Ryan Frankenberg is a high-end cabinetmaker from Idaho who has become one of my heroes because of his wondrous scrap-yard build, The Fat Hippo. The Hippo is a remarkably functional trail bike that Ryan fabricated almost entirely from salvaged parts and raw metal stock. He regularly works to clear ORV trails on the public lands around his home; for that he wanted a balloon-tired two-wheeler in the Honda Fat Cat/Yamaha BW/Rokon Trail-Breaker style. What he found himself with was a well-worn Honda TRX250 ATV and, in his words, “more skill, ambition, and vision than money.” Undaunted, he set about using a welder, some basic shop tools, and an uncommon degree of innate engineering sense to conjure up a two-wheeled mountain goat with electric start, auto clutch, shaft drive, crawler gearing, and reverse.
Ryan documented the Fat Hippo’s incubation with a very detailed, entertaining, and undeservedly self-effacing . It’s worth a read, because I cannot hope to adequately capture in these few paragraphs Ryan’s attention to detail and clever problem solving skills, along with his prodigious fabrication talents. By the time he was done, there was very little of the original four-wheeler left beyond the engine and driveshaft.
Consider, as just one example, turning a four-wheeler’s center-mounted third member and rear axle (which normally floats within the differential, being fixed in place by the wheel at each end) into a single-sided, single shock swingarm that can handle the stresses a dirt bike wheel receives. Yes, it ends up being as complex as you’d imagine.
There are a lot of hobbyist builders who attempt to build something awesome out of a pile of junk. Most never get very far along, and the vast majority never end up with something of any higher quality than the junk they started with. The Fat Hippo is not only an amazing fabrication project, but the end result is an amazingly functional and unique tool for a very specific task. And that’s why it’s my HCOTY nominee for 2018.