While most people see vintage girls frame bikes as parts donors, RRB forum member Jim Henderson of Gadsden Alabama sees them as potential recipients for one of his gender changing convertible tanks. And now, Jim and his TRM Convertible Tank kits are not only changing bike genders, but are also changing how many of us think about those previously overlooked bikes.
After bringing home an original lady’s Spaceliner to restore for his wife to ride, Jim was drawn to the graceful lines on the frame. Never being one to leave things as is, it didn’t take long before his mind started to wonder about how this bike might have looked as a men’s bike. So, drawing on his design skills (Jim’s a graphic artist by trade) he began to play around with some ideas. Soon it began to take over his thinking and he was driven to bring the concept into reality. Mindful of the fact that this was still his wife’s bike, it was imperative to transform the bike in such a way that could easily and quickly be reversed back to its original state. This would later become an important factor in the evolution of the tank.
With a block of HDU board and some wood carving tools, Jim set out on a mission to shape the material into a buck for making fiberglass molds that would ultimately produce the tank that he had envisioned. Creating molds for fiberglass is not something that can be rushed through if your goal is to produce the highest quality parts that you possibly can. And if you’ve seen any of Jim’s work, you know that cutting corners is not an option. Since there is no turning back after the molds are made, it’s important to have the plug as slick and finished as possible before that work begins. To achieve that goal he called on Alan Johnson of Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop to spray the tank halves with polyester primer and massage them to a show quality finish.
Satisfied with the finish, Jim returned home to prepare them for the actual molds. This required carefully placed ‘dams’ fitted around the plugs. If this step is done wrong, the parts will not release and all of the work up to this point would be in the dumpster. No pressure!
With the dams in place and more than a dozen applications of mold release wax rubbed in, the next stop for the project was at Unique Motorcars where the molds and eventual parts would be made with the help of Terry Harbin. Between Terry’s years of experience and the professional grade materials used, the molds and tanks turned out exactly as planned.
Let’s rewind back to somewhere midway into the project. This is where Jim started thinking about the potential for selling his tanks for the rest of us to use on our bikes. “Initially I had planned to make what is called a splash mold just to make one tank for myself but pretty soon the idea of making a permanent mold and being able to produce the tanks over and over just made sense. I was sure that there were plenty of potential bikes to use them on. Everyone knows that vintage girls bikes are usually cheaper and easier to find. I’ve always thought of them as the four door sedan of bicycles! Plus they are typically in better condition and are more intact due to the fact that girls didn’t strip off all of the sheet metal and jump ditches with them like I did.” At this point the self imposed ‘no frame modification’ that we mentioned earlier became more relevant as he began moving toward making his kits available to others. Realizing that not everyone has access to welding and metal fabrication (or even if they did, they may not care to permanently alter a vintage bike), the kit could easily be used without requiring that the bike be modified in any way.
Now fast forward a few months later as Jim was busy fitting the first tank out of the molds onto his wife’s bike for the first time, the RRB build off #9 was just kicking off for the rest of us. Seeing this as the premiere showcase for his new tanks, he stopped work on the original Spaceliner and turned his attention to building another bike that would prominently feature one of his freshly minted tanks. The RRB community overwhelmingly took to the new design and his “Raceliner” bike went on to take the top prize! You may be familiar this one.
Shortly after winning the 2014 build off he began shipping out tanks across the country and abroad to people with Spaceliner and Flightliner bikes. In this past year’s 2015 build off, we saw four of them being built in completely different styles. Jim also jumped in again, this time with his ‘Columbia Convertible Commuter’ demonstrating how the tanks are not limited to the Spaceliner bikes that the original idea spawned from. He has since discovered that they will also work on many other frames including Rollfast, Elgin, Monark and most recently Schwinn. Only time will tell just how many bikes they will fit and we look forward to seeing them posted here on Rat Rod Bikes!
Here’s the Columbia that Jim built for the 2015 build off competition.
And here’s his latest application on a 1957 Schwinn Hornet.