Bicycles were one of the first consumer products to embrace 3D printing, with dozens of examples of both concept models, one-offs and actual production already underway. One reason is that personalization and weight-optimization play a big role in bicycling; another (related) is that two key materials for bicycles are carbon fiber composites and titanium, which are also key materials in 3D printing. For Tom Sturdy of Sturdy Cycles in Somerset, UK, titanium is it and he turned to AM service RAM3D to 3D print it.
Considering that RAM3D is in New Zealand, this is not exactly a case of 3D printing for distributed local manufacturing. On the other hand RAM3D has extensive specific experience in metal 3D printing bicycle parts and has been working with bespoke bicycle companies for over 6 years.
For Tom Sturdy, titanium is ideal for how the bikes ride and of course for the lightness aspect that boasts one of the highest strength to weight ratios of all engineering metals. The customization process starts with good fit data, which is offered as a service as part of the build.
“There aren’t many products that you, as one person, can cover the whole life cycle of,” he explains. “Even with the addition of metal 3D printing, it is still quite technical and challenging.”
This data is used as the starting point to develop both the geometry and structural design of the bike. Additive manufacturing is integral to each build. As part of the design, Tom creates a set of tube junctions that are uniquely optimized for the intended rider.
The use of this cutting edge technology creates the opportunity for more sophisticated design integration and allows structures that could not be manufactured in any other way. It offers the rider a unique product that can be refined and made lighter than a conventional frame. It also offers significant advantages during the manufacturing process as each part is designed with fabrication in mind, this helps improve the accuracy and reliability of the build.
Sturdy embraces the use of additive manufacturing in his frame building and feels this cutting-edge technology allows him to create designs and structures that couldn’t be manufactured any other way. As he explains, “there is the purist element with titanium, it doesn’t need to be painted or finished and for a lot of people, that is quite a big appeal”.
Sturdy used to compete as a professional athlete in Triathlons in the UK and Europe and even competed as far afield as Australia. He did this whilst studying and has a background in Aeronautical Engineering and Sports Biomechanics. It was while he was studying Sport Biomechanics, he started to get interested in bikes and started to think more seriously about bike design whilst competing.
During one of his training sessions, he got run over and that put him out of racing for about 3 years. After that, he realized he would never get back to racing properly again and decided to focus on design optimization, where the performance of a design can be made dramatically better for a particular rider. His interest has always involved engineering and biomechanics.
With his broad range of expertise working in bike shops and R&D, it was a natural progression to get involved in frame-building. With bikes, he feels he is in control of the whole process from start to finish; from creating the design, engineering, and fabricating them.
RAM3D have been 3D printing parts for his 3 models, the Road Race, All Road and XC Race, and involve Sturdy in the print process, advising on any new designs to get the best outcome for his bespoke bikes. The road bikes are the most popular because that market is more aware of the concepts of a custom bike.
The next addition to the Sturdy bike family is a TT specialist bike that will be launching in 2021. Times Trial riding is popular in the UK and a very specialized market and he is keen to pursue it because of his love of the Triathlon.
With the explosion of E-Bikes worldwide, Tom doesn’t rule out designing and building one and believes it’s only a matter of time before that happens. Although he can’t see it being the mainstay of his business, he can see there being an E-bike model at some point. He feels it would be a bit more complicated because of having to integrate everything in it.
What does the future hold for Study Cycles? Tom will continue to play a hands-on part building his wonderfully simple yet highly refined bicycles using additive manufacturing. He has got things efficient now in terms of the design and manufacturing and has a lot of capacity to build more bikes and will continue to introduce new bikes and update his current models. Tom has started to add new products like cranks and forks other than just the frame.