Building the Air Kraken Trike

Line art concept sketch (by Molly Friedrich)*** More pictures are here ***

Last year, around this time, I started building the Air Kraken Trike.  It’s a project I was inspired to create from the scenes of great big things like it at Burning Man.  This article is an overview of my process, challenges, costs, and thoughts.   I’ll describe how I came to the design, and various elements of building it.  I’ll provide a broad-strokes cost overview of what it took to make it, to take it to the Burn, and to store it.


So what’s an Air Kraken?   The Air Kraken is a fun idea from the steampunk community that has to do with an event in march, called Air Kraken Day, where folks take refuge in bars, and carry umbrellas to keep the sky kraken from descending to feast on folks.  It’s pretty hilarious, and I liked the name, so I went with it.    What else is an Air Kraken?  It’s also a ten foot long, six foot wide metal tricycle made out of new and used materials that has been to several events.

It’s made of steel, of drainage culvert, of bus parts, of old bicycles.  I’ve put more than a little blood, sweat, and tears into the construction and application of it.  It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot. There have been frustrations and mis-steps.  But it’s been overall pretty awesome about it.

It has been a very time intensive project.  I put in a lot of nights and weekends into it.  For about four months, it was effectively my second job.  I’d get home from work around 6ish, eat food, and go out to the shop to work on it.  I’d throw 8-10 hours a day on the weekends into it.  I probably put 600-700 hours into it.  Definitely a lot more than that with the time I wasn’t actively working on it, and “merely” thinking about it.

Major Elements of Design

The design of the trike emerged in a moderately organic way.  I drew a lot of sketches over time, and eventually settled onto a tadpole tricycle design.  Two wheels up front, steering in the rear.   The conceptual design includes a really big squiddy kraken on the back.  This got marginally done last year, but I’m not happy with how it has gone so far.  It’s an element that I’m considering redesigning, or wholly abandoning.   I remain uncertain what I want to do about that part.  Definitely, without a skin or thematic element like this, it turns into a purer mechanical thing.  Which is cool, and I’m alright with.


One of the big parts of this project, one of the things I’m really pleased about, was building my own giant spoked wheels.  These things are four feet tall, and weigh about 50 lbs each.  They’re made from dual walled HDPE drainage culvert that I purchased used off of Craigslist.  They’re spoked with steel cable like a bicycle wheel, and use car hubs for the hubs of the wheel.  They were the first part of the project that I built, and while they sat in my garage, they inspired me.  They promised that the project could be done, and offered a sense of the hugeness of it.


One element of the design is that I made sure that the whole thing could be taken apart by one person.  Since I don’t always have help, I felt it was essential to design the project to break down into components that didn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds, each.  This means that the frame comes apart into two pieces, the wheels come off, the seats come off, etc.  The large parts are bolted together, with a ton of 5/16″ bolts.


The frame for the trike was fabricated from 1 1/2″ square structural tube steel with a 1/8″ wall.  It weighs about 100 lbs, and is far beefier than I need.  Which is great, because it means I’ll never have to repair it due to mechanical damage.

Drive Train

The drive train of the trike is built out of sprockets and chain systems.  It uses a pair of bicycle cranksets with rear hubs to handle gearing down the pedals to drive a big load like this.  the whole system runs between 8-to-1 and 12-to-1 for mechanical advantage.  It means that it’s not hard to go slow, but going fast is a lot of work, and it means that I can move a thousand pounds of stuff with just my legs pedaling.

The cranks connect to a collector axle that is then connected with #35 roller chain to the drive axle.   This system allows each driver to contribute at a different gearing on their chainset without having to pedal at the same rate.  It means that people of different strengths can drive the system together.

Flame Effect

I could write an entire article (and I may) about building the flame effect.  Flame effects are complicated, dangerous, awesome things.   The design for the flame effect on the Kraken is a fairly simple puffer effect:  A fuel supply, an accumulator, a trigger, and a pilot light.   It consists of a manifold of up to three tanks that supply a 0-60psi regulator.  That system feeds a 5 gallon accumulator built from an old propane cylinder.  This system then feeds a 1/2 psi regulator for the pilot light, and a manually actuated valve system for firing the effect.

In practice, it’s simple, straight-forward, and really really exciting.  It’ll throw a fireball about 20-30 feet in the air, and makes a really pleasing noise.  Fun fact: The Air Kraken uses about 180g of propane per shot, at full pressure @ 21C, and generates a fireball of 8 mega-joules of power.  That’s pretty awesome.


The kraken has been a big project, and that means that it’s been expensive.  Thanks to IgnitionNW, I was able to build it.  They offered me an art grant last year, and that was very helpful in achieving my goals.  I put together a kickstarter project as well that was able to fund the project going to Burning Man.  Renting a trailer for 10 days is expensive.  So is propane.  All those things taken together mean that I’ve expended a lot of effort on this project.  But I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.  Everyone knows about it, and it was a ton of fun.

ACG Makina / TurkeyLED Drivers$96.60
Everett Steelsteel$187.41
Greenwood true valuefasteners$15.00
Harbor freightbandsaw blades$40.48
Home depotbolts/hardware$17.02
Home depotstraps, hardware$50.46
Home depottotes$5.77
Home depottools, plumbing$32.39
Home depotlight$8.40
Home depotplumbing$50.52
Home depotplumbing$140.29
Home depothardware$11.42
Home depothardware$6.67
Home depotkeystock$4.52
Home depothardware$11.99
Lowestools, plumbing$36.46
Lowespropane tanks$262.80
Mapleleaf HWkeystock$7.21
Online Metalssteel$94.28
Recycled cyclesderailleurs$7.67
Recycled cyclesbike parts$10.95
Recycled cyclesbike parts$28.47
Seattle Fabricsmesh/grommets$53.85
Seattle Fabricsmesh$8.49
Tacoma Screwsplitrings, collars$41.06
Tacoma Screwhardware, collars$47.70
Walgreenspool noodles$39.42
Various Ebay sellersVarious; brakes, bearings, etc$626.00
Mcmaster CarrShafts$167.07
McMaster CarrStainless wool$11.38
Craigslistbus seats$5.00
CraigslistCulvert segments$20.00
CraigslistMotorcycle parts$20.00
CraigslistMotorcycle parts$40.00
CraigslistMotorcycle parts$0.00
Seattle LuminEL Wire$110.00
UHaulTrailer rental$270.00
UHaulTrailer rental$330.00
Shell in CaliforniaPropane$170.00
Various other costs I can't find receipts forVarious things$400.00



So yeah, that was a big thing.  It was fun.  It was labor and cost intensive.  But I got help, with funding, and with doing, and succeeded.  I’m thrilled to have done it, and it’s not the last project I’ll do.  This year, I’m involved in lesser roles in a number of projects around the local burner scene, including the Flaming Pendula, and the SeattleCore2012 project, and other goodies as well and visit.

If you care to check out more images from the project build, go visit my smugmug site for them.


Art projects are fun!



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