3D Printing of Bicycles and R&D Tax Credits


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The cycling industry has advanced design with improvements in durability, comfort, speed, and overall performance. Cyclists in bicycle races such as the Amgen Tour of California or the Tour de France use these innovative machines to push the boundaries of performance from the everyday to the professional cyclist. Cycling has taken a liking to 3D printing. Designers, engineers and mechanics who use 3D printed bicycle parts and components may be eligible for R&D Tax Credits.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • Must be technological in nature
  • Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business
  • Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
  • Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives

Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, pre-profitable and pre-revenue startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes and cash rebates.

The Cerevo Orbitrec

Bicycles are composed of different materials and over the years, these materials have advanced from iron alloys to aluminum, titanium, and/or alloy combinations of these elements. Titanium is lightweight which means that more can be packed into a smaller volume. It is lighter than steel and usually more durable than carbon fiber. Carbon fiber bikes are made of fibers that are embedded in an epoxy resin and layered at various thicknesses for different bicycle parts. It is usually used in competitive road biking races while titanium is usually used for mountain biking.

Bicycle company Cerevo has mastered the 3D printing of road bikes. The Orbitrec was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas in 2016. This bicycle has a 3D printed titanium frame and carbon fiber tubes that are manufactured at a competitive cost. The bike also has a device, Ride 1, which connects the cyclist’s heart rate while providing data about their ride. Similar to how Strava connects cyclists and runners to millions of athletes around the world, so too does Ride 1. In this case, the program is connected with the bike, detecting the performance of the rider and the surrounding environment. Designed by Satoshi Yanagisawa, the Orbitrec is taking a futuristic approach to cycling.

Trek Bicycle Corporation is using 3D printing as a means to create rapid prototypes of unique bicycles for riders. They find it particularly useful when it comes to designing the cable routing. Giant, another bicycle manufacturer, 3D prints frames and believes that additive manufacturing assists in the process of creating the best bike. 3D printed bikes and parts not only help in creating the best aerodynamic design, but also allow mechanics to assemble the bike for a better fit. Crankshafts and various other parts can easily be printed as well.

Printed Titanium

Australian organization CSIRO is advancing the world of new bike technologies. CSIRO is using computer-aided designs to create models of bicycles and their frames. The designs are then sent over to a 3D titanium printer. The bikes’ 3D printed parts provide a customized fit and more flexibility for the user. Overall, the bike provides a better cycling experience for the rider.

3D Printed Bike Wheel Caps

You look down at your speedometer and see that you are reaching 45 mph. You take a sip from your water bottle and hear a pop from the rear tire. You pull off the side of the road and change the tire. While removing your tube from the tire you realize that you have lost the wheel cap.

However, in your saddlebag you have an extra pair of wheel caps that you had 3D printed before your long bicycle journey. You have customized your wheel caps to create shapes such as pizza slices and various figurines that will fit over the valve on your tube. No need to fret if you lose the originals as your 3D printed wheel caps will do the job.

Printed Handlebars, Olympics, and Beyond

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics provided an opportunity for engineers and scientists to bring their innovative technologies to the test, as it was game on for man versus machine. When it was time for track racing, the French Olympic team lined up at the start in the velodrome with 3D printed handlebars. The handlebars were lightweight and provided an aerodynamic advantage to the riders. They were composed of an aluminum material and a lattice structure that provided durability and helped cut down on weight even more, allowing the cyclist to reach speeds of up to 80 km/hr. Velodrome racing is all about aerodynamics, lightweight machines, and speed. French prototyping company Erpo & Sprint worked with the French team to design the 3D printed handlebars. In fact, the handlebars did help the French team perform at their best as French racer Francois Pervis won the first round of track racing and ranked number 4 in the finals.

Professional Cycling and 3D Printing

Many designers are constantly advancing cycling technologies. For instance, cyclists that compete in races such as time trial events have specially designed bikes. Time trial bikes are built for speed and are designed to have the most aerodynamic frames, allowing for minimal drag. These events test the individual on their bike against the clock. Many cyclists have used advanced technology in gear to enhance their performance. Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin wore a special tracksuit for the Tour de France time trials. Dumoulin’s team, Giant-Alpecin, worked with engineers and researchers at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands to create the custom fitted suit using the newest innovations. Computer programs scanned Dumoulin and created a 3D printed mannequin of him. The mannequin was then tested in various wind tunnel tests for aerodynamics and ensuring the use of the correct fabrics. Since the human eye cannot see airflow, engineers use a technique called particle image symmetry. In this technique, small particles are introduced to the airflow and engineers follow these particles with a camera, allowing them to measure and quantify the airflow. The engineers are able to determine what the texture of the suit should be to ensure minimal drag at certain points of the body when the rider is in the racing position. The 3D printing of the mannequin allows engineers to re-create what a cyclist experiences on the road during a race.

Another professional cyclist and winner of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, won a track race with 3D printed handlebars. The 3D printed handlebars are manufactured by Arcam. Each one is unique and personalized to fit the rider. It takes about two days to produce the handlebars. The titanium handlebars were substantially tested to avoid any breakage during the race. The engineers designed the bike keeping in mind that airflow had to be filtered around the bike so that the actual frame and components did not disrupt the airflow. The lightweight vehicle created consistent results for the world class cyclist.  Wiggins broke the world record for a 55km race due to his aerodynamic bicycle and 3D printed parts.


Bicycle racing is mainly based on the performance of the material of the bike, garments being worn, and aerodynamics of the rider. Bicycle manufacturers are finding benefits from using 3D printing technology to build the prototypes for their bikes. Bicycle manufacturers, engineers, mechanics, and scientists who are involved in 3D printing in the bicycle industry may be eligible for R&D Tax Credits.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

Charles Goulding and Alize Margulis of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing in the bicycle industry. 



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