information in a letter:

  • Title - Subject to Contract Informal Tender
  • For - The Address of House you wish to Buy
  • Your Name (s)
  • Your Address & Other Contact Details 
  • Is your offer and ability to proceed dependant on another property? Yes or No
  • If yes give details. 
  • Level of borrow you anticipate.
  • State of agreement regarding borrowing i.e. Agreement in Principal. 
  • Name of your Solicitors
  • Other things you think might be relevant. 

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - When to Bid

You are hopefully delivering a envelope or an email to your estate agents.. . . . . . 

If the people running the tender are less than honest then it does not matter when you submit you bid, as the process is rigged. In this instance it may be advantageous to submit your tender at the last minute, so as to give the organiser less time to react.

If the people running the tender are honest, then nobody will see you bid other than the honest organiser and the vendor, so it does not really matter when you submit your bid.

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - Can You Bid more than Once?

Yes, just submit a revised offer if you think you may have bid too much or too little.

Informal Tender or Sealed Bids - Have You "Won"?

You will normally find out within 1 or 2 weeks after the closing dates for bids. It may be that if you are the second best bidder, and the first best bidder withdraws then you might be in with a chance.

This is was the case when we bid, we were "significantly lower" than the winning bid, but for what ever reason they pulled out, and we are now buying the house! 

Friday, 26 May 2017

L1e-A Type Approval - Missed Opportunities

1 - L1e-A Type Approval - Missed Opportunities - Intro

The L1e-A class of vehicle is at at present described in European Directive 168/2013, at the moment there is no way of obtaining UK type approval for this vehicle. If you built a 15 mph 1000w ebike it would need to undergo the same inspection process as a Motor Bike.

But for now let us imagine that the DVSA had the resources to publish a list of requirements. If they followed the requirements set out in European Directive 168/2013, then the below list (Chapter 2) would be required, and uptake of the L1e-A vehicle class would be minimal. 

If we are to release to full environmental benefits of electrically assisted pedal cycles then we must allow a higher power rating under existing EAPC regulations, whilst maintaining current 15mph speed limit. 

If one has to tax and insure these higher powered, but low speed (15mph) vehicles what is the incentive in operating one? One may as-well opt for a "real" motor bike or a car.

In my various emails shared with the Department for Transport (Chapter 4) no reason for the current 250w limit has been given, the USA have a 750w limit which has been in use for over a decade. 

In short this could be a very useful, zero emission, transport solution. We need to clean up our air, we need to reduce our carbon emissions. 1000w 15mph EBikes and ETrikes could take over many of the jobs that Small Vans and Car currently do in our cities. 

Passengers . . .
. . . post. . . .
. . .  or freight.
Most of these heavier cycles are popular in the "low countries" such as Belgium and Holland. In the hilly UK, if these pedal powered vehicles are to be success then we will need a 1000w power limit on an assisting electric motor.  

2 - L1e-A Type Approval - Missed Opportunities - Requirements

L1e-A - Horn

You will not need am audible warning device. AKA a Horn.

L1e-A - Brakes

According to UNECE Reg. 78 unless the vehicle weighs less than 35kg. In which case normal bike brakes will be OK.

Rim widths must be kept under 45mm to avoid stopping distance requirements.

L1e-A - Endurance

Needs to be able to last for 5 years. Which bits this applies to I do not know, likley the frame I should think. 

L1e-A - Lights and Signals

A headlamp, a side reflectors, pedal reflectors. Headlights can be switched automatically or manually. No rear light is required.

This is rather silly. A rea light is one of the most important safety features on a bicycle. . . . the mind boggles.

L1e-A - Saddle

A normal bicycle saddle.

L1e-A - Tires

Normal bike tires provide loaded weight is below 150kg, and the tires are less than 67mm in width. This translates to 2.35" cycle tires being OK, which is pretty wide. 

L1e-A - Anti Tamper

The vehicle user should not be able to alter the vehicle speed above 15mph, with (i am guessing) an off road switch or similar.

L1e-A - Vehicle structure integrity

Must conform with EN 14764:2005. This is a bicycle standard realting to "City and trekking bicycles." So if you are converting a modern bike of the correct type then it should comply. However, this standard does not apply to:

"It does not apply to mountain bicycles and racing bicycles, tradesman's delivery bicycles, recumbent bicycles, tandems and bicycles designed and equipped for use in sanctioned competitive events."

L1e-A -Passenger handholds and footrests

These are not required. However this would suggest passengers are allowed. . . 

L1e-A - Registration Plate / Number Plate

10cm by 17,5cm space is required for mounting. This is annoying. This is large un-aerodynamic thing to fit on to a bicycle. 

L1e-A - Kick Stand

Yes you need one of these. A kick stand, or two foot stand for example. 

L1e-A - Propulsion Unit performance

This is a little complex, and will depend on the type of system. If a pedal assistance system then there are standards to be met (EN 15194:2009 &  UNECE Reg. No 8)

L1e-A -Electric energy consumption and electric range

There are no minimum range requirements. 

3 - L1e-A Type Approval - Missed Opportunities - - Conclusions

One of the great joys of owning a ebike is the lack of legislative burdens. No tax, no insurance, no requirement to wear a helmet. . . . 

The L1e - A category has the potential to revolutionise inner city transport if implemented correctly and sensitively. But if regulators are too heavy handed this form of vehicle will be relegated to an obscure and underutilized form of transport. 

4 - Type Approval Requirements L1e-A - Letters to DfT

I have had various contacts with the the Department for Transport. I would rather see this L1e-A bracket included under EAPC regulations.

Letter 1

An initial enquiry, brought boiler plate response. So . . . my response.

I think in the days before the world wide web, the response may well have been a useful one. But it is repetition of information that I have already read, and already have access to. It is all very well to choose 250 watts as a maximum power rating, but I fear this figure has been chosen at random with no true understanding how an electric motor works.

How will this be enforced? – We have a enforcement system that measures speed, not power.

Practicality? – Would you place a power limit on a Tractor?

Worthy Contribution? – A moderately fit rider can produce 800w power when cycling. 250w as an addition is rather small.

I summary I am trying to investigate why this 250w figure has been chosen. I would like to think there was some science behind it somewhere. . . . but I have a strong suspicion it was plucked from the air.

DfT response to Enquiry on why current limit is 250w.

Directive 2002/24 made type approval compulsory for all two wheeled motor vehicles,  except powered cycles not exceeding 250 watts. 
Unfortunately we have no detailed information on why that threshold was chosen. It may  have come from a prior threshold in an EU country where such cycles were common eg  Netherlands.

Letter 2 - Higher Power for Low Speed EBikes 

My Letter - Enquiring About Power Increase

Now that we are leaving the EU could we open a dialog on how best to increase max allowable power on pedal assisted EVs? To be clear 15mph speed limit would be maintained, with increased assistance level and torque.

Since our last communication we have heard that diesels will likely be banned in cities, and I think it is likely that electrical assisted vehicles can fill this gap.

With the price of electric cars and vans being inhibitive for most, I think now is the time to investigate this possible review of the EAPC regulations. Here are some links to some vehciles that would benefit from a change to the regulations: 

For Passengers

For Cargo

Surely this is worth looking at? We have an air quality and emissions mountain to climb in the next decade and this can only help. . . .

Dft Response to Increasing 

Thank you for your e-mail of 27 April concerning electrically assisted pedal  cycles (EAPCs). I have been asked to respond as I work in the Department  for Transport’s cycle policy team and lead on EAPCs.

As we are currently in the pre-election period, known as purdah, new policy  decisions cannot be taken until after 8 June when a new Government will  have been elected.

You may be aware that prior to the beginning of the purdah period detailed  guidance on compliance issues affecting certain EAPCs was published on the  Department for Transport’s website. For ease of reference here is a link to  the guidance.

My response to This

Thank you very much for you informative response. I had seen a draft of your linked document last year, I am worried that if these slow, low powered cycles are grouped with motor vehicles that the added administrative burdens will prevent their uptake.

I have recently read that there is a directive 168/2013 that introduces the category L1e-A for type approval. That is a 15mph top speed but with a 1000w power allowance.

This is exactly the type of bicycle I think that would prove useful for passenger and load carrying, and would provide a real alternative to cars and vans. Especially in hilly areas, were the current 250w allowance does not contribute meaningfully.

These types of cycle would also allow individuals and businesses to opt for zero emissions transport at a fraction of the cost of an electric car. This would accelerate the inner city air quality improvements required of the UK, whilst adding to the fitness and wellbeing of those using the cycles.

I believe that the DfT are updating type approval regulations at present, I would ask that the L1e-A category is merged with the EAPC regulations. I am of the opinion that attempts to classify these cycles as motor vehicles would severely restrict there up take, and thus limit the myriad of positive effects that they would bring for those using them, and air quality.

Finally, it is very difficult to enforce a system based on power ratings, at present our enforcement system favours speed as an enforcement mechanism, which most police can measure easily. If a bicycle is limited to 15mph, then there is very little point in having any more than 1000w power, any more and it is surplus to requirements. 

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Desktop Study

Monday, 8 May 2017

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Intro

This is a brief write up of the dilly cart / box cart that my kids and I have built for the National Trust, Landhydrock, Dilly Cart Race. I am not racing in the kart, instead my wife, and two daughters are entering because I enjoy building things, but not driving.

The race is a grass track race, and as such the rolling resistance is quite high. For this reason the race organisers suggest the use of 24" wheels or bigger.

Normally a box cart, or dilly cart track is paved in some way, and on these tracks a smaller 20" BMX wheel will serve you well, they have more spokes and are generally stronger.

I chose large wheels, because I think it will be annoying if the cart does not roll well. I think my kids will use the brake quite a lot, and not gauge the track ahead very well in terms of the momentum, required. Bigger wheels will reduce the likelihood of stalling on a grass track. So that is why I think the bigger the better even if you are not out to win.

Watch the length. 2.5 meters is soon used up!

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Specifications / Rules

For Landhydrock, Dilly Cart Race 2017 the carts have to meet the following requirements, unlike many cart races, you only need 3 wheels, which makes things a lot easier in terms of steering!

  1. Carts must have a minimum of three load bearing wheels.   
  2. We recommend a wheel size minimum of 24 inches, as you will be racing on a grass track.  
  3. Carts must have effective steering. 
  4. Carts must have effective brakes. 
  5. Carts must fit within the following dimensions:  

  •     Maximum length 250cm, 
  •     Maximum width 150cm, 
  •     Minimum track width 60cm 
  •     Maximum weight of vehicle, ballast and driver 150kg. 

  1. Carts must not have any sharp edges, glass or loose parts.   
  2. Carts will be examined before racing, and any carts considered  dangerous or unsuitable for the course will not be allowed to race.   However, inspection does not constitute a warranty of safety.   Drivers are solely responsible for the safe construction and operation  of their vehicles. 

Wonky but Functional

Whilst I found the width allowance to be very generous, you will have the watch you length. The 26" wheels add a lot of length as there are approx 60cm front to back so there is 1.2 meters straight away. The pictured cart is 2.4 meter long approx.

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Ingredients

Two bikes will provide moist of the stuff you need, they will have mounts for brakes, wheels, and other handy bits saving time and trouble. To summarise, try to get hold of two old mountain bikes. The recycling centre is a good place to start, where you could get 2 bikes for £20.

To Weld or Not to Weld?

If you buy a welder, then I am pretty sure you will be able to learn to use it pretty quickly. A cheap gasless mig welder can be had on ebay for £120. A welder is such a handy thing to have, by the time you have spent £50 on an alternatives such as epoxy, rivets or bolts etc. then  you may as well make the investment.

If you were to building from wood, that is OK.  I have done this before and the results are not as good. And even then we used some welded parts for brackets etc. I have seen some good wooden carts built with wheel barrow wheels, but with larger wheels it become more difficult.

Extra Tubing

The best source for cheap tubing I have found is electrician's conduit which you can get from any plumbers store or electrician store. Not B&Q, somewhere like plumb-base. It come is 3 meters lengths so unless you have roof rack, take a hacksaw with you.


You will need something to make the seat, this could be a canvas only deck chair type thing, or as I have done a plyboard jobby with a bit of cushioning (roll matt).

Foot Rest

This could be wood, tubing of net / mesh as used in pictures.


I used water based exterior paint, with an undercoat. It was left over from our front door. Metal paint would do a better job, but it is very smelly (high VOC content) and I wanted my kids to help paint it.


I am just using the tires that came on the bike. But you could opt for fatter tires with a shallow tread if you were really keen.


Ballast is a heavy lump of something that you attach to the cart to make is go quicker. Heavier thing have greater momentum, and so speed gained down steeper sections will be maintained through flatter sections.  I am not putting ballast in the cart, I just want my family to have a nice day and I am not bothered about winning. If the dilly cart were to tip over with 25kg or 50kg of ballast in side then I do want a family member underneath that kind of fast moving weight.


Hopefully you can use the brake son the bike. A front wheel break is not ideal as there will not be much weight of the front wheel, causing it to skid easily, at which point the steering will stop working! Not ideal.

1 Break on one side of the rear, will cause a little skewed, when braking, but is an ok option, if you have time then brake both rear wheels.

A very simple solution is a ground bearing break. Pull up a handle and a piece of wood hit the ground slowing the cat in the process.

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Design

Perhaps this should have come before ingredients. . . . . 

HAVE FUN. Do not worry too much about your design, unless you enjoy that part of it. Just try to keep the wheels aligned, and think about the human that has to fit inside the dilly cart. A good way would be to sit on your garage floor and draw around you required seating area, with a permanent marker. Then build the cart around this. 

Two Bikes Stuck Together make the Job Easier

Make sure the cart is strong enough. I will test out our dilly cart before I put my kids in it. I am double the weight of my wife, so I consider that an adequate test. 

So many things in life are prescriptive, why not just make it up as you go along!

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Extra Bits

Some extra bit s that might be considered . . . . . 

  • Flags 
  • Streamers 
  • Roll Bar - Stops youngsters getting squashed.
  • Horn
  • Spokey Dokeys
  • Spoiler
  • Mudguards - Stop debris front front wheel going in eyes. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Why?

There are a number of reasons why you might want a hub gear, for most is is the lack of servicing required. For others it is the clean look it provides.

For me it was to avoid the waste of replacing my chain and cassette every 9 months, as they get coasted in mud from rural cycling that I rarely have the time to clean off.

They is also one other bonus for me and that is the reduction in noise level. No chain slap. No crunching of gears. It makes for a relaxing ride.

A neat set up (please ignore pipe lagging!)

I live in a hilly area, and a 1 x 9 set up does not really provide enough range (300%). Whilst the alfine hub, gives a little extra range (400%) and make the steeper hill possible without walking!

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Gear Range

The Alfine 11 speed hub has a gear range of approx 400%, by comparison here are some other systems:

  • Alfine 8 Speed - 300%
  • 1 x 9 (11 - 34) - 300%
  • Sturmey Archer 3 Speed - 130%
  • 3 x 10 Triple - 550%
  • Rohloff - 520%
So you can see that the 400% offered by the alfine 11 is fairly large. You will need a front mech, rolhoff, or new fangled wide range 1 x 11 set up to match it.

View from above drive side.

Whilst a front triple ring setup will offer the same range for less money, the other two will cost the same if not more. 

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Cost 

Compared with systems that offer similar or better range, at time of publishing.

  • Alfine 11 - £350
  • XT 1 x 11 Groupset  - £350
  • Rolhoff Speed Hub - £935
  • 2 x 10 Groupset Shimano - £260
There is one extra cost which must be added to hub gears and that is the building of the wheel. Which can be done for around £25 plus cot of rim (£30). 

Used with sliding dropouts in this instance.

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Fitting 

The alfine 11 can be fitted on pretty much any bike with a 135mm rear dropout spacing. PERFECT INDEXING IS A SINCH. But there are a few extra things to consider.

The instructions although excellent but are split between 2 documents for:

When buying your parts just watch out for:

Chain Tensioning

If you have slot drop outs or horizontal drop outs then, you will be able to run the Alfine 11 without chain tensioners. Sliding dropouts are also an option. 

If you have vertical dropouts then you will need to use a chain tensioner. This slightly defeats the object of having a hub gear as it add complexity to the system, but is not too much of a burden. It will also stop you using a chain cover. 

An eccentric bottom bracket would allow the use of vertical dropouts, with an Alfine 11, without the use of the external tensioner. 

Fitting Kit / Small Parts Kit

In order to fit your alfine 11 hub, you will need to obtain the correct "small parts fitting kit" there are 3 or 4 to choose from. The main difference between each will be the non-turn washers, which have lugs at different positions for horizontal, standard and vertical dropouts. For example:

Be sure to buy correct fitting kit.
Wheel Building

If you intend to build you own wheel (and I suggest you have a go) then head over to "Ed Spoke Calculator" and tap in you hub and rim options. Then buy correct spokes.

Go for a 3 cross lacing, and opt for the 36 hole hub. The high the number of spokes and the thicker the rim, the more redundant strength you are building in to make up for amatur wheel building. 

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - In Use

In use the hub is very pleasant to use, but as with so many things it is a matter of preference as to whether the pros outway the cons.


  • Very snappy gear changes.
  • Shifter several gears at a time
  • Shift at a standstill  - this is really handy
  • Silent whilst pedaling and coasting
  • Perfect indexing very easy to set up
  • large range with no front mech
  • perfect chainline always


  • slightly spongy feel whilst pedalling.
  • rear wheel removal slightly more difficult
  • no quick release
  • slightly more complicated to fix a puncture

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Conclusions

Whilst lacking the direct feel of a typical derailleur system, the Alfine 11 hub is an excellent bit of kit. 

If you are a utility cyclist, a tourer, a commuter or a rural rambler, then the quiet hassle free nature of the hub will suit you very well. It is set at a good price point and delivers plenty of range for nearly all situations. 

Time has proven the Alfine 11 to be a reliable component, and I look forward to the reduced service intervals, and quiet riding that is to come.

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - More Pictures 

Line up upper marks for perfect indexing. . . .

. . . .  or the bottom yellow marks.

Cable routing. . . a few zip ties required. 

Rapid fire shifter. . .

Upper indicator window is replaceable if cracked.

Shifter units is rather bulky. . . 

. . . bulky. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Commencal El Camino Frame Review

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  -  Intro

Commencal are an ANdorran company that market this frame. The El Camino is billed as an everyday frame, and it a tough, versatile offering which might be considered for building up a commuter or a touring bike.

It is designed for 27.5 wheels up to 2.2" diameter, but I was running is with 26 x 2,34 tires, and it then has room for mudguards / fenders also. Fork is Salsa Firestarter Fork. So the bike can be built like this:

Or like this:

Which makes for a pretty versatile frame.

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  - The Ride 

This was my only negative. The ride is fairly solid, I think this is because I switched from a reynolds steel frame, to this one. Some may actually prefer this it certainly feels very solid and reassuring. I was not zinging this thing down alpine mountain sides so I'll leave any further comments here to those more qualified.

The frame has a lowered top tube by means of the gusseted upper seat tube section, which is a nice features and allows for a low step over height whilst using high vole 26" tires or 27.5" tires. The seat post is 31.6mm which allows for the use of dropper seat posts, although you can get normal seat posts in this size.

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  - Mounting Points

Excellent. There are threaded mounting points a plenty. Lots for mudguards, and the pannier rack mounts near the drop outs, are very deep so should withstand punishment. Unfortunately these do have to be shared is you are using fenders / mudguards, but this can be got round with a simple plate to add an additional hole for mounting fenders / mudguards which after all do not require much strength in the way of mounting points.

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  - Finish

The decals are beneath the lacquer and so are unlikely to be come scuffed. The frame I think is powder coated rather than painted and is a very high quality finish.

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Salsa Firestarter Fork Review

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Intro

A lot of the nicer MTB frame nowadays come with geometry to match a high travel suspension fork. If you want to then fit a rigid fork this limits you options, as you will need a long fork, to match the sagged height of your suspension fork, so as to not alter you head angle and relative saddle  / bar height. You can see Thorpy's Guide to Rigid Forks for more detail.

Used here with 26" wheels. Ideal for emulating long travel forks. 

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Ride

The fork visibly flexes as you ride, and has a lovely soft feel to it. I do not ride hard or fast, so I can not tell much more than that. My main requirements are that stuff is strong and comfortable, and the fork is certainly both of those.

As the pictures show I was using this fork with 26" wheels with 2.35 tires. It did not feel odd in any way, and I think the fork is good quality.

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Length

One of the best features of this fork is the 300mm steerer, but if you are listening salsa why not make this 400mm. Combine this with the axle to crown length of 483 and the whole fork is 783mm long, which is not a million miles away from the Thorn Forks (Mt Tura / Nomad), which measure in at around 830mm combined.

Salsa's "Enabler" Fork has a 350mm steerer, which would be nice, but the drop out spacing =130mm.

Uncut this fork will provide a ride that is considered up right for most.

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Mounting Points

There are mounting points everywhere, but not for low riders. There are 6 bolts holes (all supplied with M5 hex bolts) which are to be used with "Anything Cage Mounts". These are like giant water bottle cages in to which you can strap stuff like dry sacks or stoves.

In the arid expanses of the US I can see this being a OK, if rather clique concept. But in the UK. Everything would end up covered in mud for 60% of the year. Not Ideal.

"Classic" Fender / Mud Guard & Pannier Rack Mounts

Disk Brake Mounting point is present with rotor sizes up to 203mm accepted.

It is a bit of a faff using huib brakes with this fork, as the stanchions are so wide, but I doubt whether many will be doing this.

"Trendy" Anything Cage Mount Points

Mudguards or fenders can be mounted, but you will require some kind of fudge to bridge the mounting point at the crown. On my 26" wheel this gap is large, but on a 29 inch wheel or a 27.5+ it will be less of a problem.

Bodged Torque Arm Mount for Hub Brake. 

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Salsa Blurb

  • 100mm Suspension Corrected CroMoly fork
  • Suitable for Fargo and El Mariachi, and many others
  • Specifications*Steerer type: 1-1/8" straight(300mm)
  • *Axle to Crown: 483mm
  • *Fork Offset: 45.0mm
  • *Stem Clamp Diameter: 28.6mm
  • *Crown Race: 30.0mm
  • *Wheel/ Tire Compatibility: 29 x 2.4" max. tire fitment (but I had no trouble fitting Surly 3.0 tyres)
  • *Disc Brake: 51 mm I.S. Mount, 160 mm rotor Min, 203 mm Max.
  • *Fender Mounts:yes
  • *Rack Mounts: at Droput and Mid-blade*
  • Water Bottle Mounts: Anything Cage mounts of front of fork
  • *Dropouts: Stainless steel, forward facing
  • *Front Axle and Hub Info: 100 x 9 QR
Usual Warning 

"Dropper Plate" for Mudguards Required

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Drag Wood with Quad Bike

Drag Wood with Quad Bike - Intro

If you do not have a trailer, or in may case the ground is too boggy for the use of a trailer then you may consider dragging wood behind the quad bike. This is a stupid idea, and I do not recommend that you do it.

This is probably quite dangerous for the following reasons, and some other reasons that I can not think of:

  • The wood could dig in the ground causing you to stop suddenly.
  • The wood could dig in temporarily and then spring forwards hitting you in the spine, neck or skull or the bike.
  • The wood could carry on sliding when you stop and bash in to the quad bike.
  • The ropes could slip of the wood, and spring forward under tension hitting your spine, neck or skull.
To this end consider the following:

  • Use thinner rather than ticker rope so it is will snap easily, avoiding build up of tension.
  • Do not use chain or wire.
  • Do not use hook on the end of the rope. 
Like I say this does not cover everything but is better than nothing in terms of safety precautions. You might try wearing a a helmet and horse rider's body armour if you have it. 

Drag Wood with Quad Bike - How I Did It

I dragged about 300 lengths of wood, about 400 meters across a muddy field. I made slip knots in four length of rope, and put these around bundle of wood.

It worked OK, but the knots slipped off the wood occasionally. It is better to drag smaller multiple bundles than one big one. 

The wood gets covered in mud, and is tricky to work with thereafter. 

Muddy Business

Small Bundles are Better

Drag Wood with Quad Bike - Conclusions

Messy and dangerous but possible. 

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