You've seen bikes made by welding tubes together, and carbon bikes blown up by bladders in a mould, and even bikes cast out of Magnesium if your memory stretches back to the glory days of Kirk. But we bet you've never seen a bike that's been printed before. Enter the boffins from the Bristol Aerospace Innovation Centre with their Nylon bike.
Printed? well, kind of. The process that has been used to create the bike is one that the company has been using to make parts for satellites and aircraft, and is capable of producing very complicated structures by effectively printing and fusing together cross sections a tenth of a millimetre deep to build up finished three dimensional parts. By building up the structure layer by layer even captive parts such as bearings can be produced. Everything bar the tyres and the belt drive is made using the process, and the engineers have reduced the bike to about a dozen constituent parts that are then assembled to create the finished machine, which looks a little bit like a GoCycle from the future.
The bike project came about after the company became frustrated that they weren't able to adequately explain the process to anyone other than other specialist engineers. "You can show people brackets time and time again", said one of the chief engineers when interviewed for the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12664422). "I show my mum what I do in work and she doesn't really understand. But everyone knows what a bike is". Certainly it seems to have done the trick...
The bike is being touted across the web today as a 'nylon bike as strong as steel', but there doesn't seem to be much to back up that rather grandiose claim – other than presumably some raw material data – and to be honest the sound the bike makes at the end of the BBC vid when the presenter hops on board is anything but confidence inspiring. But it's certainly an interesting application of a different technology, and although a whole bike is probably a push we can certainly see mileage in using a similar process to produce certain parts of a bike; it looks like it would make a mean aero wheel, for starters.
Is this the future of bike production? Discuss!
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.