Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making a cycling cap

A cycling cap is useful in so many ways. It keeps the hair in place. Sweat is managed. Shades the head and face from direct sun. Can be micro-adjusted to block the glare from oncoming headlights. The thin fabric allows it to fit under a helmet. Pulled low over the eyes, it's how I begin a nap...

Years ago, when my old columbus hat was starting to disintegrate, I knew there would be a long and difficult search for a replacement. My head is BIG, and few hats would fit it. And I was never was that happy about paying for a hat that gives free advertising to some business. And I find the bill on cycling caps is always rather small too. It was time to figure out how to make a hat that fits me well and has a bigger bill. I have made about 50 of these caps so far. For a person who does not sew much, is not an easy project at first. Your initial caps may not be that great but they quickly improve with practice. I am satisfied with mine now, and they take about 2 hours to make. They last about a year or so depending on use. Make lots, give them as gifts, it's fun!

Rather than hunting for an online pattern, it made more sense to me to get the pattern from the old cap which I knew actually fit me. So I took it apart and had the perfect pattern right there. This 3 panel style would be easy to sew, compared to a more complicated 6 panel hat for instance. I had to figure out the steps of construction myself. There are probably other ways to put it together too. If nothing else, this type of project will help you appreciate the effort and complexity involved in making a garment.

The old hat, disassembled.
 I used the pieces as a template for making the new hats. With the visor, I drew an outline of the existing one, and then drew it a little bigger. The bills on traditional cycling caps are just too small.

New templates
From the top: visor, side panels, and center panel. The new templates are made of picture frame mat board. It's a thick cardboard like material, durable and easy to cut. When I make a new hat, I just lay the templates down on the new fabric and run a pen along the edge, and cut along the lines. The center template is symmetric, but the side template is not. The curve is just a little bit more acute along the front. Thats how my head shaped the old columbus cap. There is a right and left side. After I trace the right side on the new fabric, I flip the template over to trace the left side. This detail is not needed in making a hat from a pattern you may find, but it makes my hat fit better.

New cut fabric with yogurt container bill
We have lots of light cotton material leftover from quilting projects. Some of the first ones I made used this bird pattern. The top and bottom of the visor fabric is a lightweight, black wool. The bill stiffener is cut from a 32oz plastic yogurt container. The container is just big enough for a generous sized lightweight bill. I set the orientation using the natural curve of the plastic, but get it mostly flattened out with an iron, set on low. If an excessive curve returns (like from having it scrunched up in a pocket), I can always iron it flat again. Don't iron the plastic directly; use a piece of fabric on top of it! It takes just a few minutes of ironing, and I let it cool down with a heavy book on top of it.

After tracing the visor line on the yogurt container, I cut it to its finished size. I make the ends rounded so they don't cut into the fabric. Then I make a chalk line of the visor edge on the fabric visor material. Then I sew the 2 pieces of visor fabric together. I make 2 passes; making the stitching as close together as I can. One pass may be enough, but 2 will ensure it will not come apart at the front of the visor.

Next I trim the visor material away, very close to the stitches.

Now I turn it inside out, put the plastic visor stiffener inside. Then I pin it, so that the visor is positioned evenly and tight inside the pocket. Also I chalk a line on the inner edge to show where the inside of the visor is. Notice that there is about an inch of fabric past the edge of each side of the visor. You will need that extra fabric when you sew the cap together.

Now I sew the visor in the pocket. I go slow, trying to sew right along the edge of the plastic. 

Then I trim the inner edge of the fabric so there is about an inch of material beyond the inner visor edge. This material will help absorb sweat.

Now I sew a strip of elastic band material along the inside (bottom) of the visor, slightly overlapping the visor stitches. I pull the elastic material slightly while sewing, to give it some built-in tension. I go very slow, doing a few stitches and stopping to reposition as needed. 

Thats a 26" long strip of elastic material. Fabric stores sell this by the foot or the roll. This is probably nylon, but cotton impregnated versions are available. About 4" extends out from one side.

With the bird pattern, I need to sew 2 identical pieces together for the center panel section. Otherwise the birds would be upside down on one of the ends.

Now I am sewing the 3 hat panels together. I go slow, trying to make an even seam; about 3/16 inch.

Panels sewn, hat is taking shape!

 Next I sew the edge of the cap. I roll the inside edge about 3/16 inch and sew all along the edge of the cap.

Now I need to sew the cap on to the visor. First I center the visor and cap. A chalk line along dead center of the visor, and a pen dot in the middle of the front edge of the middle cap strip. If it is not well centered, it will be obvious when all is done. 

Starting from the center, I sew the cap on just slightly in front of the existing stitches. 

It should look like this. I don't want to see the visor stitching when I pull the material back. 

Then I sewed the other side, going from the center to the edge. Cap and visor are connected now.

View underneath.

Now I sew the rest of the elastic band along the inside of the cap. I pull it a little as I sew, to add some built-in tension. You can see how the edges a bit puckered/wavy. This makes the cap gently hold on to my head.

At the back/inside of the cap, I fold 3 layers of elastic together into a length that is shorter than the rear of the middle panel. I pin it in place, and try the hat on. Fits perfect!

Now I sew the 3 layers along the pin line, on each side. 

Now I stretch the material with the elastic and sew it down the middle. I do the same thing, 2 more times.

The goal is to have an even looking puckered area along the back of the cap, like this.

Finished. It fits well and improves with use.

A variety of hats from my current collection


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Modifying a bicycle helmet to fit my head

My resistance to wearing a bike helmet has been from finding them to be giant klunky things filled with HUGE amounts of styrofoam. My head is big from front to back, but narrow from side to side. A large or extra large helmet may sit on my head without squeezing it, but can leave a lot of space on either side. So I am supposed to put a mattress full of  the included foam padding on either side to take up the space, and the whole thing ends up looking like a giant hat from the San Francisco production of Beach Blanket Babylon.

I see some motorcycle riders go by with low-profile/minimalist helmets which can't be more than a centimeter or 2 thick. While I doubt they have an official approval for motorcycle use, I suppose it keeps the rider from getting a citation, and it's better than wearing nothing in the event of a crash.

I usually wear a helmet for longer rides, but typically not for around town. For me, a helmet is handy for several reasons:

1) It keeps my bicycle hat from blowing off.
2) Once on a ride, a beer bottle whizzed by me at 60 mph. It just missed the back of my head. The next time a motorist or their passenger wants to throw something at me, I would prefer to be wearing a helmet.
3) It's a good place to mount lights.
4) It offers some protection from rain, sleet and hail.
5) I can stop anywhere on a ride to take a nap and I don't need a pillow. With the helmet on, I can rest my head on a rock slab and catch some ZZZs.
6) In the event of a crash, it reduces the chance of victim-blaming and makes your lawyers job easier.
7) If my head ever does get smacked, I would rather have something more substantial on it than a bicycle hat.

I read that helmets are not designed to protect the head in crashes exceeding the usual bicycle speed (15mph) or in a car crash. So I'm really not concerned about modifying it. It seems to me that there is not a lot of protective effect to lose.

 I am not suggesting you modify your helmet or follow my example! Doing so may destroy the protective effect of your helmet resulting in injury or death! This is only an essay of my efforts to modify a product to suit my needs!

Carving out the Styrofoam

I wanted a helmet that was light, not bulky, has a hard shell, is comfortable, covers the back of my head (remembering the beer bottle missile), is well ventilated, and did not make me look too much like a dork. I would consider it a success if I was able to go riding with it and completely forget there was anything on my head. After a lot of searching, I settled on a climbing helmet, the Mammut El Cap, which had a rather narrow profile. The large size is a bit too small for me, but I would scoop out some of the styrofoam from the inside of it until it fit. I know that styrofoam can be cut with a hot wire or knife; but how about scooping it out with a hot spoon?

I got an old steel soup spoon, my hardware store propane torch, and a leather glove to hold the spoon. First I bent the spoon so I could maneuver it inside the helmet. After heating it up, I began carving layers of styrofoam away.  It did not take long to figure out how to do this. When the spoon was the right temperature, it went thru the styrofoam like it was scooping ice cream that was just soft enough to enjoy. A gentle pressure on the hot spoon allowed it to slide slowly thru the stuff, leaving a nice rounded interior surface. I stayed downwind of the noxious fumes that were generated from the process. After several passes and reheating the spoon many times, I would put the helmet on my head and feel where more material needed removal. After I was done, the helmet fit my head without needing any adjustment pads. An average of half an inch was removed from the inside of the helmet; maybe 3/4 inch on the inside crown. It covered more of my head because my head was more than half inch deeper inside the helmet compared to how it was before. The sides of the helmet almost touched my ears. That's when I decided to stop carving the styrofoam.

My chosen lid, the Mammut El Cap, a climbing helmet. It is quite narrow, has full ooverage, built in clips for light straps, and plenty of ventilation.

Assembling the tools
I removed the plastic adjustment strap that was part of the rear of the helmet. My head was too big for it.

After some scooping, lots of styrofoam liquifies into a small tarry patch on the spoon.

Quite a bit has been carved out. I took out a little extra and replaced the padding strips that came with it.

Cork strips along the back and sides. Replaced the pads on the inside crown.
To finish, I added self-adhesive cork strips I cut from a roll of cork meant for shelf covering. With a climbing helmet the styrofoam doesn't extend down along the sides as much, so this adds a bit of protection and fit. They expect the main issue would be rocks falling from above.

I really like this helmet. It fits like a glove, and I forget it is on my head.  I can shake my head side to side and it does not move at all. That means I will wear it more often. I should probably wear it when driving a car too.

Not a dork.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Low traffic loop to the Aufderheide

A year ago, I took the Boltbus to Eugene, OR to ride the famous Aufderheide forest road (FS 19). It's a very low traffic paved byway thru the Willamette forest, about 60 miles long. It's reported to be one of the best bike rides you can experience anywhere. Most people get a shuttle to ride it, which eliminates the "transit" stages from Eugene on highways 126 and 58. I don't like to drive a car to ride my bike if possible, so I had planned to ride those busy highways.

Even an experienced and fearless rider will find those highways to be especially evil. For much of their length, there is very little to no shoulder. And the truck and RV traffic can be relentless. Close calls happened often when I rode the highway loop.

Once off the hellhole highways 58 and 126, the Aufderheide itself was like a green carpet of trees and ferns. An occasional car would slowly go by. What a contrast.

So I wondered; could I enjoy this road; riding from Eugene, without using those highway arterials? I used to help me find out. Turns out there are other gravel/dirt forest road options that would make this possible. I mapped out a route that included a blizzard of forest roads snaking themselves over the mountains. I downloaded the route onto my phone (iphone 6), and headed down to Eugene.

I took the folder for this ride. However, Boltbus does accept whole unfolded, bikes in the luggage hold on a space available basis. No bike box needed, but someone may lay their bike on top of yours if space is tight.

In 8 minutes I reduced it to this. I put the black bag (which has the bike, tools, and water bottles) in the hold underneath the bus. The white bag (tent, pad, sleeping bag, clothes) and the small blue saddlebags (food and etcetera) went with me to my bus seat. 

As a paying member of ridewithgps ($50/year) I get the voice guidance feature along with the offline map data. I followed the schoolmarm-like voice directions on the pleasant bikeways thru Eugene, and into Fall Creek. A harpsichord sound would alert me to turns, or if I went off course. The old lady was looking after me.

Soon enough the traffic petered out, and I found my self alone on a paved, forested road riding up a valley. Eventually, the road became gravel/dirt, and began to climb in earnest.

Still paved. Established campgrounds ahead.

Ferns, trees, birds chirping in a tranquil environment.

The start of gravel and dirt. Most of the route was easy to ride hard-pack. 

Following Fall Creek up the hill. 

I didn't see anybody for the rest of the day from here on out. The gps app gave good directions and made complicated intersections easy. I did not need to look at my paper map. I used about 50% of the phone battery using the turn by turn directions over 8 hours. 

My first camp site at hidden lake in an old growth forest. This is designated as a day use area (no toilet, fire pits, or tables) but it was a nice spot, nobody else was there, and I was too tired to move on.

A fire pit spot in a pull-out, seen on Military road.

After riding the Aufderheide road and stopping in Oakridge for food, I returned on Boundary/Military road, following the north side of the river and reservoir.  It was gravely and potholed, but almost devoid of traffic.

My second and final camp in the woods along the north side of Lookout Point reservoir.

The pavement started again at the end of forest service land. On the way back to Eugene there was a nice covered bridge....

The full route is here

It can downloaded as a GPX file, or simply added to your ridewithgps app. 


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Making a chainguard

I had promised my wife a chainguard for her city bike way back when I was building it. Finally after a couple of years waiting, I put one together. No more need for pants clips!

I cut out a chain guard shape using tin snips from a sheet of .032" thick sheet steel I had. You can see the dark blooms from where I attached tabs at the back with brass. 

3 thin (less than 1mm) douglas fir strips were laminated together with gorilla glue to make this wood crook shape which will cover the top of the chain.

I bolted the wood strip in place with small brass bolts. The rings with rod sticking out the side will hold the guard in place at the front of the bike.
It is attached at the rear to the rack/fender braze on.

There was not much clearance between the chain and crank arm, so the placement of the guard had to be spot on. No adjustable option here. But it turned out very solid. I can't imagine it will ever rattle or come loose.