3D Printing and bikes

How 3D printing contributes to building and maintaining bikes?

This question was explored in Velo Vision magazine (Issue 45, July 2013), written by Pekka Ketola and Peter Eland. Download the full article from here.

Examples

Bike builders have already been active in exploring the possibilities. For example:

  • thingiverse.com, a catalogue for sharing 3D printing files, provides almost 300 bike-related items. The selection is growing every day, and covers everything from light mounts to preliminary designs for printable hub gears.
  • A clip-on drive pulley for an electric bike has been created. See: youtu.be/L4INtIgq1MQ
  • EADS, a Bristol based company, has created titanium bike parts including dropouts, working with bike company Charge. See: youtu.be/tkwd2YXNy9I
  • Parts to personalise bikes, specifically super-intricate lugs for framebuilding, have been printed from stainless steel. See: youtu.be/HwJwcnV-wso
  • TREK Bicycles has created functional bike parts, including suspension components, bar ends, frame parts, helmet models and more. See: http://youtu.be/7w2wB6hW-OI
  • Fairings for velomobiles could be printed, although I’m not sure it has yet been done, probably for cost and material reasons. Similar structures have, though, been printed for cars and motorbikes. Search for the Urbee 3D printed car, for example.
  • A complete bike has been printed too, although as a technology demonstrator more than as a practical product in its own right. See: youtu.be/hmxjLpu2BvY
  • Motorbikers have also been experimenting with 3D printing, and share many of the possibilities outlined in this article.

My predictions

In a few years, the bike industry and the culture of building and maintaining bikes will change. This future is already here in the form of early adopters, trials and experiments. My predictions are:

  1. That any bike builder will be able to design and produce new bikes, parts and special accessories in small volumes. Experimenting and prototyping will be fast and cheap. We will see very exciting bike designs and structures.
  2. Bike repair and maintenance services will change radically, as all parts will be available almost instantly, if not via the company’s own printer, via a printers in the same city. Fixing special and antique bikes will be easy and economical.
  3. Local bike manufacturing will boom, with the help of local printing houses. Business models will be revolutionised. Cycling communities will be active in designing and sharing bike parts worldwide.
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