Where it all began
Back in the 60’s a trend in bicycle design would create a movement that would span two decades and touch the lives of millions of kids around the world. This particular design had its roots in the automotive world of hot rods, drag racing and motorcycle clubs of the day. Kids everywhere wanted to emulate these cool forms of transportation and the bike manufacturers decided to give the kids what they wanted. The Schwinn Sting-Ray was probably the most popular brand and model of bike to fit into this category, which is now commonly referred to as a “muscle bike” today. The signature features of a muscle bike included metal flake paint, lots of chrome, a banana seat, tall ape hanger handlebars, a wide rear slick tire and a narrow front tire.
RRB Muscle Bike Build Off
Three years ago a few of the Rat Rod Bikes forum members decided to start a build-off competition specifically for muscle bike lovers. Each year from September 1st through December 1st, 40-50 participants set out to build what they believe is the coolest muscle bike that they can. It’s not really about winning big prizes or building up an ego, most of the folks just love a chance to be creative and enjoy the fun of building.
This year forum member Tom Wilson of Royal Oak, Michigan set out to build a bike he’d had rolling around in his mind for several years and the final result is pretty outstanding (see full build journal here). He decided to pay tribute to a Schwinn Fastback that he had as a kid and the Muscle Bike Build Off gave him the perfect excuse to finally make his dream a reality. You might remember Tom’s Huffy Santa Fe build “Warren” that we featured back in April.
Tom is a professional web developer and graphic designer who learned about using tools at an early age by tinkering with the bikes that he owned. Due to the custom nature of this project, he chose to enter it into the Class 2 division which was the “anything goes” category.
Each builder is asked to keep track of their builds within a running thread in the forum and they must include progress photos and regular updates. It was clear from the beginning that Tom meant business by showing everyone his schematics and 3D renderings that he had created.
Following the progress
Part of the fun of keeping up with all of the different builds is checking the daily updates on the participant’s build journals. Tom certainly provided a top notch level of entertainment for everyone following his build by taking excellent photos and making you feel like you were helping out. He not only shared what he had accomplished, he also shared his mistakes and things that he had learned along the way. We asked Tom what the hardest part of the build was and he told us…
“…finding solutions I thought worked each time the build took a turn from what I had envisioned. Even with plenty of input regarding the frame’s strength, I still insisted on seeing the original design through. Accepting that it was not working was a bit of a gut check. I also planned to use plastic filler to smooth the frame and I had a paint scheme in mind to match the bike that originally influenced this design. Shortage of time dictated a bare metal finish. Shortage of time also meant that I’d have to use spoke wheels with a coaster brake rather than the mag wheels I intended. The ironic thing is that the design detours ended up making the build better than I had imagined.”
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It’s hard to say which was more enjoyable…watching the build and the turns that it took or seeing the final bike. Tom definitely pushed the limits of frame design on this project and showed us all what the future of the muscle bike could be. His accomplishments helped him claim the top spot in the Class 2 division…
“Participating in the MBBO was a great experience. To win was quite a compliment. There were a number of builds at the top of the votes in Class 2 that I was honored to be in the same company of. Any one of them would have been a deserving winner. They had my votes!”
Tom was right, there were several bikes built this year that made for stiff competition, but in the end, the voters picked Tom’s “Flashback GT” as their favorite. He said this about the build off…
“The build off competition is a competition in the best sense. Everyone’s main intention seems to be to offer encouragement and suggestions to raise the quality of every build. I know my entry ended up better because of this input. The build logs are also an amazing opportunity to look over the shoulder of different builders and learn something new. It’s pretty amazing to see the variety of approaches. There always seems to be some detail or process to make mental note of to potentially “borrow” at a later date.”
Hopefully we will see many more builds from Tom down the road and we know that his creativity and attention to detail will only encourage others to step up their game and build the bike of their dreams.