Project P.L.A.I.D. Update #2: Building PLAID

With the CAD out of the way, all the parts ordered in the mailbox, and haggling done with the metal shop it’s time to get to building. I tried to get as much of the build process on video to show how exactly I built everything and (hopefully) to make a youtube video on the whole project. So if you’re here from the YouTube channel: Welcome to my build blog! If I still haven’t gotten around to making that video: Hi ma!


As described in my last post I’m following Homeateadenomics tutorial to build the deck. After picking up some 1/8th inch ply from Pullman building supply (Katie or Tyler if you’re reading this I would love a sponsorship) I set to making the laminate mold and folding the plywood sheets over it.

Then I did my best to make it look like a pointy porcupine with clamps to hold it all together.

After letting the glue dry for a couple days I cut the board down to width with the bandsaw and then used a jigsaw to cut the ends into the shape I wanted. Not a lot of detail here because Homeateadenomics has a pretty great explanation.


I started with the front trucks because it was the simplest. All the parts came together really easy with a little weld goop here and there. The only major issue I ran into was how I attached the axle bolts. I started by cutting out a square with a hole in it from 1/8th” steel, the plan was to have the bolt go through the hole and then weld the bolt head to the square, then weld the square flush with the end of the tube. Turns out the welds where to big and wouldn’t allow the bolt to sit flush inside the tube. So I got the good ol angle grinder out and ground off a little of the weld so it could fit inside. Aha it fits! Welded the square to the end of the tube and wala an axle… that was until I put weight on it and snapped the bolt head weld (gonna have to figure out a fix for this latter). But besides this issue, the front truck looks pretty dang good.

The whole assembly looks even better when put on the board. I’m starting to get really excited at this point.

The sprang clutch sprocket assembly came out super nice and it feels so precise. I did this part out of aluminum to minimize rotating mass. To design the sprocket I pulled a #22 sprocket CAD model from McMaster-Carr and then changed everything else but tooth profile to get it how I wanted. (if anyone knows of an easy way to produce sprocket CAD models with any tooth count let me know because I’m still looking for a good method)

The motor mount came out looking really nice and allows the motor to slide up and down to tension the chain and adjust the hall effect sensor. I added more slots to aid in cooling and add a little style.

With both front and rear trucks mounted this board looks mean!

The Issue With PLAID

Alright here arises the issue, after getting everything put together and running including a battery tray, throttle, handbrake, and springs for the trucks I took it out for a test drive. It has plenty of power and easily spins the rear wheels but turning feels really off for some reason. Like when trying to turn if I shift my weight all the way over to one edge the board barely turns but then once it does it doesn’t want to return to center. I’m pretty sure four things could be causing the issue. The deck is too low and gives little leverage when trying to turn, the board end angle is too steep and again doesn’t give enough leverage when turning, the springs are too weak or not set up properly (honestly they’re on the weak side), and finally the lack of differential is resisting and change in direction. I’m going to experiment with these issues but let me know if you have any suggestions! I’ll also try to get some video of the isue asap.

Project P.L.A.I.D. Update #1: No Bad CAD

When starting a large and possibly costly project like this I always like to try to get all of the ideas bouncing around in my head out and into CAD before I start purchasing components. Projects like this where the majority of the parts will be designed and made in house are awesome because it lets me get the entire project in CAD before I start building. This comes with some big advantages namely allowing me to find issues early and fix them before they cost me anything while also letting me to know exactly what supplies I need to complete the build. Make sure to put as many parts into the model as possible even if you need to add a place holder. For example, the motor for this build does not need to be exact in the model but it should have similar overall dimensions. This will let you see if the part will hit anything or be in the way. A quick and easy hack to make the CAD process go a lot faster is to see if any the parts you are using are already available somewhere else. Grabcad & McMastercarr are two of my favorite places to go looking for these and it’s where I found the sk3 model in my CAD.

Deck Design

The deck is the backbone of this whole project. It’ll determine the turn radius, the ride height, and overall feel of the board. If I get the board design wrong it could ruin the whole feel and maneuverability of the project. For the build technique, I’m going to use Homeateadenomics technique of laminating thin sheets of plywood together over a mold. He made this look really easy so hopefully, it will be just as easy when I try. For the board length I decided to go with around 27 inches of deck space, around 33 inches total length, and a 9-inch width. With how long and heavy this board will be I’m going to need as much turn as I can get. So to minimize turn radius I’m going to make the ends 45 degrees, anything past this would just result in a larger turn radius. The deck dimensions come from looking at other board dimensions and what I want my stance to be. Finally, the top will be covered with grip tape to help keep the rider on the board with the help of the straps.

Overall Truck Design

Having never built skateboard trucks I’m going to try and keep these as simple as possible. The majority of mountain board trucks look like this and are what’s called a channel truck.

The hanger or the part the wheels attach to rotates inside a piece of C-channel that is then secured to the board. Springs are added between the hanger and the channel to force the truck to return to center when unloaded.

Homesteadenomics drastically simplifies this design but you can still see the resemblance. My Design will closely follow his except most of the parts will be waterjet plus I’m going to try and minimize the number of bolts I use by welding wherever I can. The threaded rod seems a bit heavy to me so I’m going to see if I can’t get away with a single bolt at each end. The harbor freight wheels he mentioned are a pretty sweet deal at $3 each but that gaudy white will have to go, hows matte black sound? (yes this is rhetorical but hey you could always comment below (who am I kidding no one reads these ))

Transmission Design

The powered rear trucks will follow a similar design to the front trucks using the same C-channel and wheels but the hanger will need to be redesigned to allow for a live axle through the center. For the axle, I’ll be using steel 1/2″ hex shaft from my local machine shop (I’m pretty familiar with this from my time in FRC). To support the shaft I’ll add some steel plates to the end of the trucks to support a pair of 1/2″ hex bearings. Finally I’ll weld a motor mount to one side and brake caliper mount to the other.

From what I learned from the other projects the sprocket will have it be a little complex. I’m confident some of the issues I had with the Mostly Printed Electric Bike came from the motor being directly connected to the drivetrain. On the moped I didn’t have any motor issues and I think that’s because there is a one-way ratcheting sprocket on the rear wheel that allows the wheel to spin independently of the motor. The plan for accomplishing this same system with PLAID is through the use of a one-way sprag clutch bearing. These bearings are super cool because there is minimal backlash with the added bonus of being ultra silent. Youtuber AVE has a pretty cool video of how these work (he actually released it right after mine came in the mail, Fate?). Disclaimer: he’s a potty mouth.

The keyways on the bearing are super important because otherwise it would just spin on the shaft/sprocket and not transmit any power. My only concern will be if it can hold up to the load of a person riding it…

Finally the last part of the transmission, the wheels. The rear will use the same ones as the front but the bearings will need to be removed and a hex adaptor put on. It looks like the bearing blocks should just unbolt and then I can sandwich a hex adaptor on both sides of the hub with the existing bolts. On most axles like this C clips would be used to hold it all together but often the assembly can end up being a little loose. This drivetrain will have spacers between all the components allowing for a bolt and washer on both sides of the axle to sandwich the whole assembly together making for a super tight fit.

The Electrics

The electronics are coming straight of the moped (it’s been relegated to storage until I can figure out how to make it street legal). If you want to learn more about that system check out the Electric Moped Update #5: The Rebirth where I go into detail of how the whole system is set up. But to summarise, I’m using a Hobbyking sk3 motor paired with a cheaper than hell chinesium speed controller, with all that sweet sweet power coming from a 16,000 mAh 12s or 800 watt-hour battery. The moped had some umph to it with a top speed of 35 MPH and the ability to get up any hill in Pullman without breaking a sweat. With project PLAID geared down 25 MPH this should be an absolute hoot to ride around! I may not be a psychic but I see some awesome powerslides in its future!

Pullman Light-weight All-terrain and Inexpensive Driver

Or Simply Project P.L.A.I.D.

I’m not a huge fan of walking. It’s not so much the effort and workout of it as it is the inefficiency. Why would I walk to class in 15 minutes when I could bike there in 5, or even better ride something motorized and not be all sweaty and hot when I get there? Yes, of course there’s an argument to be made for physical health from walking and mental health from being outside but I’m already a college student so it would be a drop in the ocean. lucky for me I’ve got the electric moped and the $24 motorcycle and they are way too much fun to ride to campus. That is they are great when the roads look like this. Bone dry and uncomfortably hot.

“Girlfriend for warmth Scale”

And not like, two feet of snow and ice rinks where there used to be roads.

“Girlfriend for cold scale”

Point is, Pullman has some cold winters with a lot of this slippery white stuff. Two wheels can only get you so far in the winters and most of the time it’s just outright dangerous to try.

Design Criteria

The goal is to build a vehicle that has the stability of a car in the snow but the weight and portability of the electric moped. It also needs to comply with WAC 504-15-930 which defines what kind of personal transportation is allowed on campus. I’ve had some issues with the moped not complying so I want to do it right this time.

The best idea that came to mind that fulfilled the criteria was an electric mountainboard. Mountain boards are skateboards with much larger pneumatic wheels, a better suspension, straps to hold you to the board, and often a brake. The four points of contact would make it much more stable on loose surface, the straps would make it easy to manipulate, and best of all it would Comply with WAC 504-15-930.

(1) The riding and use of bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller skates is prohibited on all building plazas, all pedestrian overpasses, interior building spaces, parking structures, parking structure ramps, all stairways, steps, ledges, benches, planting areas, any other fixtures, and in any other posted area.
(2) Bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller skates may be ridden and used on sidewalks outside the prohibited areas when a bike path is not provided.

WAC 504-15-930 has no different definition for an electric skateboard so the electric mountain board should be able to go anywhere a skateboard is allowed to go.

Powering a Mountain Board

There are some retrofit kits out there to power a mountain board but they come in at around $500 for the cheapest and only use one motor and only power one wheel, there is also that I don’t own a mountain board. The ideal situation would be to use one of the motors and speed controllers I already have from the electric bike and electric moped project which should have plenty of power for plowing through snow, set it up to power two wheels off only one motor to avoid any of the countersteer and traction issues from only powering one wheel, and be able to easily ad a mechanical brake. Most e-boards use regenerative braking to slow down but the speed controllers that can do that safely are really expensive. All the ones I have are super cheap Chinese e-bike speed controllers with an e-brake setting that would probably get me killed. That’s why I used disc brakes on the moped to achieve progressive braking. After looking around and doing some research on designs I found this awesome youtube video by homesteadonomics where he makes a mountain board completely from scratch, including the trucks!

The best part about his style build is it would allow me to build the skateboard trucks myself. I wasn’t aware until I saw this video that skateboards turn by angling the trucks in such a way that when the deck is tilted it forces the wheels to turn into the direction the board is angling. On most skateboards, this angle is built into the design of the truck itself so the skateboard deck can be flat. Saber trucks have a good picture demonstrating how this is accomplished along with a awesome description on their website.

Image result for skateboard truck angle

Mountain boards accomplish this angling differently by building the angle into the skateboard deck itself. This makes the trucks a lot simpler to manufacture compared to ones with a built-in compound angle. Best of all this will allow me to design a live axle transmission into the rear truck. This means I can use a single motor to power both rear wheels and even attach a disc brake that would stop both. Finally with the general design concept out of the way I’m going to get started piecing it all together in CAD. Stay posted for the next update where I’ll show you how the CAD model turned out and the design choices I made.

$24 Motorcycle Update #5: I Didnt Break it, it Was the Wrench

Ok I know for a fact I’m not the only one who’s gone hulk on a stubborn bolt only to make the situation way worse. Well this is the worst case of hulk mode yet. Let me tell you how I got into this situation in the first place.

Vanguard (named after the first NASA mission) had been sitting outside for several years before I bought it and had developed a bad case of dry rot on both tires. I’m not very familiar with tire dry rot but everyone I talked to explained how at any moment the tire would explode hurdling shrapnel towards innocent bystanders and send me over some guardrail and into shark infested waters below. Long story short, people are dramatic and dry rot is dangerous. So I ordered some Dunlop D404s a couple weeks after I got her up and running and planned to swap out the old stuff as soon as the shipment came in. I ordered the rubber from one of my favorite motorcycle parts companies 4int1.

When the new set of tires came in I rode the bike over to the FIZ so I could remove the wheels. Here’s where it gets interesting… To remove the front wheel you need to follow these instructions.

So I followed the instructions. Pulled off the retaining nut, loosened the retaining bolt, and tried to twist out the axle, not luck. Hmmm old bike must just be stuck. Sprayed some liquid wrench on the axle threads, let it sit for a bit, then came back with a bigger ratchet. Push Push Push and snap!

Turns out that the retaining bolt does more than just tightening the fork down onto the axle to make it harder to twist like I thought it did. The retaining bolt actually sets into a void in the axle so that the axle can’t be backed out. Something mentioned nowhere in the manual and something I didn’t find out until I had already cracked the forks… great.

I ended up ordering some VT500 forks because they should be a straight drop in. At the time not a lot was available so I panicked and dropped a heart-stopping $250 on a set I could trust (still hurting from this one). Sadly they weren’t a straight drop-in and all mounting points ended up being in different places. The brakes needed to be spaced off, the center brace needed to be replaced, and the speed sensor made the wheel space between the forks too big so I had to remove that and replace it with a shorter spacer. With a little help from the FIZ waterjet, the scrap bin, sandpaper, and some good ol‘ elbow grease I got everything put back together and rideable. Wahooo the bikes back!

$24 Motorcycle Update #4: How I Really Wrecked The Bike

So I wrecked the bike a few weeks after I got it running, If you know me personally you’ll know this. But what you probably don’t know is that it was entirely my fault. This was the day I realized I could do wheelies on the bike by gunning it in first gear, and yes that’s what caused the crash. I was practicing my newfound ability in the parking lot outside of my apartment. I’d pop a wheelie, ride a and repeat. When I got near the end of the lot I popped a wheelie, looked up and realized I was going to hit a fence cable fence like you see at parks, let go of the throttle, and slammed on the front brake. lucky for me I missed the fence but I did find the little gravel patch right before it with my front wheel. Quicker than I could realize what was happening the front wheel locked up and slid to my right tossing the bike to my left with my dumbass still straddling it. I wasn’t going all that fast so the damage wasn’t too bad, A few scrapes here and there, a new designer hole in my jeans, an ankle that will feel funny for a few weeks, some gravely palms (this was the one day I didn’t wear gloves), and a bent handlebar. Nothing too bad just a pat on the back from the universe saying “Hey don’t be an idiot”.

Once the shock wore off I dragged myself out from under the bike and got to getting it back on it’s wheels. A little grunting and groaning latter it was up and… not rolling. Something was jammed and the rear wheel wouldn’t rotate anymore. Well at least this happened close to home so I went and got my toolkit from the apartment. I bleed the brakes, no luck, wasn’t the rear brake then. Then I noticed the chain was really tight. Alright, so I loosened up the wheel and slid it forward. Chain’s loose now but it won’t budge. Shit, it must be something with the engine then. My mind was reeling, what could have broken to cause this? Maybe I hit the shifter and that jammed in and broke something? Keep in mind this entire time the bike is sitting mostly blocking one of the entrances to the parking lot. So it was time to get get some help. I asked my friend Mae (a wizard when it comes to engines or anything mechanical) to come help me fix it or if all else fails, move it out of the way. After having him poke around for a bit we found nothing and decided to try and move the bike to a better place to do some teardown.

Soooooo how to move a 350 lb bike with a rear wheel that won’t spin? If you like being creative stop reading now and make a small list of how you would do it. Ready to see how we did it? Well, I guarantee all your ideas are better because we strapped the front fork to Mae’s truck, put some cardboard under the rear wheel, and I hopped on to steer. This worked great! For the first foot. Then the cardboard rolled out and we were back to rubber on the pavement. We repeated the same process a few times until we gave up and looked for a better solution. After looking around for a bit we found a piece of aluminum in Mae’s truck and used that to replace the cardboard. Worked like a charm and we soon ground and scraped our way behind the closest dumpster. Time to figure out what broke. We popped the sprocket cover/protector and found this:

Well I found that battery bolt I lost a few weeks ago, I wondered where that went… I spent what felt like forever trying to free sprocket when we’d drug the bike it had really wedged the bolt into place. Eventually, I gave up on prying it out and decided to get some sleep. As I I was getting ready for bed a light bulb went off and ran outside in my pajamas. I hopped on the bike and gave it a big shove backwards and just like that the bolt popped out and the wheel was free! Hoot Hoot

$24 Motorcycle Update #3: What’s in Your Bucket?

I picked up an Exo 710 helmet as my bucket. I made sure to get it in white for visibility because what’s the point of safety equipment if it hides you from the cars? (I would have preferred a neon reflective yellow or green helmet but the girlfriend threatened to leave if I did). It took me a while to find a SNELL approved helmet for not too much, this one cost me $200 but the safety and soundness of mind was well worth it. If you wanna see why a SNELL rating is so important check out this video. So far I’ve really liked mine. The ability to crack the visor plus all the different vents has been really nice, the wind noise is worse than I’d expected but when riding around town it’s barely noticeable. It’s only when I get on the highway that it starts to get really annoying. But I’m not writing this as helmet review, it’s what I did to it that’s worth sharing.

I’m not going to go extremely in-depth on the build because it’s pretty simple if you know your electronics. I bought a cheap pair of over-ear Bluetooth headphones from Amazon, making sure to get one with a mic. Then cut it to pieces to get just the bare electronics on the inside. With a few extension cables, some tucking behind padding, and some double-sided tape I added Bluetooth audio and calling capability to my helmet! something like this normally costs $90 for a really cheap set but I managed to do it for seventeen bucks. I’ve used it for a few months now and I think it’s a really nice addition, although it does have a few issues. The speakers don’t quite fit in the speaker holes inside the helmet and can fall out or pinch your ear, the audio is only really audible at low RPMs, and for some reason, I can’t answer calls from the headset controls. I only really use it on longer trips like when going to Moscow, otherwise, it’s not worth the time to turn it on and get music playing. If you ride long distance a lot and want good audio I’d save yourself the time and hassle and get one of the nicer sets.

$24 Motorcycle Update #2: “Start up Your Engines”

With the brakes figured out I can focus on getting the engine to start. First off I need to toss out the old ruined battery and replace it. After looking for a while I found one on Amazon that I thought was the right size. I compared sizes and cold cranking amps and found one that seemed to be just a little bit smaller than the old one, well “seemed”. The chrome pro battery I ordered came with a cool LCD display that shows the voltage and the battery percentage plus when the battery gets too low and needs charged it will start cursing at you (luckily for the kiddies its bleeped out), this will be nice while I’m trying to start the bike.

Anytime the voltage gets too low from too many unsuccessful starts I’ll know and be able to stop and charge it up before I damage the cell chemistry. Only one problem, the new battery didn’t fit…

The new battery fit when I took out the base that also had the emergency tool storage and the strap across the center that also holds the starter solenoid. but then there was nothing to hold it… guess I gotta make a new way to hold it…

I started by 3d printing the base (the gaudy white is just to test the fit, the Final will be in black petg). I did lose the ability to store an emergency toolkit on the bike but I plan to put saddlebags on it so the toolkit can go in there. Next, I need to figure out the cross strap. All I really need to do is make the parts that go across the front and back of the battery a little longer. My solution for this was to cut the band and weld a little piece of metal between the two parts for just the right length. Worked perfectly! But no pictures of it so I can’t share… whoops sorry!

Alright with the battery in time to try and start it! Whether or not the bike turns over will determine if I bought a steal or a nice piece of yard art, I honestly don’t expect it to start though. With the bike on its center stand, I put a little gas in the tank, mounted the saddle, pulled the choke, switched the kill switch to on, and with a press of the bright red start button!! Nothing… just a little click from inside the engine casing. Well at least the starter solenoid works (that’s normally what fails on this model). Time to try the janky method. I grabbed a flat head screwdriver and hopped back on the saddle. Now for those of you who don’t know, bikes of this era (and I’m sure for much latter) use a solid state relay to trigger the starter motor. All this is is a fancy electromagnet that closes a circuit from the battery to the motor. This relay on my bike isn’t triggering for some reason. So I pressed the red starter switch to trigger the starter solenoid and shorted the terminals of the relay with the screwdriver. A shower of sparks shot out the side and with a Varoooom the engine came to life. Aha! She runs! The engine sounded smooth and idled without any adjustment. Saweeeet! I just bought a $24 motorcycle that runs! Here’s a video of her Purrrrring.

Before I can take the bike out for its maiden ride I need to free up the stuck throttle and clutch. Technically I could ride it as is but riding with the throttle stuck on and no clutch control doesn’t sound like the best idea. I cleaned the throttle and clutch cables with brake cleaner, I had to pinch the spray tube to the cable opening with my fingers to get the fluid to flow inside. Once I got some in I moved the cable back and forth to spread the liquid and then repeated till the fluid coming out the bottom was clean. After letting it dry for a bit I did a similar process to work some lithium grease into the housing.

I also noticed a lot of friction when rotating the throttle tube without the cables attached. I pulled the tube off and cleaned the inside with brake cleaner and a toothbrush, no luck its still sticking. I tried cleaning off the handlebar the sleeve slides on, no luck. Eventually getting desperate I got a dremal out and sanded down the rust on the handlebars untill I could only see metal where the sleeve rests, still no luck. Then I noticed some of the metal at the end of the handlebar had been bent out, most likely from being dropped too many times. I ground them off and Aha! Worked like a charm. I added lithium grease to the handlebar before sliding the sleeve back on and then put the rest of the throttle and clutch assembly back together. Both feel great now!

After tunning in throttle and clutch free play according to the bikes shop manual it was time to take her out for the first ride! Yes, I’m aware I’m aware I’m not wearing the right pants, or shoes, or jacket, or gloves but I was just too excited to wait (I also never rode again without the best possible gear I have). Video Courtesy of my roommate Noah.

Now I need to figure out why it’s not starting, my best bet is the relay is broken and needs replaced so I’ll look into that.

$24 Motorcycle Update #1: No Roll Till Stop

Before I got too far working on anything I went ahead and ordered a few parts I’d need for the build. This included; a new battery, new handlebar grips, Helmet, wireless headphones (I’ll get to why later), and a new master cylinder after I realized the screws were stripped on the one it came with. 

If you are rebuilding a bike for your first time check out some of these awesome resources I found before you start your build:

  • FortNine Youtube Channel: Fortnine is a great resource on just about everything motorcycle related from our neighbors up north. The host is a little dramatic but it makes for interesting videos.
  • Motorcycle Magazine Youtube Channel: The two hosts of this channel are a hilarious duo who obviously care about motorcycles. They have a great segment called MC garage where they cover a lot of the hardware related to operating a motorcycle. Or if you just want to watch some motorcycle content they have some of the best!
  • 4into1: Working on an old bike? Haveing trouble finding parts? The guys over at 4into1 most likely have what your looking for. The best part is the parts are way cheaper than just about anywhere else!

With everything headed my way I started working on cleaning out the brakes. I started by popping the banjo bolts off of the brake calipers and tried my best to drain the rest of the brake fluid (If you don’t know what a banjo bolt is check out this article, they’re a really interesting piece of tech). Make sure you’re careful when handling brake fluid, the stuff is nasty and can ruin your hands, mine hurt for weeks later. Once I thought all the fluid was out I took the brake lines completely off, ran some brake cleaner through them till it was semi-clear, then let them soak in brake cleaner overnight. The next day I ran some more brake cleaner through the lines and then finished off by scrubbing the inside of the banjo fitting with a toothbrush to get any last gunk before setting it aside to dry. 

Next, I worked on getting the master cylinders cleaned up. The screws that hold the lid closed for the front master cylinder reservoir had been completely stripped. I tried a few methods to get the screws out but I didn’t have any luck with it. I bought this cheap master cylinder from Amazon, it worked initially but never really had any stopping power, then it completely failed just a couple days later. I replaced it with this much heavier duty one from 4into1, it worked beautifully and gave me a ton of stopping power. The best part is now I can do burnouts before I replace the old dry rotted tire!

While cleaning up the front caliper I forgot not to press the brake while I had it pulled off and pushed the pistons so far out I couldn’t get the caliper back on. luckily a friend recommended resetting the pistons with a clamp and I managed to get the brake put back on. If this happens to you just make sure to take the cover off the master cylinder so it can vent air as the fluid level rises.

Finally, I cleaned up the rear brake with the same process. Although I did have to remake a clevis pin that held the rear master cylinder to the rear brake pedal when the old one fell out on the first ride. With brakes repaired and my newfound ability to stop It’s time to get started on the engine.

So I Bought a $24 Motorcycle

I’ve been wanting to get a motorcycle ever since I tried my neighbors PW50…

Just imagine mini-me cruising around on this little toy of a bike! I used to ride this thing all over our property when I was little. I had so SO much fun and it instilled a strong desire in me to someday own my own. The big inhibiting factor was always the price. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a cheap bike on craigslist for around $300, they may not run great but often they will run. My big concern with the price was always insurance.  I’d always assumed that the cost to insure someone my age on a motorcycle would be astronomical. After the electric moped debacle with the police, I decided to actually look into what it would cost to insure a bike in Washington. A little research revealed that insurance was not required for motorcycles in Washington and that if I wanted to get insurance it would be a measly $10 a month. In summary, I’m buying a motorcycle! After obsessively searching the craigslist of every city in Washington for weeks I stumbled across a guy in Moscow, ID (8 miles from me) selling a 500cc bike for $24!

Alright before Grandpa pips up in the back about it not being safe I gotta remind you that great-grandma Gladys Weller bought her first bike when she was 87 and nothing could stop her from riding. Of course, the fact she insisted on shoveling her roof in the dead of winter doesn’t help my case much, but still. Of course, I know it’s statistically more dangerous to ride a motorcycle. I decided to do a little research on this issue and from a video I found on the FortNine website I found that although motorcycles are more dangerous the chances can be drastically reduced by taking a few precautions; being very cautious the first five months (half of all crashes involve riders who have been on their bikes for less than 5 months), not drinking and driving (alcohol is a factor in 25% of motorcycle deaths), avoid speeding (speed is the top contributing factor in 12% of deaths), motorcycle training (taking a motorcycle training course can prevent 46% of driver fatalities), and wearing proper gear (wearing a helmet is 37% effective at preventing fatalities).  Now onto the bike itself!

The bike is an old 1983 Honda Ft500 single cylinder. It wasn’t very popular at release and production only lasted for two years which will make finding replacement parts tough.

The Specs:

Engine: 498cc air-cooled OHC single, 89mm x 80mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio, 33hp @ 6,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 
94mph (period test)
Single 35mm Keihin CV
5-speed, chain final drive
12v, electronic ignition
Air-adjustable telescopic forks front, dual shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Single 11.6in (295mm) disc front, single 10.75in (273mm) disc rear
3 x 21in front, 4 x 19in rear
Single downtube w/engine as stressed member/56.5in (1,435mm)
Weight (wet):
 375lb (171kg)
Seat height: 
31.5in (800mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 
3.4gal (13ltr)/45-55mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: 
$2,198 (1982)/$2,500-$4,500

What I know right now

The Bad

  • Battery is dead and needs to be replaced
  • Starter relay is broken and either needs to be fixed or replaced
  • Front and rear brake feel like you’re squeezing a wet noodle (brake fluid probably needs to be replaced)
  • The screws holding the cap of the front master cylinder are completely stripped
  • Headlight isn’t turning on
  • Both tires have dry rot
  • Front forks are leaking oil
  • Engine is leaking oil
  • Tach is completely broken
  • Speedometer seems to work but is off by a lot
  • Throttle is stuck and feels like grinding gravel when you twist it
  • Clutch lever also sticks

The Good

  • Engine turns over
  • Very little rust for how long it was left outside
  • Rear brake system should just need brake fluid
  • The engine starts if I hook up a fresh battery and short the terminals of the relay
  • Starter solenoid (the part that apparently breaks a lot on these bikes) seems to be in great shape after cracking open the engine case
  • Turn signals and brake lights work great
  • All switches seem to be in great condition
  • The seat is in great shape
  • Carburetor doesn’t seem to be clogged as I can get the bike to idle comfortably once warmed up
  • Can shift into all 5 gears without error

Next Step

The first thing I gotta do is get the brakes fixed. Without working brakes, I’d wreck it as soon as I left the shop. After that, I gotta figure out how to start it without jamming a screwdriver into the starter relay. Best of all one of my mentors here at WSU gave me some space in the old hydraulics lab where the old electric vehicle team used to meet for the next few weeks untill I can get it up and running!

Safety Update:

Since getting the motorcycle I’ve gotten a snell approved helmet (Click here to see why DOT is a joke) the Scorpion EXO 710, a thrift shop leather jacket, Walmart leather gloves, and wear a pair of leather hiking boots when I ride. I know its not the safest gear but it’s far better than nothing and a lot better than the t-shirt and sandals I see most people riding around in.

Electric Moped Update #6: “Braking” It Down

Brakes, Brakes, Brakes. A wise man once said, “the ability to stop quickly is what allows us to be quick”. The brakes that came with the razor moped are obviously not made to go quick. Then again, they were designed for a 350watt motor and an 80 lb rider, not a 1500 watt motor and two 150 lb riders. Even then the brakes were obviously designed to a price utilizing cheap sheet metal parts and friction pads that I swear are made of wood. These brakes work by tightening a friction pad around a drum to brake the wheel which converts kinetic energy into heat.

Now as much as I love the thrill of not stopping, it does pose some minor safety concerns. Imagine this, it’s early Tuesday morning. You’re on your way to class on the other side of campus with your roommate. You’re riding your hot-rodded child’s moped with him clinging to dear life on the back of the seat. The cold morning air blows through your hair as the bright glow of the headlight illuminates any stray cats in your path, the golden rays of dawn just breaking over the horizon, it’s almost romantic… you crest the last hill, the mopeds motor not blinking under the load of the two “burly men”. Slowly gravity pulls you down the apex gently accelerating you down the hill and to the street below. The moped begins to catch speed, your eyes began to water from the air rushing by. You hear your roommate holler from behind, “should probably start braking!”. You yell back, panic in your voice, knuckles white from the strain,”I’m trying to! It’s not slowing down!”. Like a runaway train, you careen down the hill, the stop sign at the bottom growing larger every second. Terrified, you shoot through the busy intersection coming to a gradual stop at the other side. Both letting out a sigh of relief which turns into a nervous laugh. You realize if it wasn’t for your early class, the bustle of late-morning traffic would have probably caused things to end differently. Moral of the story, I NEEDED better brakes.

When thinking of my options, I decided to use disc brakes because they have strong braking power and are reliable. The rim brakes commonly used on bicycles wouldn’t work in this situation because the wheels are not compatible and it would be next to impossible to modify them to accept the brakes. I picked up a cheap Tektoro brake set from Amazon for only $20 that had some great reviews and I set out to find how to attach it. These brakes come in two parts: the brake caliper and the brake rotors. The rotor is the braking surface of the system and attaches to the wheel, the caliper attaches to the frame or front fork and is what applies the braking force. The moped doesn’t have any mounting points for either so I was going to have to make my own.

Mounting the Rotor

Finding how to mount the rotor was interesting. The rotor needs to be attached firmly due to the immense amount of torque it will be under. It also needs to spin true without any deviation, otherwise the moped will shudder under braking and wear through brake pads faster. To mount it I had to make two parts; a small steel disc with mounting holes that I welded onto the hub of the wheel and an aluminum standoff that I mounted to the steel disc that the rotor will attach to. After designing everything in CAD and importing a rotor as a reference, I set about making the parts.

The steel disc has five holes to align with the five spaces between spokes, this allows bolts to pass through without interference. The standoff has six tapped holes on one side to match up with the holes of the rotor and five on the other side to match up with the holes on the steel disc. Originally, I designed three more holes into the rotor side that would allow a bolt to go through in the opposite direction and press against the back of the rotor. The goal was to use these bolts to straighten the disc out, acting as a three-point leveling mechanism, but in testing it was warping the disc so the idea had to be abandoned.

The disc was water jet out of 1/16th steel and the standoff out of one-inch aluminum. It didn’t need any post-processing besides a little grinding to get rid of the mill scale. Once I had it cleaned up, I welded it onto the front wheel’s hub with a MIG welder running stargon shielding gas. No hiccups yet, fingers crossed!

The standoff needs a bit more post-processing. I need to face it down to .8in (ended up needing to be more like .64in), ream out and tap all the holes, turn down the outside to the right diameter, and do a boring operation to give the disc weld some clearance.

After a few days, a couple lathes (took a while to find one that’s just right for this small part), and FAR too many guess and checks later I had everything put together and bolted to the wheel.

Looking pretty great to me! The hub ended up being pretty difficult to machine due to its size but I got it working in the small chuck of the mini lathe the FIZ has. I wouldn’t know how true it would be until the brake caliper was mounted.


Mounting the Brake Caliper

Compared to mounting the rotor, mounting the brake caliper was a lot simpler. To design the caliper mount I tightened the brake caliper onto the disc so that the edge of the brake pad was lined up with the inside edge of the braking surface. Then  I took a picture of the caliper up against the fork to use as a reference. Next, I measured the distance between the caliper’s mounting holes and used this to scale the image to the correct size in CAD.

I laser cut the design out of 1/4″ acrylic to make sure the model fit. A few revisions later I got it perfect. Time to waterjet! (honestly, loving this waterjet machine. It makes producing very robust parts soooo simple). I forgot to take pictures of it being waterjetted, or mounted to the caliper, or welded on (I just got so excited!) soooooooo, here’s what it looks like done!

Before I could weld I ground off a lot of the paint from the fork in the area where the mount was going. I apparently hadn’t removed enough paint because I had to stop every few seconds and blow out the burning flakes… but besides this everything was smooth sailing. The weld has deep penetration and looks alright so I’m happy. I hit the weld with a grinder to take off all the beads before I set about mounting the brake. The tektro brake I used doesn’t auto-center so I had to fiddle with it for way longer than I would have liked before it stopped rubbing. The disc was definitely wobbling but from what I’ve read it’s ok to bend it straight so I spent a while doing this until it was perfect. After testing it for a few days to make sure everything was alright, I took the wheel and brake caliper off to paint the exposed metal to prevent rust. It doesn’t look super great but if you squint your eyes and look at it from a ways away it doesn’t look half bad!

So, I have been riding with the new brake for about a week now, the difference is amazing! I have so much more braking power that when I want to stop, I actually stop! This has to be one of the best upgrades I’ve made and it has made riding the moped so much safer.