VK3CKC's eLecTricks Trike Design and Build.

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Feb 20, 2013
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Axedale, Victoria, Australia
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I needed to see how easy or difficult it was going to be to fit a second chainring to a Bafang BB01 e-Assist conversion. As eLectricks was not going to have any cassette on the rear wheel, I needed to be sure that low end gearing was going to be adequate. The best way of doing this would be to fit a “mountain climbing” chainring to the front – if that was indeed possible.

Steep uphill can be a bit of a grind when not using the motor due to only have the single chainring, as even lowest gear can be too high. Think about not being able to access the two smaller chainrings on you current ride and you’ll get the idea. The single chainring is held on by five hex-drive studs – hex cap bolts as they are called by my supplier. Of course, their mounting radius does not match any of the five-stud or five-spoke chainrings that I have in my collection. The radius is actually smaller on the Bafang.

I found a 28t chainring with an axially offset centre and with five holes that could possibly be used for mounting. It had an offset centre and it fitted very neatly between the spokes of the Bafang chainring. I needed to space it from the existing chainring for chain clearance. A steel disc with five stud holes at the small radius of the Bafang chainring, and another five stud holes at the radius of the additional chainring, could allow the two chainrings to be used. The additional chainring could be bolted to the steel disc. Spacers would be required to accommodate the offset of the additional chainring, and the whole could be attached to the drive motor by longer mounting studs. This was something that I just had to try.



The right-hand-side pedal was removed, allowing removal of the existing chainring. A disc was made and drilled as required, using both chainrings as templates for the stud holes and the large central clearance hole. The additional chainring was bolted to the disc. Three spacer discs (stacked), required to fill the void created by the added chainring’s offset, were cut from a small sheet of discarded aluminium. Their outer circumferences were contoured to clear the heads of the added chainring mounting bolts. Then they were cut radially in half to avoid having to cut the large central clearance hole in each one. If I had to do them again, I would try and use a single piece of aluminium and make other arrangements to cut the large centre hole instead of fiddling with six individual pieces. Five longer studs were purchased to bolt the whole assembly to the Bafang drive motor. The complete process took far longer than I had anticipated.

A brief test proved the concept with the lowest gear selected all round showing a very low bottom gear. Owing to more slack chain takeup requirement, the front chain guard had to be shortened and two links had to be removed from the chain. Any uphill grade that cannot be ridden with this setup would be ridiculous and should be circumnavigated.

The addition of a front derailleur, with a friction shifter, would complete the modification. Funny, that was three months ago and the derailleur has not yet been fitted. Ironically, having gone through these gymnastics, I discovered that Amazon carry a wide range of chainrings for Bafang drives. All that should be required to use these chainrings is a spacer and longer mounting studs.
 
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Nice work , I assumed the use of the front wheel was just because it was narrower ?

I have seen some of those mid drive/Hilgo type devices fitted with a 40t chain ring , I assume you no longer have space for that ?
 
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I used a front wheel (for the rear wheel) because I didn't need a cassette on the right side of it like a conventional rear wheel. I need to mount a sprocket of choice (decision not made yet) where the disc rotor would normally be, to receive drive on the left hand side.

The output sprocket on the mid-drive has still to be decided. I haven't done any calculations as yet. The reality is that with only the 48t chainring up front, the mid-drive will always spin faster than the pedals, and not providing good hill starting torque. I found it a problem on the two-wheeler when I first used the Bafang on it. If I was to gear it down via a small output sprocket on the mid-drive, I would be compromising high speed capability.

When Harry Leiben ran his velomobile in ROAM in 2011 or so, he was about 3/4 the way through the ride and commented that he had finally worked out how to use the front chainrings - don't worry about the middle when changing down. Go straight to the low one as by the time you change to the middle, you would lose too much momentum and will need the low one anyway, thereby negating the change to the middle. That is roughly how I recall it anyway. His Sinner creation has two chainrings to provide the best of low and high speed ranges.

I am not building spedifically for speed but am prepared to use it if and when. Many times with the pre-Hilgo mid-drive on the Warrior I got annoyed with not being able to pedal fast enough. I still had the pedaling power but ran out of puff in spinning. eLecTricks is meant to be different in a number of ways and the drive system is just one of them. There should be plenty of "fill-in" gearing between low-speed lugging and high-speed flying.

I've never been one to just do what everyone else does. That's why I had a passion for Nissan Cedrics and no interest whatsoever in the GM or Ford offerings or many of the others for that matter.
 
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While I was off-project, so to speak, I decided to try out my idea of making a steel-spoke wheel. The wheel rim could be provided from a donor wheel or purchased new as it would be too difficult to build your own. I decided on making a 20” version for testing at some time. The idea had been rolling around in my brain for some time and I had to get rid of it. Trying it was the only solution.

I reasoned that it would not be necessary to use every spoke hole as a steel wheel would be stronger. Calculation showed that I could use every fourth hole for a total of 16 spokes. This started out to be 8 per side, for each end of the wheel hub. I then thought, “Why not try and do it with just the outside end of what could be a shorter hub if it proved successful?” This should end up with a lighter wheel. In any case, it’s a starting point for what might be satisfactory DIY wheels.

I started by placing two screws in a short length of wood, spaced to the radius of the outside of a 20" bicycle wheel rim. A small hole was then drilled in a sheet of 1mm steel sheet, a screw was placed in the hole and the circumference of a circle was traced by rotating the piece of wood around the screw hole. The reason for using the outside of the rim as the radius was to leave sufficient metal for bending a tab on each spoke for bolting to the inside of the rim, through the spoke holes.

A 16-spoke diagram was made up to use as a marking guide for the 16 spokes that this wheel would contain. The disc was cut from the steel sheet and marked with a line from the centre to the outside for each of the 16 spokes, using the diagram for location. The radius of the inner side of the wheel rim was then carefully measured, and a circle transcribed around the disc at this point. A width of 16mm was arbitrarily decided at the inner circle intersection for each spoke at its outer end. It will also be the width of the tab required for mounting each spoke to the wheel rim. Lines were scribed from the 16mm points, parallel to the centre spoke lines toward the centre of the disc to a point of intersection with a similar line from the next spoke. Accuracy here will determine the overall centreing and balance of the wheel hub.

A hub circle slightly larger than the diameter of a disc rotor adaptor was scribed at the centre of the wheel. Small holes were drilled at the intersection of the 16mm point parallel lines. I had intended to design the spokes as something more than straight but, in the excitement, I had them cut before I realised I had not allowed for it. Maybe there will be a Mk II design or the current design will turn out to be a waste of time and be discarded. A reduction in the number of spokes would reduce the spoke count to 8 only - 4 per side. I would not like to go to this number until the 16-spoke design has been proved.



The wheel would benefit from a bit of paint to cover the angle grinder marks.

Finally, the centre of the disc was marked up to accommodate a DIY disc rotor adaptor. The disc wheel will be bolted to the adaptor on the outer end of the hub using hex cap crews, the same as those used for mounting disc brake rotors. A final wheel will probably have the wheel disc welded to the outer end of the hub. It is only bolted at this point so it can be removed for modification if needed. The inner hub end will also have a rotor adaptor to which a disc rotor will be fixed. The hub itself could be much shorter than that which is used in a conventional bicycle wheel.

A bending form slightly smaller than the diameter of the inside of the rim was made up. The spokes were centred on the bending form and fixing tabs at the ends of each spoke were bent over at right angles. These alternated by spoke as some would “point” outwards and the others, inwards. The dimensions were such that the centre was a close, loose fit inside the rim as there needs to be some tension applied by their mounting screws.
 
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These mudguard (fenders to some) notes are out of chronological position but are included as they are relevant to the subject.

I consider that mudguards are a definite requirement if a trike is be used without a body.

Water spray, sand and dust debris thrown up from the front wheels can be a problem at times. As the wheels steer, the angle of throw-off changes and that can mean that such debris is thrown onto the rider. The problem can be easily mitigated by fitting mudguards, either of commercial or home-made nature. As this project is definitely DIY, here is an easy way of adding mudguards. Some details will be up to the constructor.

A 700mm length of approximately 50mm diameter PVC pipe or tube was cut longitudinally in half with a cutoff disc and angle grinder. Starting from 100mm in from what was to become the trailing end of the guard, it was marked off in 20mm increments. Kerf slots were cut to within 10mm from the centre of the tube half on each side of the centre. The kerfed PVC was bent around a 20" tyred wheel and lightly clamped in place. It was heated with a hot air gun and left for cooling before the clamps were removed. It held almost the exact shape.


Half tube ready for kerfing.




Clamped, ready for heat setting.

A larger wheel rim was placed with a tight fit around the wheel and its tyre to form a spacer for the final mudguard shape. The kerfing slots were then filled with "bog", left to cure, and then sanded. Although the process seemed to work quite well, I accidentally dropped it and it fractured. Despite this, I think the process is sound and I would stick with it.


Taped in position for the photograph.

A solid former and clamping ability, with the right amount of heat, would probably permit shaping without the kerfing and provide for a stronger guard. Stainless steel wire could provide for mounting. I haven’t got into finishing them yet. Too many other things.
 
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The eLecTricks build was now starting to get a bit protracted and I decided that it would be very convenient to use a pair of front wheels and DIY hubs that I had made up a couple of years ago in order to save time and speed things up. I didn’t get too far when I decided that their position depended on the seat position. Out came an already made seat of the Barnett Williams type and here are some construction notes from a few years back.



The first step in making the seat frame was to make a better bending form for the horizontal spreader. It is of a form approximately the same as the required curve. It is placed in a vise and the tube bent around it.

A short length of pipe, about the same length as the curve and a diameter to slip over the steel tube, was cut longitudinally in half. One of the halves was kerfed with a number of cuts about 1cm apart along its length. The cuts were made to just touching the inside surface of the tube half. The kerfed half was then bent to the same curve as the required seat spreader tube bend and both items were welded between two pieces of large steel angle. Part of the remaining pipe half and a small piece of angle were welded to the form to hold the end of the tube in place while bending.



The spreader tube was simply marked up, placed in the bending form, and bent around the kerfed steel former. No real distortion of the tube takes place and results are very repeatable - just make sure that you don't over bend.

It is far better to perform a lesser bend, check the angle, and continue bending rather than bending too far and then trying to unbend.



The ends of each of the two spreaders are notched to receive the two seat frame side rails.

Notching is easily accomplished with an angle grinder and frequent checking for fit.

The frame side rails were formed with a standard tube bender, generally following the Barnett Williams design instructions.



It is essential that the seat frame be kept square during welding. This can be best achieved by clamping it down so that the horizontal parts of the spreaders are kept parallel. The frame sides can then be welded in place and the finished item should remain square. As the shape is reasonably difficult to handle in getting everything squared, a better approach might be to build it in-situ on the trike and I think that is what I would do if there were to be a next time.



The seat fabric can be made once the frame is completed. Mine is made from a non-tear mesh fabric called Supermesh and it was made by Patch's Canvas, Golden Square in Bendigo. It includes lacing eyelets and RF welded reinforcing patches where notches are made to fit around the seat frame spreaders. The fabric that I used - supermesh? or supamesh? - does not stretch so it must be accurately made.



The seat mesh is folded around the frame and laced in a crisscross fashion behind. Adjusting the tension modifies the seat comfort as it is basically a hammock when you think about it. The camera view makes the shape look a little "off" here.
 
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I decided that I would try to provide seat rake, fore/aft positioning, front of seat height adjustment, and easy seat removal in the build if I could. The positioning and front height adjustment was not a problem, but how to provide the rake adjustment, rear of seat mounting and easy removal? Quite clearly, the seat could not be attached to the rear end triangle as that would be moving with suspension action. In an endeavour to make the whole trike as short as possible, the rear of the seat was now potentially too far back, with the top over the mid-drive and the suspension – too far behind any readily available solid mounting. While I was thinking about it, I replaced the double front boom with a single tube, modified the mid-drive mounting arrangements, and that allowed me to firm up the seat front mounting bracket design and fine tune my thoughts on the rear seat mount. You can’t rush some of these things.

A bracket for the front end of the rear shock was made and fitted to the front boom, under where the seat was to go. The weather now turned quite hot and shed time started to dwindle more than a little because of it. More thinking time available and I know that leads to new projects or modifications to existing ones.

This now brings this lengthening story almost to the end of 2019.
 
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Feb 20, 2013
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I concentrated on the seat positioning/mounting, the rear bulkhead frame, cargo bay area, and tow hitch. These things are all inter-related and they cannot exist in isolation and, ultimately, such things would also impact on the body. The way out of the problem was becoming a little befuddling and confoozling. Working backwards from the final outcome for example:

The body relies on supporting framework to exist before it can be made and fitted. Much of that framework relies on the existence of the rear bulkhead frame, the frame just behind the seat. The cargo bay frame relies on the rear bulkhead frame to which it must connect. It must also include the tow hitch and be strong enough to take its forces and hold any cargo.

The rear seat mount relies on the existence of the cargo bay frame as it will have to be accommodated inside the forward part of it. This will affect exactly how the rear of the seat is mounted and its rake adjusted. There will not be a great deal of choice here as the mechanism must remain within the body and not interfere with rear wheel suspension.

Finally, the front wheels positioning, and everything forward of the seat, rely on the existence of the seat which is subject to the previous points.

The problem is a little circular but it became obvious that the rear bulkhead frame and cargo bay frame must be made and fitted in order to move on. Once that is done, the seat and brackets can be positioned, allowing me to move forward – literally.
 
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The front mount for the rear suspension shock.



There are a few extra holes to lower the final weight, Yeah, right.



The front seat mount just provides a place for the seat to sit, held in place by the bum that sits on it. It can be moved fore and aft as required and the various slots allow for height adjustment. The row of holes are for fixing in position with some quick release mechanism - not the one pictured here.

The rear bulkhead frame is basically an upside-down “U” shape that must be wide enough for rider clearance (the lesser of impacting dimensions), yet be wide enough at the top to carry a semi-flexible solar panel (the greater of the impacting dimensions). I don’t wish to purchase the panel just yet but I will have to allow for its width. The frame width also determines the body width at that point but I can narrow it a bit later without interfering too much with progress.

I needed to work out a few things so created the mock-up pictured here in order to see how things were going. It was opportune as it modified, and then solidified, a few thoughts and possibilities. That wheel is not part of it. It was just convenient to show what it might look like with a front wheel and the steel one at that.



The rear bulkhead frame defines the width, shape, and height of the body behind the seat. It is also a mounting point for the rear seat adjuster, provides a connection point for the trailer hitch, forward running bracing, cockpit opening, part of the rear cargo bay frame, a mounting point for radio antennas, rotating camera mount, cockpit canopy closure, and must be wide enough to accommodate a roof-mounted solar panel. A tall order.

I had to try a few things in order to home in on the position and angle of the frame. The frame will be wider than the seat, allowing the seat frame to sit between the uprights, also permitting it to sit well towards the rear, assisting with shortening the overall length of the trike, a positive benefit, and providing a proper location for the rear seat adjuster within what would become the rear cargo bay.

Could I progress the frame construction without purchasing a semi-flexible solar panel at this stage? An Internet check on the sizing of various panels disclosed that there were ample panels available with widths of between 540mm and 600mm. Having determined an ample width, the next requirement was to ensure that there would be plenty of side room within the cockpit for arms and things when the body sides were attached to the frame.
 
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Cockpit canopy "runners" need to be as low down as they can be to facilitate getting in and out. They will run forward from the rear bulkhead frame to a convenient height above the front wheels to provide connections for the dashboard frame, the internal wheel arches, and continue further forward to provide body connections at the very front.

Now that all that was sorted, I could get back into construction.

I decided on a sufficient width for the frame, allowing for the future solar panel. I also had to work out how I would transition from its vertical sides to the horizontal top. The decision was for a rounded transition, provided by kerfing and bending the square steel tubing. What radius and how many kerfs would be required and how would this affect the width that I would end up with? I decided on 14 kerfs and made up a short test section to see how it would come together. The end result was quite a smooth curve. The fitting of the body sides to it later will be worked out then.

I determined the complete length of the frame as one piece, and started marking the start of the kerfs in two places equidistant from the centre. The 1cm interval kerfs were carefully marked and then cut across what would become the inside face of the frame, with an angle grinder fitted with a cutoff disc. Next, extensions of the cuts were scribed across what would become the frame's rear and front faces. The rear and front faces were then cut as required.



The tube was carefully placed on a steel frame that was once used as a small tank stand but now functions as my steel workbench. A rear or front face (doesn't matter which) was clamped down, the rest of the tubing was bent around to close the inside face kerfs and the whole clamped in place to ensure that it would be kept in strict alignment.

A minor improvement to this process, which only became apparent when I was bending the second curve, would be to have a steel curve template because it is possible to come up with an uneven radius. It all depends on how much side grinding took place when cutting the kerfs.

Next, the closed kerfs were opened up with another pass with a new cutoff disc. A new disc was used in order to allow the grinder to fit within the inside curve. One of the clamps was released and the kerfs closed again. The squareness of the bend was checked to ensure that it was at 90 degrees, and a slight adjustment made for correctness. The frame was then clamped down for spot welding so that it would hold its shape. Spot welds were made on one face, a clamp was released, and the bend again checked for square. It had sprung back a little more than I expected. The frame was then turned over and pressure applied in the opposite direction to that which it had sprung, the clamp was refitted and spot welds were applied to the exposed face. Releasing the clamp resulted in another spring back. The second bend turned out perfectly by deliberately clamping to allow for the direction of spring back when welding each side. Experience is a good teacher. The slight misalignment of the first was easily adjusted to correct by releasing one of the spot welds, clamping it with a slight over bend and re-welding it.
 
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At this stage, the frame looks a little too wide. If necessary, I could cut a piece out of the centre to narrow it, and weld it shut. This would result in a full body length weight saving on the amount removed. Any decision on this will be deferred until a solar panel is purchased.

The frame is now a complete upside down “U” shape that needs to be modified. It is kerfed on the front face of both sides at about 400mm down from the top, bent, the kerf re-cut sufficiently to provide more closure, and welded so that the section behind the rider's head would be vertical, providing a horizontal fit for the cockpit canopy and a place to fit the tow hitch. A cross tube was welded across the frame at the bend.



A mounting hole was drilled through each side near the bottom at an appropriate height to connect it to a horizontal tube that will be fitted to the front boom. The blue tape on the frame just holds a bolt in place so fit can be checked. A black G-clamp is holding the horizontal tube. The bolt through the hole will be screwed to a nut that will be welded to the horizontal tube to facilitate complete body removal. The side of the frame extends below the tube ato provide a connection point for a solid standing floor to facilitate getting in an out. The frame will also be held in place and braced by cockpit side runners, the dashboard frame, and the standing floor.

The tow hitch, at this time, is simply a length of tube welded perpendicular to the frame cross piece, extending rearwards further than considered necessary. Its actual length will be decided later. It performs double duty with providing a solid floor component for the cargo bay. It must be at a suitable loaded clearance above the rear wheel – fingers crossed. That yellow "thing" above the wheel is an empty copper wire spool used as a spacer.
 
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A minor improvement to this process, which only became apparent when I was bending the second curve, would be to have a steel curve template because it is possible to come up with an uneven radius.



I agree. That's just about what happened to the two curves I made on the StreetRunner.
But it was too late for me to change it, having already been welded into the rest of the frame when discovered.

I thought my jig set up would have brought both corners into the same shape.
But that wasn't the case. Lesson learned.
 
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So much of eLecTricks is design-on-the-fly. You know, a kind of I’ll-know-what-to-do-when-I-get-there sort of thing. Although I always had what I thought was a pretty good idea of how things would be, it was quite light on in detail in some areas. A lot of what was to go behind the seat fell into this category.

At the moment, the rear bulkhead frame is nothing more than a perimeter sort of thing with a tube projecting towards the rear for a tow hitch which also provides strength for the cargo bay. The tow hitch, and cargo bay floor, which will also do mudguard duty, are viewed as the lowest things above the rear wheel and must allow sufficient for its suspension to work. The seat must be installed as far towards the rear as possible as its position will impact on the total trike length. I also have a requirement for an adjustable seat rake angle and for the seat to be easily tilted or removed for easy access to the space inside the cockpit. The rear seat mount and the rake adjuster mechanism must be positioned further back than the top of the seat back. This places it behind the bulkhead.

The height of the seat back, coupled with the forced minimum cargo bay clearance to the rear wheel, does not allow for placing the seat mount inside the cargo bay – my first solution to the problem. The mount can still be positioned behind the bulkhead, but it must be positioned well below what will become the cargo bay floor. But wait, there is nothing there to provide an attachment point.

1: Additional framework is required for proper mounting for the seat bracket/adjuster. 2: Bracing is required for the tow hitch. 3: Some framing is required for the future body. 4: It all must fit around the rear wheel free space. 4: It all must consider the future body fitting. 5: No permanent bracing is available forward of the seat yet, so some temporary bracing will be required so that it all stands up during construction.

Overriding all that is the requirement to keep it as lean as possible – and there may be more than one way of doing it. I will emerge for another update when it is all sorted.
 
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There is always a way of doing something. I had steered myself into a predicament through trying to dual-purpose some elements of the rear end of my design. What I was trying to do, turned out to be impossible. The remedy did not take much angle grinder surgery, but did result in what turned out to be an easy fix.

Part of the problem with placing the rear seat bracket and rake adjustment was that the curved shape of the upper seat frame spreader did not allow the rake adjuster tubes to spread far enough apart to give sufficient clearance to the rear wheel. I removed the spreader and discarded it. I had no idea how much spread would be required so aimed at providing the most that I could. I made up two right angled corners from 20mm square. After finding a source of 16mm tube, I discovered that it was a nice easy fit inside the 20mm tube and elected to use 16mm square for the replacement seat frame spreader. A little work with the angle grinder and the seat frame was sitting neatly in the ends of the 20mm corners. I didn’t weld them at this stage. The modified spreader allowed me to experiment a little more.



A little construction tip for the right angle corners. They were made by removing and angled cutout and bending to form the corner – 90 degrees in this case. I have experienced slight twisting in the past when doing such things but I tried something that kept things in order this time. Cut the cutout as neat as you can, clamp one side to a solid, flat surface so that the bend can be made horizontally and, tap the clamped face at the bend with a hammer as you slowly bend into shape. This will set the bend and also keep everything relatively square. It also resulted in a much neater looking bend.

The lower ends of the adjuster tubes would now be able to come to a workable position, although still in mid-air, but a redesign of the tow hitch fixed that.
 
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Some of the dimensioning is still guesswork but I made up what I will call a double corner to form the rear end of the new tow hitch which will now run from lower down on the rear bulkhead frame, around the rear of the rear wheel and back to the other side of the rear bulkhead frame. The frame width may still have to be narrowed once I source the solar panel but it will not take much to make alterations that will also include the tow hitch and the rear seat bracket mounts. However, the design alteration allowed me to determine where the seat’s final resting place would be.



Another part of the problem was that there was nothing within cooee of the rake adjuster tubes to which their bottom ends could be connected - and little opportunity to provide it without adding too much weight and interfering with other things. The new tow hitch provided all that was required to mount the bracket. I can’t finish this part of the construction at the moment and will have to return to it later but it will not hold up progress.

Now that I have experienced some of that mildly euphoric three steps forward that we all know, it’s time for some two steps backward. When comparing seat position dimensions with my Warrior, I discovered that I had removed the wrong seat frame spreader and will now have to make a replacement for it. This one has to be different as it needs to be round tube, or at least the horizontal part of it. The ¾” ID tube that I have is not an easy fit in the 20mm square end pieces. Sorry to mix measurement systems but that’s what it is. It has to be round or there will be two more steps backward to replace the front seat bracket.
 
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