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SkyWalker - Section 1

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 Twelve feet high - what a view! The ladder style design makes ascending and descending easy.


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SkyWalker is a radical two wheeler that allows the bicycle hacking adrenaline junkie to surf the skies while at the same time amusing or confusing the slack-jawed onlookers below. Sure, tallbikes are nothing new, and have been around since the 1800's, but SkyWalker takes things to new heights by allowing the rider to climb up and down the frame while the bike is in motion. What this means for tallbike pilots is that they no longer have to cling to a telephone pole to mount the bike, and worry about finding another pole when it comes time to dismount. SkyWalker is designed so that the pilot can control the bike from the ground, and all the way up to the top while climbing the built in ladder. Since the handlebars double as ladder handrails, the pilot is under complete control of the tallbike during the entire ascent.

Why would a person want to build and ride a 12 foot two wheeler you ask? To win a Darwin award? Train for the circus? Overcome a fear of heights? Set a world record? Who can say, but for me it has always been the same reason - because it's fun, and it beats sitting on my butt watching the tube!

The SkyWalker idea was originally drawn on a coffee stained napkin, and then later transferred to a 3D concept as shown in Photo1. The 3D model was used to get a better idea if the steering and transmission would actually work, since the frame was somewhat complex and involved a bizarre linked steering system. Normally, I just grab whatever scrap metal I can find and go nuts with the welder when making crazy bikes like this, but for SkyWalker I decided to follow the 3D plan exactly so I knew the final product would actually work as planned.

The photos presented here are somewhat low quality due to the fact that I built SkyWalker outdoors in early spring while the ground was still frozen, and did not actually intend to document it very much. Some of the photos were also taken at night, as I built the entire tallbike in one weekend just for a fun change.

SkyWalker is made of nothing more than a few standard bicycle components salved from the dump and a few lengths of thin walled electrical conduit from the hardware store. Even the curved tubes are nothing more than factory elbows. As for tools, I only used an angle grinder and a basic AC welder, nothing more. In other words, anyone with a pile of scrap bike parts and some tubing can do the same using any welder at all.


The rear of the frame will be designed in a way similar to that of a standard bicycle - with stays that wrap around the wheel to hold it in place by the axle. Since I did not have a pipe bender, I simply hacked up some electrical conduit, and a few pre-bent elbows to make the part as shown in Photo 2. There are no measurements to give because I simply have no idea what they are. SkyWalker was built in a hurry using whatever scrap I had laying around, so I simply made things fit using the try it and see method. The large tube shown in Photo 2 is made from 1.5 inch conduit, and the stays are 1 inch conduit. There are two stays and two large tubes needed in order to form the rear triangle as will be shown later.
Photo 2 - Making the rear of the frame.


The top of the frame is made with a large 1.5 inch factory elbow cut and re-welded as shown in Photo 3. This rounded look makes the frame look more artistic, and keeps all sharp corners and snagging points to a minimum. A tallbike pilot would not want to have a shoelace or pant leg snagged in the frame during a dismount! The distance from the rear of the frame to this point is what will determine the overall height of the bike. I was shooting for 12 feet tall, which is a safe height for city riding. When I say safe, I am referring to the height of power lines, not the bike, dude!
Photo 3 - Making the top of the frame round.


The two rear pieces are joined together as shown in Photo 4 so they form a triangle. I decided to design SkyWalker with an impossible looking frame and remotely linked steering, so that it would confuse bystanders all the more. My design is certainly not the easiest way to build this kind of tallbike, but it does look cool. A huge A-frame would also work, but I wanted it to look as though there was no connection between the handlebars and the front wheel just to add to the confusion. As if seeing a madman on a 12 foot bike riding down the street wasn't enough!
Photo 4 - Creating the rear triangle.


The rear triangle is shown completed in Photo 5. The angle of the frame shown in the photo is the approximate it will be at when completed, allowing the rear of the frame to form a steep ladder. The frame could take on just about any shape imaginable, as long as the pilot's weight ends up centered between the two wheels. As for wheelbase, I think a the distance between the front and rear axle should be at least half the height of the frame for stability.
Photo 5 - The rear of the frame.


The rear dropouts shown in Photo 6 were rough cut from some scrap 3/32 steel plate using a zip disc. Dropouts cut from an old steel BMX frame would also work fine. I was using a pair of heavy duty BMX wheels with 14mm axles, so I decided to make the dropouts equally as strong. The last thing you want at 12 feet is a frame failure.

Photo 6 - Hacking out some rear dropouts.


The front triangle will be another pair of 1.5 inch conduit tubes joined at the mid frame to form an inverted Y-shape for the frame. Again, I am building without any real plan or measurements, so I just strapped the rear of the frame to the fence and placed the front wheel and head tube where I thought it looked "right" and then cut the tube shown in Photo 7. Now my wheelbase is half the frame height, and the seat will end up approximately in the center of the two wheels. As for head tube angle, it is about the same as the angle of the rear tube whatever that may be. Most of the welding was done outdoors in the freezing cold as the frame was too damn tall to fit in the garage, and almost impossible to get onto the workbench.

Photo 7 - Setting up the front of the frame.


Photo 8 shows the second 1.5 inch conduit tube installed to complete the front triangle. Now my tallbike looks like a giant inverted Y. Notice how there is no connection between the top of the frame and the head tube. Seeing this makes one wonder how the bike will be steered. The fence shown in the background is 7 feet tall by the way!

Photo 8 - Front triangle completed.


The frame needs to by trussed to make it more rigid, as the long 1.5 inch tubes have quite a bit of flex. The frame is certainly strong enough without the trussing, but the" floppy" feeling would be a bit disconcerting at high altitudes, and could lead to chain alignment problems. By creating many small triangles using some scrap 3/4 conduit, the frame is made to be extremely rigid and strong enough to support four riders all at the same time. Yes, I tried this.
Photo 9 - Making the frame rigid.


Since the idea behind SkyWalker is to be able to climb while moving, a ladder of some sort will be needed. Using a few lengths of 3/4 electrical conduit, a crude ladder (Photo 10) is made. This ladder will be welded to the rear frame tube so that the pilot can get from the ground to the seat in approximately 10 steps. This ladder system worked out very well, and it was possible to get from the seat to the ground in under 5 seconds. On a conventional "pole hugger" tallbike, your only option is to find another pole for landing or face the consequences of gravity. For this reason, conventional tallbikes are usually made with seat heights of no more than 8 feet.
Photo 10 - Stairway to the sky.


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