Here’s hoping The Hack Bike Derby, organised by Somerset’s The Bicycle Academy, becomes an annual event, because it brought a fresh new angle to custom frame building — that it can be fun. Toby Gallagher of Toad Cycles patched together a ride for the event, inspired by a 1940s Schwinn.
The stories behind each of the bikes that battled in the Somerset mud that weekend are just as fascinating as the bikes themselves, and Toby took the time to tell us his:
“As soon as I got the email about the Hack Bike Derby from Andrew at The Bicycle Academy my brain went into overdrive, I was so excited. Andrew had told me about the project a while ago, so I had already done a bit of research, mainly from Charlie Kelly’s book ‘Fat-Tyre Flyer’. It was so good in fact, I bought a copy for Andrew.
“This was the brief: frame and fork to be made by the rider, dropouts to be ‘hacked’, cheap, no expensive paint, must carry builder’s headbadge, 1 gear, 2 brakes (no disc, no V-Brakes), had to look like a Klunker. The last part interested me the most. As you know from my Eroica bike, I love making interpretations of bikes from a by gone era.
“I didn’t want to do anything too different to what they would have done in the past; yes the bike was meant to be hacked together (and some of the bikes at the event were pretty ‘hack’), but I wanted it to really look like I could have been made by one of those early mountain bike pioneers.
“In the book there is a great example of a 1940s Schwinn that Gary Fisher rode in ~1976. It had that curved top tube with the straight extra tube running underneath that was so distinctive of the cruiser conversions. I was going to try to replicate this with my bike.
After a rummage through my spares box, I found some of the tubing I required. A 31.7 plain 1mm wall tube for the down tube, a dropped and dinged 28.6 top tube for the extra tube, and an externally butted seat tube which I mitered incorrectly, but kept exactly for things like this.
“I was struggling to find what I needed for the bent top tube, I tried bending a few bits of plain 28.6 tube, but my bender isn’t great and they were kinking badly. I did have a curved seat post for a speculative MTB build: an externally butted 28.6 tube; it seemed a bit extravagant to use this, but it had a perfect curve, and I didn’t want to waste any more tubes in the bender. It was just about long enough to fit, although I did have to shorten the front triangle by ~5mm.
“Front triangle sorted, now for the rear. I wanted to do a wish bone seat stay arrangement, so really just built up something with enough clearance for the Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres, didn’t want to resort to bending more stuff, so fabricated it out of straight tubes. 5/8″ for the stays, and 7/8” for the wishbone.
“For the chain stays I tried to fabricate some S-Bend stays from the 5/8” straight tubing, but they were seriously flimsy. With more tubes going to waste, I ended up using some Columbus chain stays, another extravagance but happy with the shape, and the knowledge that they were going to be stiff and sturdy.
“The fork is a simple segmented fork with 1 1/8” 4130 legs and hand-cut dropouts.
“For parts, I had everything I needed on my Cambridge runaround, so I stripped it; but the 580mm wide handlebars were not going to fit the aesthetics. I managed to get a set of 800mm wide braced motorbike bars on eBay for < £10, but they had a 22.2mm clamping area. With no BMX stems to hand, I fabricated a stem. I had toyed with a Bullmoose type split stem, but I ended up going with a straight stem to better fit the original Schwinn reference. "The bike had some pretty slack angles, 68 degree HA and SA, but the fork had a generous 58mm rake to compensate, and in all honesty it felt great to ride. Although the canti brakes were complete garbage; how on earth did we get by before V-brakes. I actually remember getting my first set of V-brakes at Bike '98 in London’s Olympia, and thinking the same thing then. Although it may be in part due to the flexy-thin 5/8" tubing in the rear triangle, so very glad I swapped in the Columbus chain stays!
“As for the event itself? It was so good, it was like being a kid again: lots of mud, tools, building berms and jumps, silly bikes, having a laugh, drinking beer (OK, maybe not that bit). I didn’t perform too well in the racing: eliminated in the first round of the Dual-Slalom; coming together with a tree and subsequent multiple dismounts, put me second last in the DH.
“I did manage to get 4th in the Fire Road mass start, but that is pretty poor given I was on the front row for the Le Mans style running start. That doesn’t really bother me though as the best bits were building the race lines, and doing the multiple mass-start practice runs (and the fact that Tony went down on the same corner every run!).
“After the racing there was a BBQ, and beer and Break Fluid coffee to enjoy; with Ted pole-dancing and Paul shouting repeatedly “Hack Bike Derby Spaaaaain! Yeah!” So yeah, maybe a Costa del Sol leg for the new HBD world series, I don’t know.”
You can bet the Derby will never be sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, and that’s a very good thing. Special thanks to Toby for the words and pictures.