BikeCAD is a specialist tool for one thing only

03 March 2010

Inspired by two wheel movement, the need for escape and former Talking Heads front man, Al Dean rediscovers his passion for bicycles and finds a bespoke system that enables their design in a quite wonderful manner

I have recently acquired a new passion for cycling. This has been spurred on by a need to get some exercise, to get away from the burn of the LCD screen and to enjoy the fresh air. So, I “borrowed” my brother’s much neglected Claud Butler, stripped off all the crap (who needs two bottle holders?) and even managed to get shot of the derailleur system. I’ve never been able to fathom geared bikes.

So now I have a beast, ‘The Ace’, parked out of the back of the house, ready to go when I need it. Whether that’s for a loaf of Warburton’s, a pack of ciggies or just for the sheer hell of it. There’s something delightfully direct about whizzing about the place on a single gear bicycle. The connection between the energy you put into the crank and the resultant speed is often missed when you add the complexity of gears. Input equals output. Pedalling begets movement. A quite delicious thing.

My renewed love for cycling has also dovetailed nicely with another of my passions. Reading. I recently came across David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries. On the surface, it appears to be a treatise on the wonder of cycling, but on closer inspection it becomes a cultural investigation of many things. Of design, of non-fossil fuel-based transportation, of city planning and the rise of the car, and of course, as you’d expect from the front man of Talking Heads, of music.

On one of my trips around the back streets of Wolverhampton it got me thinking about how one goes about designing a bicycle frame. It’s a deceptively simple welded structure, but variables like rider size and requirements quickly turn it into a complex design task. Anyone that’s ever tried to accomplish this using a general purpose 3D design tool will know that, like a poorly adjusted saddle, it’s a royal pain in the backside. This is compounded if you want to add some parameterisation and control.

After a quick Google, I rediscovered a software tool I’d long forgotten and was delighted to see that it was not only still available but experiencing renewed interest from the industry. BikeCAD Pro is developed by Brent Curry and his Canadian outfit, Bicycle Forest (http://www.bikeforest.com).

Brent spent years working up new frame designs with a variety of 2D and 3D tools and decided that the world needed a specialist tool. BikeCAD Pro has grown to become something quite amazing.

Being Java-based, it’s pretty much platform independent. It enables designers to input the parameters for a chosen cycle design, integrate human factors and anthropometric data, handle standards for both safety and competition regulations and include both visualisation tools and manufacturing output for cut lists and those all important mitre designs.

It’s highly specialised, it’s all done in 2D, and it costs under 350 Canadian dollars. It’s also probably the best example I’ve ever seen of a tool that has been developed to solve a specific design problem.

So, if one man can do this - develop a system that’s highly specialised in its focus and comprehensive in its capabilities - why is it that we are sometimes stuck with design tools that are generic in the extreme and fail to solve many of our most complex design problems? How often have you wanted your 3D design tool to just “get” what you want, rather than having to wrestle with it to model what’s in your head?

‘‘Why is it that sometimes we are stuck with design tools that are generic in the extreme and fail to solve many of our most complex design problems?’‘

Just as the humble bicycle revolutionised personal transportation, I often wonder how many bespoke design solutions there are out there that have transformed niche areas of product development. I suspect many of these are produced in-house so would never normally see the light of day. However, if you know of another Brent Curry out there I’d love to hear from you. Who knows it may even inspire me to take up another hobby. Now where did if leave my bike again?

Al Dean is Editor of DEVELOP3D. He promises this will be the last bicycle-themed article for a while. To see the extent of his obsession, search for ‘bike’ on develop3d.com
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Comments on this article:

I just discovered this article even though it's almost a year old. Does anyone know if Bikecad would be suitable for work on a recumbent trike? Are the output files usable by others in the bicycle industry?

Posted by accidentalfission on Thursday 27 2011 at 03:08 PM

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