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Reman comes home

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Remanufacturing doesn’t have to involve an industrial scale or a grand project – it can be something closer to everyone’s doorstep, as Nigel Ramsden, robotics expert with Fanuc Europe, has found…

As we all become more and more concerned about environmental issues, we start to take small individual actions prompted by our own consciences. In the case of my family, we stopped using plastic one-use bottles and straws, we built raised beds to start growing our own vegetables. We still go to the supermarket, but we bought net bags for fruit and veg, so we reduce further our plastic consumption. The nearest supermarket is about 5km away, and the nearest bakery about 2km. So both are near enough to cycle, you would say, instead of taking the car. But unfortunately for my legs, there are significant hills in each direction - fun to come down but a struggle even for the Lycra brigade to get up – and never mind with a load of shopping!

So I became interested in the idea of cargo bikes (either pedal models or pedal + motor-powered). Some impressive products are on offer (albeit at some impressive prices). But I thought: what's the point of being an engineer if you can't make things yourself? So from the internet I purchased an old bakers/butchers factory bike - with a normal-size rear wheel and a small front wheel. It has a sturdy frame and heavy wheel rims/tyres for carrying loads, as well as a front frame to support a large basket. The frame itself was rather shabby but in fairly good condition - the wheels and tyres too - but other parts like the seat and pedals were not. But after a little welding and sanding, the frame was powder-coated in glossy black - probably better than new.The chrome handlebars and rear luggage rack were polished up and reused without issue. Repainting the wheel rims required disassembly of the wheels - and unfortunately the rear hub could not be used with the mid-drive motor which requires a freewheel system which was incompatible with the backwards-pedal braking system in the existing hub.

Fortunately I found that the longestablished company Sturmey Archer still makes hubs with internal gears and cable-operated brakes, so I was able to find just the hub I needed - and although not strictly necessary I purchased a matching front hub too. The re-laced wheels look superb and provide great braking and four-speed gearing - helpful for the aforementioned hills! Fitting the Bafang mid-drive motor was relatively easy - it is designed to fit through the existing bottom bracket where the pedals and axle usually go. For some modern bikes with lightweight frames this could be an issue, but not on a 50-year-old steel framed cargo bike. Similarly there was little problem fitting battery and other 'pedelec' parts. I did get a bit carried away with the 'classic' parts - wholly unnecessary expenditure on superb 'made in Germany' real leather saddle, saddlebag, handlebar grips - all eventually fully biodegradable, although hopefully not for the next 50 years.

Overall cost was much the same as the cost of a new standard e-bike - and for that I have a unique remanufactured vehicle. I haven't quite finished tinkering with it, and I suspect I never will. One idea is to add one of those signs that butchers and bakers bikes used to have - with the name of their company - but in this case I might go with a slogan like 'Made New Again'.


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