Upgrading the bike frame coffee table

Posted on March 1, 2012

Back in 2006, I built a coffee table out of a disused bike frame. It held up well but like any piece of work, time became the ultimate testament of quality – and it wasn’t all good news. The plaster turned out to be a poor cementing material for the dowel-turned-horizontal-beam (an obvious problem in hindsight), and I still have a problem with the color of the legs.

I have itched to do something about it. Four years later, with a drill in one hand and a jigsaw in the other, I got my act together.

Securing the Dowel

With the dowel spinning freely within the headset, the table tended to shake violently whenever we accidentally walk into it. The other legs that secure the bicycle frame with an 8” bolt provided most of the stability for the table, giving me no important reason to be concerned but one: I will be able to ogle at the table with pride when what is not designed to move, doesn’t.

Carrying that meek thought in my head, I drilled two holes into the headset. I fed the drilling area with generous amounts of WD-40, having watched many episodes of How It’s Made.

Once cleared, I drove two spare screws through the dowel and into the openings of the top and down tubes. What shouldn’t move, no longer does.

Supporting the Glass

The next problem I worked on was the lack of support for the glass that spanned 140cm on its length. Sure, it can support its own weight. Sure, it can even support the occasional few glasses of water and a plate of nachos. But whenever a friend lands his legs on it, my heart stops and my pupils dilate as I braced myself for a spectacular show of exploding glass.

I designed five supports that diffuse the load of the glass onto the bike frame. The supports would extend from the frame and support the weight of the glass above it. However, the bike frame is a deviously complex structure in that the tubes in front are thicker than the ones in the back, and the rear tubes, which join at the seat tube, part at an increasing distance towards the back. The supports need to vary not only in height, but also vary in the diameter of the holes where the supports grip onto the tubes.

Not too fond of mathematical formulae or laser measurements, I pulled a piece of corrugated cardboard from the recycling stack and cut out my prototypes, then measured the sizes of the supports. A cardboard found to be too high can be remedied by simply cutting a slice off the top with a pair of scissors. If I cut off too much, I simply cut another one.

I laid the coffee table upside down, without the top, to determine the correct height for each support. I labeled each of them to avoid mix ups later on.

With the key measurements done, I began extrapolating the dimensions of each support, taking into consideration the desired minimum thickness of the supports and a comfortable space for the screws to drive through.

And then it’s draw, check, draw, drill, check, saw, check, inspect, repeat.

Once all the commotion is over, I tested the newly minted supports to verify my measurements again. Not too shabby.

Color is a beautiful but insidious thing

The part I had always been the unhappiest about was the color. It couldn’t be red as the table will be placed on a red carpet and blend in. It couldn’t be white as the brilliance will steal all attention away from the bare metal on the bicycle frame. It couldn’t be black because… well, that’s just cheating.

My indecision back then led me to choose a drab shade of olive green. In this upgrade, I succumbed to black’s simplicity and practicality.

I think it looks better now.

Feel free to rest your legs on it

The table no longer shakes. The glass no longer trembles when it takes on weight. The legs no longer stick out like overgrown ragweed in the middle of the living room. When my friend swings his legs and lands them onto the table, my eyes no longer twitched.

To any table owner, this may sound like a successful closure. To me, this is a step in a series of fixes I have yet to make but will address in the years to come.