Hot off the press! The Wooden Bike that Guy Built

Guy Martin, star of “The Boat that Guy Built” and TT motor bike racer, put his passion for engineering to good use at Gayle Mill recently.  He helped to repair the Mill’s 1879 water driven turbine that powers its restored Victorian wood working machinery which he then used to make a replica of an 1839 wooden bike, a Macmillan Velocipede.

“Building Britain”, Guy’s new series on Channel 4, uses his unique style to explore the industrialisation of Great Britain.  In the programme that features Gayle Mill, Guy works closely with Tony Routh and William Lambert to fell repair Gayle Mill’s 1879 turbine, fell an Ash tree and then make a wooden bike.

Tony and William, volunteers respectively a director and chairman of Gayle Mill Trust, helped Guy fell a tree with a cross-cut saw, transport it to the Mill with a vintage steam powered traction engine, repair the Mill’s water driven turbine, make wooden steel rimmed wheels and use restored heritage Victorian wood working machinery to make the wooden bike.  Guy, sans helmet and brakes, then successfully rode (he didn’t fall off) the finished wooden bike down a steep lane into Gayle and onto the Mill.

Gayle Mill is no stranger to difficult restoration work and quirky projects having starred in the BBC’s “Restoration” series of programmes by coming 3rd nationally.  It comes with the territory when you bring a 19th Century saw mill back to life in a 21st Century world.

Turbine at the ready

There was a problem at t’Mill; its 1879 Williamson Double Vortex Turbine (the ‘Old Lady’) was flagging.  The restored Victorian machinery it powered wasn’t working well and the ‘Old Lady’ was wasting water.  To investigate the problem Guy and Tony split the five foot high two tonne turbine into two.  They found that the two halves of the 133 year old turbine’s outer shell were not tightened together closely enough.

After cleaning the inner workings and repairing the seal between the two halves the tricky job of re-building the turbine got underway.  The alignment of the two halves had to be perfect to ensure a good seal for the ‘Old Lady’ to make more efficient use of the water running through it.

With the turbine now good as new Guy and Tony used it to power the restored Victorian belt driven wood working machinery to make the parts they needed to build a wooden bike.

“Boneshaker” wooden bike – Macmillan Velocipede

A little different from the usual vehicles he drives this wooden structure was based on an 1839 design for a MacMillan Velocipede bicycle, also known as a boneshaker, because of its uncomfortable ride. The vibrations of the journey travelled through the steel rims into the frame of the bike and rider.  No suspension here.  A historic example of the bike can be seen in Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, on which Guy’s replica is based. The bike that Guy built is now on show at Gayle Mill.

Traditional Skills

Guy and the team did things the old fashioned way, felling the Ash tree by hand with a cross cut saw, to making the wheels with Mike Rowland and Son traditional wheelwrights and coachbuilders from Devon, and constructing the bike frame using the Mill’s Victorian machinery.

The bike was finished by hand with William craving the mascot.  The end result is a beautiful and slightly odd looking vehicle.  The front wheel is smaller than the back.  Unlike modern bicycles there is no chain.  The pedals are pushed backwards and forwards by the rider’s feet, in an action similar to a modern cross trainer in a gym.

Chicanes are out of the question with this bike.  Turning must be carefully planned as the pedal in the forwards position prevents the front wheel from turning into that direction.  To turn left the rider would have to make sure his left pedal was in the rear most position or he may find himself missing the corner completely!

Daredevil in the Dales

When it came to the riding that was done the old fashioned way too, not a helmet in sight!  It’s a good thing there is not much traffic on those Dales lanes.  Guy is known for his fearless determination in his racing career, as well as being a tea junkie, making Wensleydale the perfect setting for this challenge.

William Lambert, Chairman of Gayle Mill Trust, worked with Guy at the Mill “Guy is a great lad, easy to get along with and can turn his hand to anything.  I am looking forward to watching the finished programme on television”.

The programme is set to be on our screens later this year. Watch this space for more announcements!

Experience Gayle Mill the Guy Martin way

Visitors, beginners and the more experienced, have the same opportunity as Guy to use the Mill’s water powered restored Victorian wood working machinery.  The Mill offers a maximum of five people the opportunity to take part in ‘experience weekends’ and ‘experience days’.  Each enables experienced wood workers (Tony, William and Mike) to coach those taking part on how to use the Mill’s restored Victorian wood working machinery and associated hand tools.

Participants make a milking stool, boot jack and rolling pin to take home. The next experience weekend takes place on 20 & 21 October 2012. There are only 2 slots remaining on this popular course, so get in touch quickly if you would like to take part. 

Those who’d rather start a little slower but still experience the Mill coming to life, as Guy did, can attend one of two demonstration tours held on the first Sunday of each month throughout the year at 11am & 2:30pm.  Knowledgeable volunteers explain and run each of the restored state of the art Victorian machines to demonstrate how carpenters used them in the 19th Century.

The experience weekends, and demonstration tours are part of the Mill’s Heritage Skills Training programme to create opportunities for others to learn traditional skills, just like Guy did building his wooden bike.


About gaylemill

I work at Gayle Mill, a restored 19th Century Saw Mill in Wensleydale. Furkling means to tinker, fiddle, search around and generally play with stuff (hopefully resulting in said stuff being in full working order afterwards). So in this blog I will tell you all about the Furklings on at Gayle Mill. I hope you enjoy reading it.
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