I’ve been hacking together random parts to build spinning wheels from way back before I ever saw one in person. My first homemade spinning wheel was not very good but it did spin yarn. It worked well enough that I knew that spinning was going to be something I enjoyed and was going to be worth investing in. Since then I have bought three spinning wheels, each with their own special purpose, and enjoy spinning my own yarn very much.
One of the problems I have when spinning is posture, there are a lot of articles on the ergonomics of spinning and I do my best to remind myself to sit straight and in a good position to draft and manage my fiber however, I am a spinning spaz. I will go a month or two sometimes without spinning a thing then go on a bender and spin 4 pounds of yarn in a weekend. I have extra challenges when sitting before a spinning wheel, I have degenerative disc and bone disease and have a couple of vertebrae in my cervical spine which are degraded quite badly and have bone spurs. This means if I go on a spinning bender the repetitive motion of spinning causes those muscles in my shoulders and neck to tighten with the strain which in turn compresses those vertebrae pinching nerves. When those nerves get pinched I not only get a lot of pain but I can’t use my arms effectively. As a mom of four and a business owner I can’t just take a two week break to recuperate. I don’t want to change my spinning habits, I want to solve the problem. Enter a recumbent bike.
Recumbent bikes are great for folks with problems like mine. They put your body into a different position than a traditional bike and I thought why couldn’t this be applied to a spinning wheel? We started trying to build the whole thing from scratch with PVC pipe, upcycled bicycle parts, and lots of research about homemade recumbent bikes then realized that we were just reinventing the wheel (haha bad pun). Exercise bikes were already stationary and there were recumbent models, why not hack one of these to do our bidding?
The bike we used is a Stamina 1350, a low end starter exercise bike. Voiding the warrantee (one of our favorite things to do) we used a Dremel to cut the plastic cover away from the magnetic wheels. Those have to be exposed to be able to put on a drive band. The next issue was how to cut a channel for the drive band into one of those metal wheels? We skipped the hassle and used wire and duct tape to build an ugly channel for the band. One of these days I will redo it but hey, it works so my motto is if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
I wanted to keep the tensioning that is on the bike and I wanted to keep the electronics that tell me distance pedaled, time spent, and calories burned. I’m a nerd and statistics are fun. To do that we needed to find a way to attach the mother of all without removing the wires coming out of the bike. We aren’t metal or woodworkers so we used our favorite go to material, PVC. The extension that goes into the frame of the bike had to be sliced and diced to fit in there, so again, not pretty but hey, it works. After that it was just building the framing to support a flyer and bobbin.
The wheel is bobbin driven and I used the jumbo flyer from my Merlin Tree Hitchhiker. We studied the Babe PVC wheels to figure out how to put it all together. Hitchhikers are a lot different than what I was building to a little more hacking had to go into it to make the bobbin and flyer stay on when you started spinning. At first the whole kit and caboodle tried to fly off the PVC frame when spinning but a little bit of wire wrapped just before the orifice stopped the flyer from moving too much and solved the problem. A simple brake band is made from velcro and random parts from my craft cabinet. The drive band is worsted cotton kitchen yarn.
As rough as this looks it was pretty simple to make functional and I spun 12 miles over Maker Faire weekend with no pain from all that spinning. I found it’s a little easier to be consistent with finer singles because due to the resistance that makes it an exercise bike, it keeps me spinning pretty steady. I think a hack like this would make an excellent first wheel for someone. I do recommend buying a flyer and bobbins – in all my builds and hacks I’ve found that those are the hardest thing for me to get right and a Babe’s Fiber Garden flyer is already designed to work with this kind of mother of all and you can buy as many bobbins as you want or need. If you pick up a used exercise bike off of freecycle or craigslist then this will be the most costly part but even if you bought all of these parts new, your build will still be less expensive than most spinning wheels.
I’m not giving up my Majacraft Aura, Fricke, or Merlin Tree Hitchhiker anytime soon but I really love spinning on this wheel. It’s 60 pounds and not portable at all so it’s not something you want to transport but it’s sturdy and quiet and great for parking in front of the television for marathon spinning. I haven’t tried any kind of crazy yarn but it will take a lot of pain out of simple singles.