Tuesday, March 09, 2010

RealGrouchy's Workshop: Bicycle Handlebar Clipboard

When you spend a lot of time on your bike, there are some good reasons to have a clipboard on your handlebars. Holding a map, a shopping list, or directions to your destination. Taking notes when you're hit by inspiration. Or by cars.

I've thankfully never been in a serious bicycle collision, thanks to my attentiveness. I've had a few very close calls, all while I was obeying the letter of the law. You often have only a few seconds to write things down before you forget or lose sight of the license plate number, plus a description of the car's make, model, approximate age, colour, driver skin colour, age, gender, hair, etc. While I've always got a pen and paper on me, by the time I pull over and fish them out, I sometimes forget if the license plate was AXYZ 132 or AXZY 123.

The other day, I was on the phone with 3-1-1 reporting a street light that I had seen burned out earlier, but I could only remember that it was at number 283; I couldn't remember which street! With a clipboard, I'd have been able to jot it down without having to interrupt my ride for more than a few seconds.

I used to have this clipboard on my handlebars. The board was from the bottom part of a standard clipboard, and the low-profile clip was salvaged from some age-old binder that had otherwise fallen apart. I had cut two horizontal slots and threaded a metal hose clamp through them and around my handlebars, but as you can see, that wasn't sturdy enough.

I still have the rest of the original clipboard in my workshop's junk pile, but I didn't want to use it on account of the large clip. I also didn't want to replace its perfectly good (although large) clip with this smaller one, because that would be a waste.

I decided instead to figure out a new way to mount the old board to my handlebars.

This little wooden thing was in a box of miscellaneous bits someone was throwing out a couple years ago. It contained some odd things; tracks for a keyboard tray (which recently found a new home with a friend in need thereof), feet for a coat stand, and this...thing. Maybe it was for holding eggs?

Anyway, the holes in it are the same diameter as the middle area of my handlebars. The only part of my handlebars not yet occupied.

The plan was to cut off the outermost holes and make little clamps out of them. To do so, I had to drill holes large enough for the only bolts I had in my workshop that were long enough. This took a few passes with successively larger bits, as it was dense hardwood. To ensure proper alignment of the bolts, I drilled the holes before slicing apart the 'clamps'. I also had to mitre a couple centimetres off the end of one side so they'd have the same depth.

The back part of the wooden thing helped align the saw for the inside cuts, and the remaining four inside holes could still theoretically be used again, should I ever find another use for them.

Here are the bits for one 'clamp' after cutting, before sanding the edges. The rounded edge is actually a bit offset, which later helped in matching the pieces for each clamp pair.

Here's a dry test on the handlebars. It seemed there was a bit of a gap between the pieces from where the saw cut, but the diameter was definitely a match. I discovered that I hadn't cut the bolt holes exactly parallel, which meant the bottom piece needed a bit of finagling to attach.

Thinking that the wood would slip on the handlebar, I figured the universal rubber spacer--used inner tube--would be suitable. This just made the gap between the two halves even wider, and I didn't have thick enough washers to fill the gap with, so I abandoned the innertube spacer idea.

I discovered that I had cut the hole in the smaller side a bit too close to the opening. This caused the washer to rub against the handlebar and keep the clamp from clamping. Using the file pictured above at right, I shaved off an edge from the washer.

Turns out I'd only need per clamp set to get the spacing right, and the wood on its own ended up being plenty tight on its own without a rubber gasket. Having proved the concept, I then made the second clamp.

The next step was to cut holes in the clipboard to mount it onto the clamps. Notice that I put the thicker side on top, so that the clipboard would clear the stem bolt. Since the bolts placement was entirely freehand, I needed a way to transfer their pattern to the bottom of the board. I suppose I could have traced over it with a piece of paper and then flipped the paper over onto the board.

But what I ended up doing, and coincidentally what worked, was I used a flipchart marker to colour the heads of the bolts, then pressed the board against the heads of the bolts to transfer the locations. If you use this method, I suggest using something with more body, like white out, to transfer the pattern of the entire bolt head.

I started by drilling small holes where I guessed that the green markings told me to drill, then put some small screws through these holes. I put this up against the heads of the mounting bolts to confirm the alignment. This method would allow me to adjust if necessary when widening the holes to their full size.

And here we are with the clipboard mounted. I had to turn my light mount upside down, which in turn conflicted with the cables coming out of my brake/shifter levers, so I had to adjust those too.

Oh, and the gaping hole and big fat bolt heads are a bit of a problem too, but I'm sure I can overcome that, maybe by using a cardboard backboard with holes for the bolt heads, resulting in a relatively flat surface. In the meantime, I've got some cardboard facial tissue box covers as note pages, which are thick enough to provide their own flatness. An elastic band keeps them from flapping in the wind.

I guess the lesson here is, anybody can make a clipboard for your handlebars, so long as you have some miscellaneous clipboard bits, some serendipitous scraps of wood with holes the right diameter, and some bolts.

- RG>

[Continuity postscript: I posted about the clipboard when I initially created it back in 2004, before it broke]


XUP said...

Good grief! Just think what your bike is going to look like by the time you're 50. Between then and now there should be dozens of things you discover you need whilst riding your bike. For instance, a pee bottle, as the old prostrate starts to act up. Maybe a coffee maker to save time in the mornings -- powered by pedal power, of course. I have lots of other ideas if you want them.

RealGrouchy said...

Now now, XUP; I'd have to same some space for retirement projects.

- RG>

JuliaR said...

Holy. I am going to have to think about this - that is way too much engineering for the item. Peter uses plastic zip ties for most of his added-to-the-bike items.

Have you been to Kent's blog? He uses coroplast board for fenders among other things.
You are kindred spirits, I am sure.

Anonymous said...

Nice Job! I was looking for a way to put a clipboard on the handlebars for a Route Directions from Mapquest. And there you were!

RealGrouchy said...

juliar - zip ties don't give a sturdy enough hold on the clipboard. I'd previously used a hose clamp through two slots in the clipboard, but the clamp broke through.

anonymous - glad I could help!

- RG>