The Waterskiing Bicycle
Published: July 26, 2007
What happens when a group of college kids with way too much time on their hands even after playing texas holdem finds a bike at the bottom of a lake?
Read the full story to find out...
On a Thursday in early July 2007, I was at practice for our show ski team's annual Ski Show at Lake Panorama. It was near the end of practice, so a bunch of us were loitering about trying to avoid getting sucked into the cleanup job that was busily taking place underfoot.
A few friends and I were standing near the shoreline and saw some of the younger members of the team struggling to pull something out of the lake. Since it was something to do other than cleaning up, we mosied into the water to help them. These kids had found a bicycle. A fully working (albeit very rusty) bicycle.
We decided to keep it; it was obvious that whoever lost it in the lake was not going to be coming back for it. But, what to do with a rusty bike? We talked about building a ramp into the lake. Talked about strapping fireworks to the wheels and riding around. We talked about a lot of things. Half jokingly, I suggested we put it on skis.
Now, you have to understand that we are college kids living in Iowa. When you come home to Iowa for the summer, things can get pretty boring. Even living on a lake. So the idea stuck.
The next day, we met up at my house to start building the thing. My friend brought over an old section of dock that he had lying around to use as building material, and I chucked in a pair of old, cracked wooden skis. We spent pretty much that whole Friday hocking together a monster of a machine.
That first effort had very little planning involved. After we disassembled the bike down to the frame (which is actually a lot harder than it sounds), we were pretty much beat. So the first draft was thrown together with short screws, old, soft wood, and a donated piece of junk plywood from my neighbor's house.
We finished that day with a cool-looking waterski-bike hybrid. It was definitely not going to float, though. The frame was made of metal, and there wasn't enough wood to compensate. I think originally we had the delusion that we would just get to a fast start so it would skim across the top of the water, supported by the surface tension.
That would have worked... except for two problems. First, how the hell do you get an enormous hundred pound, unstable brick up to speed before you hit the water? And second, if it sinks that means you can't fall or slow down lest it become an anchor.
So we spent the Saturday duct taping noodles to the frame in a desperate attempt to make this thing seaworthy.
We dropped it in the water (it took three of us to carry it down from my garage to the water) and it did, indeed, float. Unfortunately, the back floated much better than the front, but we were still optimistic that this was going to work.
On weekends, the lake that we live on gets extremely crowded with city-folk who have weekend homes so we decided that in order to give our project the best chance at succeeding we would wait to test it until Monday.
Along came Monday and we four bright-eyed whippersnappers had a pep in our step. Today was the day. So we tied a ski rope onto my boat and decided to try a launch from the beach. Since the front didn't float very well, we reasoned, we would need to have it start on top of the water by tilting the bike backwards so the front ski was completely out of the water.
This first test was an absolute failure. Not only did the front sink immediately (even before the bike started moving), but it broke.
Dejected, we gave up for the day. This project looked to be a complete failure. And we were almost ready to give up.
Along rolled Wednesday, and one of my friends who had been out of town for the weekend arrived home. He had heard about our plan to build a waterskiing bicycle and wanted in. He and I had done a project before and let's just say, he's not one to skimp out. So on his way to my house he bought a 10' long 2x4 and as big of a piece of plywood as would fit in his Suburban.
That day was different than the first for two reasons. We had some sort of an idea what was going wrong. And we actually planned out how we were going to fix it.
We decided that the front ski needed more surface area and needed to be extended out like a Chopper so that it leveled out the frame. We also decided that instead of the rider holding the handle when we started up we needed some way to attach it to the bike so that we could focus completely on keeping the bike stable.
We spent the rest of the day extending the front ski out past the frame about three feet and redoing pretty much the whole bike. This second revision was nearly structurally identical to the final version.
The next day we tried it out. And much to our amazement, we got up on our second try! My friend was able to ride the bike a good tenth of a mile before a piece broke off, toppling the bike, which in turn ripped another couple of pieces off.
Reinvigorated by this success, we spent the next day reinforcing what broke. We used U-Bolts instead of screws and twine for the most crucial areas, and our next test is what you see in the video. That day, three of us were able to ride the bike for extended periods of time.
After we had all had a go, a small piece that had been holding the handle to the bike snapped, so we fixed that up relatively quickly and continued shooting video. After a long day on the water, our large piece of plywood between the two back skis ripped out. But it was all-in-all an extremely successful day.
We are now on the fourth revision of the bike, and it is sturdier and easier to ride than ever. There is still much work to do, but we are satisfied with the overall result.
If you are in the area and would like to see the bike in action, we will be including it in the annual Lake Panorama Ski Show to be held on August 4, 2007 in Panora, IA. For more details, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Eric Reese, Corbin Johnson, Foster Johnson, Grant Nelson, and Joel Newton for making the ski bike possible!