Around 172,000 people cycle through the crowded streets of central London every year, many of them on folding bicycles with impractically small wheels.
While visiting family in London, mechanical engineer Alex Animashaun had a simple but innovative idea: “I thought, a wheel is just another structure, surely you can fold the wheel and then make a full-size bike small. ”
As with most evolutions on a standing concept, the idea was simple, but the process was complicated.
The folding bicycle has been with us since 1895 when the French military helped bring the Captain Gérard folding to market.
The modern small wheeled folding bicycle became popularised by Brompton in 1981, with its distinctive long handlebar and saddle stems.
A year later, Dahon was founded and started producing similar designs by 1984.
Since that time, the format of folding bikes hasn’t moved forward a great deal, with many changes making the generic design easier and quicker to fold up and unfold.
To this day, Dahon and Brompton remain two of the largest folding bicycle manufacturers.
One of the primary issues with making a new design of the folding bike is the wheels. Folding bikes are normally marketed as being ideal for commuters and as space saving devices. But, there are disadvantages to a smaller wheel that offset the advantages of being able to fold the bike into a compact, portable package.
Smaller wheels allow nimble steering, but mean obstacles such as potholes and curbs need to be handled at low speed. Since small wheels cover less distance per revolution compared to big wheels, gearing them up to get a good top speed is challenging. The long saddle and handlebar stems and single main tube frame design of many folding bikes makes for a more flexy ride than the assured stiffness of a conventional bicycle.
Initially, Alex looked into a new way to fold a bike to overcome these issues “I saw loads of folding bikes with tiny wheels and I thought, can’t you just fold a regular bike in a different way?”
Unfortunately, the answer wasn’t that simple. “It turns out that you can’t really because the wheel is atomic, it’s indivisible and the bike can’t be any smaller than the wheels.”
That’s when Alex decided to abandon conventional wisdom and reinvent the wheel.
Alex realized that finding a new way to fold the structure of the wheel would allow the customer to have all the benefits of a full-sized wheel and the convenience of being able to fold a full-sized bike into a compact package.
As Alex points out “Small wheels are much worse when it comes to riding through potholes and dropping off curbs. People want to ride a regular bike.”
The eventual design that Alex hit upon divided the wheel up into three pizza-slice-shaped sections which stack on top of each other. When folded out, the sections are held securely together by a clamp that slides out and tightens in place.
Since traditional tires can’t fold, the Tuck Bike uses airless rubber foam tires and disk brakes to compensate for the lack of a rim.
This revolutionary design enabled the Tuckbike to be folded down into a compact, portable package and still have full-sized 700c wheels.
Unfortunately, the transition from design to prototype was hampered by Alex’s lack of access to a fast and cost-effective rapid prototyping service.
As Alex found out “While I was in Kenya, it was expensive and challenging to get parts CNC’d. Being in America and having access to very competitive machining in China really speeds up the prototyping.”
For Alex, 3D printing prototype parts was always going to be the best solution.
“I 3D printed a lot of parts early on and still to this day. It’s so fast to test fit, form, or function for a different hinge mechanism for example. 3D printing meant I could make something physical, have a part in my hands to play with and effectively allow me to invent and fail faster,” he notes.
Jiga is a B2B marketplace for custom parts manufacturing including 3D printing, CNC machining, and sheet metal. We connect our customers with some of the best manufacturing suppliers around the world.
The Jiga marketplace allows creators like Alex to explore and compare custom parts manufacturing and 3D prototyping services and then order with confidence knowing that we’ll take care of shipping, tracking, payment, legal agreements, and support, so they can concentrate on innovating.
In Alex’s case, we were able to connect him with a range of fast prototyping services that give him access to the physical components he needed to iterate on the Tuck Bike design.
“I like the Jiga interface – clear and simple to use, plus the prices are competitive. After meeting Adar, I decided to switch from my regular supplier and see what Jiga can do. I’ve been really pleased with the finish and dimensional accuracy. The turnaround on parts is fast and means I can have quick iterations without blowing my budget,” Alex points out.
With those parts in hand, Alex was able to finish reinventing the wheel. “Some of the problems seemed catastrophic, but each time I was able to pick myself up, and try, try, try again until finally, I got a bike that folds in under 2 minutes and rides like a dream.”
Tuck Bike launches this summer on Kickstarter. You can learn more at www.tuckbike.com and grab an early bird discount.