I will never forget when my dad taught me how to ride my bike without training wheels for the first time. We went to a small, nearby shopping plaza and drove our big station wagon around back, to where the loading docks were, far from prying eyes; I remember feeling embarrassed and scared to fall. It was so long ago that I don’t remember how many times I tried around our block before my dad decided that a change of venue would be helpful, or if I fell back behind the shopping plaza. But what I do remember was how encouraging my dad was, and the overwhelming feeling of elation as I finally pedaled off on my own, sans training wheels, my father jogging along right beside me. I imagine that the two Sculpteo designers who completed the first functional 3D printed bike had that same feeling of elation when their hard work paid off in the form of a successful 1000 km road trip.
French 3D printing and digital manufacturing company Sculpteo introduced the bike, completed in seven weeks, at CES 2017 earlier this month. 70% of the Sculpteo Digital Bike was built with the company’s 3D metal printing platforms, and cost about $4,200 to create. Parts for the bicycle were created through CLIP technology, with Carbon‘s fast 3D printing capabilities in rigid polyurethane, flexible polyurethane, and elastomeric polyurethane, while others were created using SLS (in carbonmide, nylon, and alumide) and DMLS (titanium) 3D printing, as well as laser cutting of leather, aluminum, and stainless steel.
At the show, the 3D printed metal bike was showcased as a functional piece, by a woman riding it on a stationary stand. But lest you think this is all the bike is capable of, you should know that it is no prototype: Sculpteo CEO and co-founder Clément Moreau took the bike on its first test, pedaling from his hotel to the Sculpteo CES booth in the Mirage. But at the end of the conference, the Sculpteo bike’s designers, Alexandre Orsetti and Piotr Widelka took it on a much longer trip…over 700 miles, from Las Vegas to San Francisco!
Orsetti and Widelka left Las Vegas on January 8, and documented the full ride in real time using #SculpteoBikeProject. In the company blog, they noted that while the bike was functional, it was not yet complete, but that was the point: they wanted to put the bike, and its 3D printed parts, to the test on the open road, and planned to continue fixing and improving upon the bike while it was being used.
After first deciding which pair of 3D printed bike pedals to use, the duo hit the open road, alternating between one person on the bike and the other driving a car. After only a couple days of travel, they had to stop and work on the tires in Ludlow, switching them out for road-gripping tires that could better handle some of the poor roads they faced. This was one of the important reasons for the trip: to see if their parts could be improved and test how the bike’s materials handled harsh conditions, and how quickly Sculpteo could make new parts and send them to Orsetti and Widelka if they needed to make repairs on the way.
Orsetti and Widelka said in the blog, “The bike works super well! It feels great to finally ride it. There was a lot of wind that shook the bike like crazy.”
The pair made a day-long stop in Bakersfield and dealt with another bike issue: according to the blog, the 3D printed parts were no longer keeping the frames of the tube together. They soon realized that the glue was actually the problem, as it did not resist the vibrations of the open road well. A temporary fix in the form of straps kept them going for awhile, but the glue problem soon spread to the rest of the bike.
Orsetti and Widelka found a garage in a small town outside of Bakersfield, and some kind people lent them their tools so they could glue a pin and get rid of the straps. For the next iteration of the bike, the Sculpteo team is thinking about adding small cavities to the 3D printed parts, to help better retain the glue.
“In just a few miles, we went from a mountainous landscape to coastal scenes! People are wearing shorts and T-shirts, we’ve gone from cold mountains to a lukewarm surfing beach.”
The speed of the four-way road to Morro Bay meant that the pair could not ride together, but they did get to meet some sea lions at the end of the day! The intrepid travelers followed the coast north, from San Simeon to Slates Hotspring, through Monterey, and into Santa Cruz.
“It’s beautiful but quite physical because there are long and sharp hills. The bike rides perfectly, in spite of the ups and downs and the strong wind.”
On Friday, January 20, Orsetti and Widelka finally reached the Sculpteo US factory in San Francisco Bay. The laser cut and 3D printed bike was more than up to the challenge, and Sculpteo said the road trip was able to “serve as an example of our capabilities to adapt, to provide the best solutions, fast, to urgent problems, and to keep your projects going, as our designers keep going on the road.” Discuss in the 3D Printed Bike forum at 3DPB.com.[All images via Sculpteo unless otherwise noted]