The Streetliner II?

I like to sketch during meetings at work because it actually helps me pay attention to the discussion at hand. Earlier this week, I was thinking about the Streetliner and figured it was time to do a fresh sketch. Where that sketch went was less about my current design, and evolved into something interesting. Something longer, and even more aggressive than my current design. Most importantly, I see this as a two-seat (in tandem) vehicle with lots of windows. I’m thinking a much larger power plant, like that out of a Goldwing, and a fully-enclosed design. With all that I’ll surely learn building the Streetliner, this second generation vehicle ought to be pretty straightforward to create.

The Dezso Molnar flying GyroCycle and a quick update

Saw this over on and there are a lot of interesting things about this project.

  1. It’s garage built
  2. The MkII version is a tilting trike
  3. The MkII weight is around 600 lbs

It’s that last item that is so interesting to me. Here’s a chassis that’s much larger than what I intend to build, and relying on a much larger, heavier motor and it’s coming in near my weight targets for the Streetliner. It’s a fascinating project that has me thinking my weight goals might actually be attainable. That low weight plus streamlined aerodynamics ought to mean some terrific mpg numbers. Then again, I’m only shooting for 65 mpg. Should I be more ambitious?

Meanwhile my skill acquisition continues. In working on one of my motorcycle projects, my GL1100, I’ve recently worked with both light gauge sheet steel and fiberglass for the first time. Both materials have their own unique challenges and capabilities. My three main take aways right now are these:

  1. Working with steel is great because it’s really precise
  2. Fiberglass and Bondo are easier to work with than I ever would have imagined
  3. Carving symmetrical shapes into foam is challenging and good planning and technique can save one a lot of rework and wasted time

With the Streetliner design more or less finalized and more and more of the necessary skills at least acquired in a basic working sense, I’m hoping to start work in earnest sometime next fall. Before that happens, I’ll publish a fully revised design, criteria and will likely reach out for sponsorship. Stay tuned.

Rear view camera option

This just popped up in my RSS feed. It’s an inexpensive, lightweight rearview camera system designed for use on bicycles. I could see this system finding its way onto motorcycles or even ATVs. At just $180, that’s pretty accessible for the Streetliner. I’d like to run at least a rearview camera, if not side view cameras as well to replace traditional rear-view mirrors. A system like this could remove all need for a rear window and help keep the outer aerodynamics nice and slippery.

Rethinking the skin

One of the last things Chris Bangle designed at BMW before he retired was the car you see above. It was a concept for a modular vehicle with a flexible skin that would literally change shape based on what you were using the car for. It’s trunk could change size and shape, and it could hunker down aerodynamically when it was time to go fast.

While obviously just a thought experiment, the flexible skin has me thinking about how to surface the Streetliner. Up to now, I’ve been planning to use foam and fiberglass to create the outer aerodynamic shell. However, looking at this concept and also remembering some fabric-shelled velomobiles I’ve seen online, the idea of using a more flexible material as an outer shell has a lot of appeal.

Firstly, it would greatly simplify construction. Since I’m not actually intending to mass-produce this vehicle, there’d be little point in investing the time or expense in creating a mold for a fiberglass body. Then there’s the added complexity of creating all the mounting points that join that body to the underlying chassis. Then there’s the added hassle of fabricating all the access panels and such needed to access key mechanicals under the body. I shouldn’t have to take the whole nose apart just to top off the radiator, for example. Furthermore, creating a fiberglass shell of adequate thickness so as to be good and sturdy would mean adding a not insignificant amount of weight to the vehicle.

Instead, if I were to build a series of essentially ribs over top of the chassis and safety cage, I could wrap the body in some sort of flexible skin. There are a number of durable thermoplastics I could use that would be resistant to weather, stones, bugs an the like out on the road, yet also be heat shrinkable and easy to patch and paint. Hell, you could use model airplane covering. The cloth-style covering is durable, paintable and very lightweight. Access panels could actually be pre-fabricated in framing, rather than having to be cut out of a hard shell. If designed correctly, the whole look would have a great antique aircraft look to it — like dope shrunk canvas over wooden ribs, spars and bulkheads.

Fundamentally, air doesn’t really care what a shape is made from. It just needs something to push against. Furthermore, an imperfect shape can still be very aerodynamic if it’s smooth enough. Further still, every pound of weight shed from the Streetliner is a pound I don’t have to push through the oncoming air. Additionally, I anticipate that building in this method would cost less, take less time, require fewer specialized tools and actually give me a much greater amount of flexibility to change the body shape as needed. Even the wheel pants could be made using this method — likely lessening unsprung weight and greatly simplifying installation. Anybody out there know of other examples of a flexible vehicle skin?

Key learnings and time well spent

It’s been a while since I made any updates here on the site, but I’ve been busy out in the real world laying the foundation it will take for this project to be possible. More specifically, I’ve spent basically the entire previous year working on several different motorcycles. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say that my mechanical knowledge and experience has at least tripled since I first thought of this project. I’ve rebuilt carburetors. I’ve rebuilt brakes. I’ve rebuilt suspensions. I’m in the progress of rebuilding two separate engines into one that will hopefully run.

While none of this work has been directly related to Project Streetliner, it’s all been tremendously helpful in laying a solid foundation of both component knowledge and general motorcycle understanding. As much as the Streetliner looks like a car in the latest renderings, it’s still basically about 90% motorcycle. It’s a three-wheeled cabin motorcycle where the frame is doing double duty as a safety cage. Having now pulled several bikes apart in pretty significant ways, I’m feeling so much more prepared to take this project on for real. I know I won’t do this alone, but thinking back to a year ago, I’m now so much closer to being ready to kick this project off. Funding is still a huge question mark, but money aside, I’m feeling a lot closer to getting this project started from a place where success is that much more likely.

On the funding front, I’m thinking very seriously about putting this up as a Kickstarter project. I’m thinking I’d need to raise about $15,000, which is pretty small by their standards. What I’d love to get everybody’s input on would be this: what incentives sound appealing to you guys? I was thinking perhaps of a range from high-quality prints of the renderings (like a poster series), all the way up to a complete set of kit plans. What do you guys think? What would you pitch in $50 for? How about $500?

Of experimental aircraft and the future of transportation

I was rifling through my Flickr last night and came across a collection of photos I took during a visit to the EAA museum in Oshkosh, WI earlier this year. I’ve been a huge fan of experimental aircraft since my teens when I did a lot of radio-controlled model aircraft building and flying. The entire concept of experimental aircraft is inspiring because it takes the overwhelmingly cost-prohibitive world of civil aviation and puts it within the reach of the clever and mechanically handy. It makes an item (a small airplane) cost as little as a decent sports car instead of a small house. What’s more, these kit-built craft outperform their factory-built cousins in speed, economy and aerobatic performance.

This has me thinking. Why hasn’t this happened with cars? I know there’s a vibrant kit car community, but the majority of their time seems spent building Shelby Cobra replicas or other poor man’s super cars. Why isn’t there a kit car equivalent to the LongEZ? Where is that simple, economic, interesting vehicle that almost anybody could screw together and pilot? Maybe the Streetliner is that vehicle. Maybe this project, and others like it, can spur a small revolution in transportation where instead of big, heavy boxes of steel, some of us zip around in lightweight composite vehicles that get us back and forth to work. I like the sound of that. Who’s with me?

Component list

So here’s a preliminary components list of everything each assembly is going to need. Enjoy.

Wheel Assembly Front (left and right)
-brake rotor
-brake caliper
-brake line
-brake pads
-steering arm (with hub/axle/bearing receiver)
-wheel bearings
-upper pivot assembly
-lower pivot assembly
-upper pivot bearings
-lower pivot bearings
-upper ball joint
-lower ball joint

Front suspension (left and right)
-upper swing arm
-lower swing arm
-upper swing arm pivot bearings
-lower swing arm pivot bearings
-center pivot shock mount arm assembly
-center pivot shock mount arm bearings (upper/lower)
-front suspension sub-frame assembly w/mounting hardware (including radiator mount points)
-shocks w/mounting hardware
-steering arms left/right
-steering column terminal assembly
-tilt lock rotor
-tilt lock caliper/pads
-tilt lock mounting assembly (on center pivot shock mount arm assembly)
-tilt lock hydraulic line

Safety cage / main chassis
-main hoop w/engine sub-frame mounting points and firewall
-secondary hoop
-tertiary hoop w/front suspension sub-frame mounting points
-roll bars
-door assembly
-door hinges w/hardware
-door latch/release assembly w/hardware
-seat mounting point assembly
-belt mounting point assembly

Body shell
-mounting point assemblies and hardware
-body shell panels
-radiator intake opening assembly
-latch assemblies for access panels and boot
-window assemblies (frames and canopy plastic)
-window latches and hardware
-windshield w/frame pieces and roof panel
-boot structure

-carpets or other lining material
-seat and mounting hardware
-safety harness and mounting hardware
-dashboard assembly
-steering column
-handlebar mounting assembly
-left controls (clutch, blinkers, hi/low beam, horn, grip)
-right controls (throttle, start, kill switch, hazard lights)
-foot pedal for rear brake
-rear brake master cylinder
-foot tilt lock pedal
-tilt lock master cylinder
-tilt lock locking mechanism and actuator
-parking brake actuator
-interior insulation panels (front bucket, sides, floor, door, ceiling)
-gages (speed, tach, temp, volts)
-12V accessory port(s)
-dome light and switch
-shifter pedal
-reverse selector

-wiring harness
-front headlight(s)
-front blinkers
-rear blinkers
-tail light(s)
-rear camera
-rear camera display
-side mirror camera(s)
-side mirror display(s)
-iPad mount / charging dock
-interior environmental controls
-interior blower fans

-the engine itself
-engine mounting tabs and hardware
-front and rear sprocket
-drive chain
-ignition components
-radiator hoses
-cooling fan
-fuel tank
-fuel pump?
-heat exchanger, air box, blower (for cabin heater)
-engine sub-frame
-exhaust pipe and silencer

Rear suspension
-rear swing arm
-rear shocks
-rear brake rotor
-rear brake caliper
-rear brake line
-rear inner fender
-rear rim
-rear tire

Renewed vigor

Every few weeks I get an email out of the blue from someone expressing their appreciation for something I’m working on. Lately it’s been my writing over at the Bluecat Motors blog that people are responding to. That’s meant a lot to me as what I’ve been doing with BCM is something I’m really proud of. Most of the emails I get here at Project Streetliner are along the lines of “I was thinking the same thing!” That’s exciting and I love getting those messages from people. 

Just recently, I got another such message from a fellow called Russ. He’s had similar ideas and appreciates where this design has come to, and inquired about the possibility of a future Streetliner kit. While a kit isn’t a particular aspiration of mine for this project, the conversation we had via email inspired me to do a little update here.

While the lights have been dim here at Project Streetliner for a few months, I’ve been doing a lot of things that support this project. Specifically, I’ve been working on and off as a mechanic’s apprentice down at Bluecat Motors. I write for their blog, and in return, they’re helping me become more than just a recreational mechanic. I also spent a year working for an actual product development firm helping to bring actual products to market. I understand now — more than I could have ever known when I kicked this off — how unprepared I was to take this one when I started. That said though, I feel like with the knowledge I have now, I can actually really get started on this project. 

Direct work on Streetliner is still several months away, but I’m going to keep the concept finalization moving forward. I have no fewer than three motorcycle projects that need to be completed before any work on Streetliner starts. But the upside is that these motorcycle projects will help to prepare me for fabrication. I’ve also got a line on a building space. Details to come later. Stay tuned.

So here’s the deal

Progress on this project is going very slow for me right now. This is primarily for two reasons. 1) I’m busier than I’ve ever been doing lots of really cool stuff with lots of cool people. 2) I’ve discovered that I can’t possibly meet my own design criteria. Let me elaborate.

Thing the first
I have a lot of really cool stuff going on. I’m writing daily for, weekly for and both gigs afford me ancillary opportunities to do cool stuff with cool people. I was a guest host on two automotive podcasts this week (bimmercast and whiteroofradio). I’m becoming more and more regular on WRR and in fact one of my recent episodes was the most-downloaded automotive podcast episode ever on iTunes. Now that’s not because I was on it, but still, it’s pretty awesome. Working with Bluecat Motors is also giving me really awesome opportunities to expand my mechanical skills and have access to their expertise in customizing motorcycles. So there are a couple of motorcycle projects I’d like to see happen this season and that’s going to take up both time and money that might have otherwise been used on the Streetliner.

Thing the second
I’ve really come a long way in this past year in understanding this project and what it’s going to take to complete it. I’m actually very, very confident in my designs and in the feasibility of a vehicle of this type. Unfortunately that deeper understanding has some unpleasant realities. The design has evolved into something really, really strong, but unfortunately the improvements to the design mean that I’m not going to be able to meet my price criteria of $10,000 or less in materials. I’m looking at more like $15,000 before it’s all said and done. Now that’s not bad. That’s the price of a really good motorcycle or a really cheap car. But it means that my original criteria are unrealistic. That has a domino effect on my timeline as well. The biggest thing that keeps me from starting construction isn’t interest, it’s money. I don’t have the cash to buy parts. So my 2012 debut deadline is pretty much out the window.

So is it dead?
No. Not at all. I still want to do this. However, the scope of the project may change drastically. That, or it may simply be years before I get around to it. I’m thinking about doing a recumbent trike velomobile with a tilting front end and an electric assist. There are great bike paths here in the Twin Cities and I can get basically all the way to work on them. So that’s an option. I’m also thinking about a Streetliner-style custom-built entry for the scooter Cannonball cross-country race event. We’ll see.

Either way, thanks so much for everybody’s support and everybody’s interest. This project (and the site) aren’t going anywhere, they’re just not going to have my undivided attention for a while.

Video: The front suspension explained (sort of)

I’m in the middle of making a small-scale aesthetic prototype, which I’ll post about later, but in the midst I made this little video showing how the double parallelogram tilting front suspension works. The prototype is made out of black foam core with hockey tape in the joints. Bone simple, very cheap and easy to modify. More on that later.