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the cheapest gift: your old, flat tires for artistic reuse

“When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.”
~Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills

No matter how evolved you think our human-powered 2-wheeled creations have become, one thing’s indisputable: they could always use something. Whether it’s a tuneup, accessory, or part upgrade, bicycles are perfect for perpetual tinkering. Here are my picks for best Maker/biker gifts this year.

1. A solid reference for bike repair: $0-$140

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One of Sheldon Brown’s many useful repair photos

Tinkering with bikes is fun; tinkering with bikes and having the reference you need to complete the project is heavenly. “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance” ($17) is on my shelf and covered with grease stains; more off-roading cyclists have a version all their own. Your favorite DIY cyclist has probably seen
Sheldon Brown’s infinite knowledge on bike repair ($free), but they probably haven’t printed and bound a copy for their bike toolbox. Or, earn free bike repairs for a year by splurging for Barnett’s extremely-comprehensive guide to all things bike repair ($140).

2. Bike tools: $10-$130

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A PVC bike repair stand

The right tools help keep bikes running efficiently and safely. Especially useful and easy to make is a roadside repair kit (~$10-$50), with Instructables offering great suggestions from the basic to the more substantial. Or, cheat and take an Altoids tin and some cash to your local bike shop. Tell them to fill it with whatever they would find most indispensable for their roadside toolkit, and you’ve got a low-cost present that makes you look really knowledgeable about bike repair!
If the bike makers on your list already have the gear to save themselves from needing roadside rescue, make (or get them the parts to make) a repair stand for their cycle. I recommend Ladyada’s black pipe version (~$60), but a lower-cost and more-shippable version can be made from PVC (~$20).
You can earn free repairs for a year here, too: a hackable truing stand (~$50) and a mechanic’s toolkit ($130) will make your bike-repairing friends tear up with joy.

3. Books of bike projects: $15-$20

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Make’s DIY wheels issue

After one’s primary 2 wheels are self-maintained, it’s a slippery slope to the dangerous world of tall bikes, cargo creations, and even amphibious human-powered vehicles. The “DIY Wheels” issue of Make ($15) is a good introduction, and both “Atomic Zombie’s Bicycle Builder’s Bonanza” ($17) as well as “Bike, Scooter, and Chopper Projects for the Evil Genius” ($17) feature quality DIY bike-like creations in step-by-step detail.

4. Visibility and sight: $20-$100

Spoke-Pov
SpokePOV – Make light / LED art with your bicycle wheels
Spoke POV is an easy-to-make electronic kit toy that turns your bicycle wheel into a customized display! The project includes a free schematic design, open software for uploading and editing stored bitmap images, and a high-quality kit with all the parts necessary to build your own.

Features:

  • Can be used with road, mountain or BMX wheels!
  • 30 LEDs on each side (22 for BMX) x 256 radial pixels
  • Runs on 2-3 AA batteries for 10 hours or more, assuming 3000mAh alkalines and 50% image coverage.
  • Can run on rechargable NiMH AA’s
  • Comes with high-brightness red, yellow, green or blue LEDs
  • Automatically shuts off after 3 minutes
  • Software runs on any Mac, Windows or Linux computer with Serial, Parallal or USB port
  • Design is all through-hole parts, perfect for a first time kit builder.
  • With one spoke, total persistence at 15mph. Two spokes, 10mph. Three spokes, 7mph. (Assuming a mountain bike wheel). Looks cool even if not completely persistant.
  • Great for safe riding at night, provides excellent side visibility.
  • Playa-tested!

Price: $37.50

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The Monkeylectric lights in action

To see and be seen is more than a social issue on bicycles: it’s an important car-avoidance strategy. Start with a good headlight. Make #14 has plans for a simple, basic mini setup (~$20), and Instructables has lots of plans (including a 400-lumen Altoids-based “curiously strong” setup). Adding reflective tape can make your ride glow in headlights ($30). Or, go all out and treat your wheels as a programmable display with SpokePOV ($38-$99) or Monkeylectric ($65).

5. Entertainment: ~$25-$250

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Mr. Jalopy’s urban guerrilla movie theater

Not that cycling is short on fun, here are some opportunities to make biking even more entertaining. Add power for your tunes (or phone, or lights, etc.) with a bike-based ipod charger (~$25), useful when you use your water cage to hold a coffee cup speaker (~$30). Cinephile bike maniacs owe you film passes for getting them parts towards Mr. Jalopy’s urban guerrilla movie theater (~$250).

6. Bike science / stories: $12-35

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Chainbreaker, a bike story zine

Cycling can be as complex or (almost) as simple as you’d like. Introduce your cycle Maker to bike science with, well, “Bicycling Science” ($18) (read Make’s review here). Add some grit with “Wheel Life Lessons: The Chainbreaker Bike Book” ($12) (Make’s review here). Extra-well-behaved metropolitan cyclists may even deserve the harder-to-find “Art of Urban Cycling” (~$35). Want more reading? Here’s Make’s top 10 list of books about human-powered vehicles.

7. Security: ~$30-~$100

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Old clunker, or fine Bianchi incognito?

Save bikes from the elements and jealous thieves by getting them out of the street; the swiveling balcony hoist is a clever option (~$30), assuming you have a balcony upon which to hoist. There’s no replacement for a good lock, and the best way to pick one is to try and break one. Here’s a review of bike locks from the perspective of someone trying to break them ($50-$100). Of course, the best way to avoid bike theft is to make your bike look like it’s not worth stealing. Make’s got your bike-uglification-info needs covered here ($varied).

8. Bike-hauling abilities: ~$50-$infinity

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1-wheeled, DIY tow-behind trailer

With some clever Making, bikes can quickly become capable of carrying much more than you’d think. The Xtracycle ($250+) is a ridiculously popular option for carrying more on your 2 wheels with a great back story. It’s also upgradeable to a power assist setup ($1350+). More affordable cargo-hauling is doable with some ingenuity; my favorite is this design for a 1-wheeled trailer (~$100), and setups similar to the Pedal People trash haulers (~$50) can be easy builds with not much more than a donor bike and some conduit.

9. Welding tools: ~$20 to $infinity

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With some car batteries and jumper cables, these can be the start to a metal-melting, bike-hacking habit

Your bike-hacking gift-recipient may already be daydreaming about melting metal to further their bike builds; if not, they will be after you give the gifts to get them started. I am partial to the car-batteries-plus-electrode-holder introduction (~$20); Tim Anderson’s welding Instructables will introduce you to way more DIY welding setups than you imagined existed. At the opposite end of the spectrum are fancy TIG welders ($1600+). Suitable for aluminum, you might want to require your gift recipient reciprocate by making you a few bike frames before gifting something like this…

10. Your old bike: free!

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Nightmare granny chopper bike

That unused old bike sitting in your garage is just waiting to be hackified, into the granny nightmare chopper, eco-gym, swing / wrong-way, or even a bike-like dog cart. Already hacked all the 2-wheelers in your garage beyond gifting? Here are tips on going from garbage bike to functional present.

Not feeling up to spending on such extravagances for your 2-wheeling, self-propelling friends? One solution: sell your Hummer at a discount, buy 10 of each product mentioned above, and still have enough money left over for a dozen-plus fancy new bikes:)

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.
-Mark Twain, “Taming the Bicycle”

Bonus! Sean Bonner, famous for fixedr among many other things, has shared his top 10:

1. Crank Bros Multi Tool: $35

The single most important thing any bike rider needs, and needs with them all the time is an allen wrench based multitool. There’s always something that needs to be tightened, loosened, or just plain adjusted and any time I’ve found myself without one I’ve ended up having to borrow one. Because it’s so important there are just shy of 90 million options out there, so personal preference plays heavily into this. What sizes and what tools will you need for your bike and what do you anticipate having to adjust on the road. Also there’s the size/weight/bang/buck thing to consider. For me, the Crank Bros multi tool 19 is just about ideal. It’s packed with tools, small enough to fit in a pocket or small bag while still being large enough to give you something to grab on to.

2. Atwood bike tool: SOLD OUT – check ebay?

Almost more design than function, I mostly carry this around just to show it off. Hand made by Peter Atwood and crazy limited, the coolest thing about this is built in spoke tension wrench – something overlooked on almost all other multi tools. I’ve actually used every bit of this, even the large wedge which is designed to be a tire lever though I honestly wouldn’t recommend it for that since being metal it has a tendency to scratch rims. It makes up for that by having a built in size 15 wrench which is perfect for bolt on track axles and saves you from having to carry one of those around. Did I mention it’s hand made?

3. Park Mini Chain Tool: $20

Fixing a link on a chain has the potential to go terribly wrong, most often caused by some crappy keychain sized chain tool damaging the perfectly OK links next to the messed up ones you are trying to replace. Enter the Park Mini Brute. This is all the power and precision of a full sized chain tool but in super compact size. It’s worth carrying around if only to hand to someone after watching them struggle for 20 minutes with the useless tool some kid at Sports Authority talked them into buying. It works on 3/32 and 1/8 chains, and will solve your bad link problems in minutes. (Assuming you have good links to replace them with of course)

4. phil tenacious oil: $8

This stuff is the best lube for your bike that I’ve ever seen in my life. It last forever and will make your bike dead silent. Gears or fixed, you’ll have no chain noise at all after just a few drops of this and a month later you’ll swore you just put it on.

5. AirChuck SL CO2 inflator: $20

For years I carried around either a handpump that was small enough to fit in a saddlebag but could barely pump up a tire, or a larger one that required me to wear a bag. The main reason I switched to CO2 was to get the best of both worlds, super compact size and actual PSI that allows you to ride somewhere besides the closest bike shop. And since size is the motivator, the AirChuck SL is genius. It’s exactly the parts you need with nothing else, barely larger than a dollar stack of quarters, this nozzle and a few CO2 cartridges will fit anywhere and in anything. I’ve actually seen someone just duct tape this under their saddle.

6. Floor pump: <$50

I have to follow up suggestions to carry CO2 with you for flats by saying nothing beats a standard floor pump. It’s a must have at your house for anyone with a bike. The best bet for this is to go to your local bike shop and ask them what they recommend. Everyone has their favorite but as long as it works for you then it’s good. The one things I’d suggest is make sure you know how to put the nozzle on and take it off of a tube before buying something. Try it in person, make sure it works.

7. rubber gloves: <$0.10

So totally not a joke. They cost a few cents and can fit in any bag, pocket, etc. Here’s the thing, working on bikes is dirty business with grease and grime getting everywhere. If you are just out for a ride getting chain grease on you hands might not be that big of a deal, but if you are commuting to work, or going for food, chances are the less crap on your hands the better. Having a pair of these gloves on hand will save you a major headache down the line.

8. Electrical tape: <$5.00

Tape up a skid hole in a tire long enough to get to a bike shop. Secure a brake cable that is flopping all over the place. Attach a light with a broken clip. Cover up a stupid logo. Repair handlebar wrap that is unwrapping. Electrical tape has a million and one uses to a cyclist, and is small and cheap enough that there’s really no reason not to just pick some up and throw it in your bag.

9. Twenty Dollar Bill Ya’ll: ~$20

I’m dead serious, you think the rest of this list is useful? That shits got nothing on a twenty dollar bill. Multipurpose and then some. Can be used to buy anything you need in an emergency – a tube, a wrench, batteries for your lights, a bottle of water and a snack, or even a cab ride home. But it’s not just useful for it’s purchasing power – it’s actually useful as an object. Flats from skid patches and punctures can be reoccurring because they rough up the inside of your tire that rubs against the tube. Folding up a bill and putting it between the damaged tire and freshly patched (or replaced) tube can make sure that you make it to your destination without another flat slowing you down. You can also write your phone number on it for that cute rider you’ve been seeing around the hood.

10. Transient bag: $30

Now that you have all this stuff, you need something to carry it in. A backpack or messenger bag is overkill, plus then you have to deal with the dreaded sweaty back, but it’s too much loot to stuff in your pockets. Especially if you have hipster tight jeans, you hipster. So what to do? Luckily you aren’t the first person to be faced with this issue, and a dude in Los Angeles already solved it for you. Alex started making these bags for friends and pretty much everyone who saw them wanted one for themselves. These are small enough to fit on your belt as a hip bag, but large enough to carry the essential stuff you might need on any ride. Comes in small or mini for the true minimalist, both are extremely well made and will let you carry a bunch of stuff without feeling like you are carrying anything. The small size doubles as a mini-U-lock holder as well.

Let me know any other suggestions you’ve got for bike-hacker-appropriate gifts!


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