Saturday, January 9, 2010

Home Made Bicycle Work Stand

Probably like many bicycle tinkerers, I've made do for years without a bicycle work stand. I've worked on upside down bicycles, bicycles lying on the ground, upright bicycles leaning against a table, chair or wall, and the like.

I've always managed to somehow carry on, but the problems with this approach are numerous -- the bikes are unstable, they fall over, they get scratched on the floor, the saddles get trashed -- none of this fatal to either me or the bike, but also not really ideal. This was less of a concern when I was a kid beating the crap out of my bikes anyway, but since I began adding bikes I genuinely care about to my stable (most of which are equipped with saddles that don't fare well sitting upside-down on the ground) I've had at least a passing desire for a work stand. On the other hand, that desire was never so strong that I was willing to actually shell out the necessary cash for one.

Maybe a year and a half ago, I was surfing eBay and I found a work stand made out of a woodworking pipe clamp. I didn't want to spring for the Buy Now price ($75 or so, as I recall), but I thought it was one of the most innovative things I'd ever seen. I looked at the pictures and thought "I could make one of those easily enough". I already had a Pony clamp of the type used in the design, purchased mistakenly, thinking I was getting four of a different kind, not three and one. And the parts appeared to be pretty straightforward. At the time I imagined bolting the stand to the end of the western wall of my training stall, and foregoing the floor stand altogether. I even went so far as to buy a block of 2" square HDPE plastic (which is a different shape but I think the same material they make those opaque plastic cutting boards out of) from an eBay seller, with the intention of using it for the jaws. And when I moved to the apartment a couple of months later (Labor Day, 2008), I brought the Pony clamp with me, planning to build the stand, but I never got around to it.

Flash forward to New Year's day, 2010. That afternoon, I put a friend onto her plane back to Amsterdam, where she is living and working right now. On the way out of the departure terminal, heading back to the car, my girls and I stopped at a newsstand to pick up some chocolate and a Bicycling Magazine. As fate would have it, the January/February 2010 issue has an article in it showing how to build the very same hillbilly work stand with $30 of parts. There was nothing surprising in the article as I read it, but it spurred me into action. Today I spent $55 at Home Depot on materials (not including the Pony clamp, so their materials estimate is pretty optimistic), and I invested a couple of hours assembling the stand.

I looked online for the article so I could simply point at it and tell you to have at it, but I couldn't find it on the Bicycling website. I encourage you to go buy and read the magazine, but until then, here's what you need:
  1. A Pony type 50 clamp (made in the USA!)
  2. A 24" black steel pipe nipple -- 3/4" inner diameter
  3. A 60" length of black steel pipe -- 1" inner diameter
  4. A 3/4"-to-1" reducer elbow
  5. A floor flange for 1" inner diameter steel pipe
  6. A 2' square handy board of 1" plywood (I used 3/4 inch and it's too flexy)
  7. Four 5/16x1.5" carriage bolts with nuts and washers
  8. Eight #10x1" panhead screws
  9. A package of those 1" round felt furniture feet
  10. A 7" or greater block of 2"-square HDPE
For tools, I used my mitre saw, my table saw, my drill press, 3/16" and 5/16" drill bits, a half-inch wrench, an electric screwdriver and a pipe wrench.

The results are pretty self-explanatory. I used the mitre saw to cut off two 3.5" lengths of HDPE block. Then I ran the two resulting blocks through my table saw, to carve out a V-shape down the middle of one side of each block. I wasn't worried about precision, so as you can see below, the valleys are more like a W than a V, but they'll work just fine. The angle of the blade was 35 degrees or so. I should probably have cut the notches a little narrower and shallower to pinch a wider variety of seatposts, but if it bugs me I can always face one or both of them a bit on my table saw to achieve a tighter and shallower notch.

Next I enlarged the four holes on the pipe flange to accept 5/16" bolts, and drilled holes corresponding to the pipe flange holes in one corner of the sheet of plywood, then bolted the flange in place. The carriage bolt heads protrude just a bit from the plywood, so I stuck nine of the felt furniture feet onto the bottom of the plywood to keep the heads off the floor.

Then I drilled four 3/16" holes in each of the two clamp faces of the pony clamp, not worrying too much about precise placement. I'm not sure why, but the iron of the floor flange didn't drill easily at all, but the iron of Pony clamp drilled beautifully. Maybe they're cast of powdered metal or something.

I mounted the drilled Pony clamp to a pipe, next, and clamped the notched HDPE blocks into the jaws, after carefully lining them up, notch-facing-notch. Then I ran a pan-head screw into the blocks through each of the drilled holes to secure them. The notch will serve as a groove to hold a seatpost in the jaws of the Pony clamp. The Bicycling article suggests using a piece of 4x4, drilled and sawn lengthwise, but I suspect the HDPE will last forever without breaking apart, and that it would be less likely to mar a seatpost than a block of wood.

Finally, I assembled my components. The 1" pipe screwed into the flange on the base, the elbow screwed onto the 1" pipe, and the short pipe with the Pony still installed screwed into the open end of the elbow. Then I used the pipe wrench to tighten everything and orient the clamp into the desired position.

The nice thing about the Pony clamp design is that the spring loaded side can be quickly opened wide to accept a new bike, and slid closed with one hand to pinch the seatpost and suspend the bike. Then a few quick turns of the handle clamps the HDPE jaws down tight (not too tight!), to lock the bike securely into place. And as you can tell from the top picture of the stand holding my beloved Kestrel, it works!

As I mentioned, the base is a little thin, making the whole thing kind of springy, so I'm going to reinforce it -- maybe just mount a 1x6 diagonally across the top of base, and mount the flange to it, instead of to the plywood alone. In any case, it seems to work just fine, so after 35 years of riding and decades of fiddling, I finally have a work stand.

I've dragged the Columbia up to the attic, and tomorrow I'm planning to clamp it into the stand and begin tearing that old beast apart for its rebuild. It'll be fun to get my hands back on a bike after a few months away from tinkering.

All for now,


Related posts: (where I reinforced the base) (where I added parts trays to it)


John said...

Found the Bicycling article online:,6802,s1-5-33-21422-1,00.html


DirtCrashr said...

Nice work and thanks for the link!

John Ellsworth said...

Since this is now the most popular page on my blog, I wanted to share some thoughts about the pros and cons of this design:

It's easy to make and pretty cheap. Not as cheap as you're led to believe by the Bicycling article, but still cheap. That said, if you can find a decent used "real" stand for $100 or so, I'd say that's the way to go.

It works OK, and the parts trays that I bolted on make it even more versatile.

It's way better to work on a bike in a stand than to work on a bike on the floor or upside down, and this is a stand, so it's better to have than not.

My older daughter still marvels that I made the thing, and that people can make useful stuff on their own, rather than having to buy it. Though I was clear I didn't invent it, she was inspired to go invent her own multi-headed broom/mop/scuff eraser, and you can't put a price on inspiring a child, really.

It takes up a lot of space. Not really in footprint, but you really need a place to leave it -- it's not really portable from a practical perspecive.

The base is not all that rigid, even with the reinforcing strip I added. So it might be worth doubling up on the plywood base, and maybe gluing the two layers together.

The Pony clamp works OK for this application, but working with a heavy bike in particular can be a PITA. You have to hoist it into place, then mess with getting the angle of both clamp faces aligned. Sometimes the spring-release side of the clamp doesn't release right away and slide freely, so you're standing there with one hand holding the bike while the other fumbles with a clamp -- it's a little clunky that way. I probably ought to wrap the threads on the top pipe that the clamp screws onto with teflon tape -- that might help with the floppiness.

So my verdict? I'm glad I made it, because it's great to work with a bike in a stand. But it's not without its annoyances. I have a bike in the clamp maybe once a month on average -- not a lot -- and I recognize its shortcomings every time. Having used a professional shop stand in my bike maintenance classes, I'd really much rather have the real thing. At some point I might look for a pro stand from a closing bike shop or something, but this works for now, for sure, and since I've already made it, I'm in no rush to go looking for a real stand.