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Robot Bike Co R160: the future of bike design?

If you’ve ever dreamt of having a mountain bike that’s totally designed around you, then Robot Bike Co’s new R160 could well be the answer.

Rolling on 27.5 wheels and sporting 160mm of rear wheel travel the bike may look relatively conventional, but that’s where the similarity with anything else currently on the market ends. By using a combination of additive manufacturing – that’s 3D printing to you and I – and clever software technology, each and every bike is tailored to the exact dimensions of the rider, allowing a fit that’s fine tuned like never before. It could well point to the future of bike design, certainly at the high end of the market.

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Fit as you like

The four people behind Robot Bike Co are a trio of engineers plus time-served mountain bike journalist Ed Haythornthwaite. While the idea about using additive manufacturing and carbon tubing to create a bike had been floating about between them for a long time, it was the restrictions of current high end bikes that was the deciding factor in kicking the project off. As Ed says when speaking about bikes currently on the market: “They’re supposedly no compromise bikes, but they’re compromising on one of the most important elements – fit.”

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Instead of a fixed mould and set sizes, the R160 is instead made by bonding carbon tubes to 3D printed titanium lugs. As bicycle construction techniques go, lugged tubing is one of the oldest, but taking this technique and throwing the latest technology at it has huge implications. Computer generated designs can be created from titanium powder that’s sintered into a solid form by a high power laser in layers just 60 microns thick, allowing an unprecedented design freedom.

The most important element is that they’ve been freed from the constraints of conventional carbon fibre bicycle manufacturing, where costly moulds limit the sizes on offer and preclude any flexibility beyond the layup of the carbon weave. The additive manufacturing process means that the shape of the lugs and hence the geometry of each R160 can be altered with very little difficulty on a bike-by-bike basis. It’s all to ensure that no matter what shape the rider is, they’re getting a bike that’ll feel and fit exactly how Robot Bike Co intended. 

Custom as standard

Suspension specialist

While everyone at Robot Bike Co is a specialist in their own field, when it came to the suspension platform, they realised they needed to get someone else involved. A quick email to designer Dave Weagle later and he was on board with the project. What he came up with, called the DW6 system, is a rather complicated design that has the goal of being able to isolate pedalling and braking forces as well as keeping tight control over the suspension leverage curve and axle path. To that end, the heart of the system is two small links that are mounted above and below the BB shell, giving a virtual pivot point slightly in front of the lower shock mount. It’s designed to work well with chainrings around 30-32t, though Robot say it’s possible to alter the layout of the design to work with larger chainrings, should you wish to run one. The pivot on the chainstay means that the system should stay active under braking, much like a conventional Horst-link style design, while the rocker-driven shock allows progression to be controlled. Having the shock vertically packaged and mounted to the BB avoids the need for anything to be mounted directly to the down or top tube, keeping things simple and the weight lower.
Talking of weight, at a claimed 7lbs/3.2kg for the frame and shock, it’s certainly not the lightest machine in this class out there. For example, a Mondraker Dune Carbon frame tips the scales at around a pound lighter. Even so, a complete bike build should come in at around 29lbs. Robot reckon that they could go around 200g lighter on the frame weight, but that they’d much rather make it able to last a lifetime and accordingly, it’s got a lifetime guarantee. Indeed, when testing the tube-to-lug bonding, the five-times safety limit of 6kN of force before failure was exceeded by a large margin – in fact the test machine broke before the bond did at 26kN.
You’d better be sitting down when it comes to the price tag. At £4,395 for the frame, this is not a cheap bike, but the level of technology involved means it was never going to be. Robot don’t plan to do complete bikes – they feel anyone wanting something so personalised is unlikely to want a set menu approach to finishing kit – but they can build you something up if you desire. In a day and age when it’s perfectly possible to spend similarly serious money on a mountain bike prised from a mould in the Far East, having a totally custom bike made especially for you is a rather special thing. Compared to conventional custom bikes, which can often take months from design to delivery, their unique process means they estimate a turnaround time of just four weeks, depending on demand. 

On the shoulders of engineering giants

Altair is an engineering design company that specialises in software and services. A particularly impressive and important software package allowed the basic design of elements of the bicycle to be highly refined by inputting the forces they’ll be subjected to and then calculating exactly where and how much material will be needed to provide suitable strength and stiffness. For example, the chainstay yoke went from being a fairly conventional looking item with a cross brace to an amazingly delicate and almost organic form. It’s a prime example that shows that this soft of software combined with the additive manufacturing process can free designers up to create components in ways that simply haven’t been possible before.
HiETA are also additive manufacturing specialists based nearby to Altair and when Robot Bike Co approached them for advice on setting up a business, they quickly became involved, with two of the Robot crew joining the company. For HiETA, it’s a chance to show the power of additive layer manufacturing and to demonstrate that this is a technology that’s ready to be commercially exploited right now, rather than a niche and specialist process only used in applications where cost isn’t an issue.

Are Robots the future?

There’s no doubt that the R160 is an extremely niche proposition. It’s a premium product at a premium price, but it does offer something never seen before; namely the completely new approach to fit and sizing. It’s obvious that the technologies used to create this bike are only going to more advanced, less expensive better understood and therefore exploited in even newer ways. Will this replace the way entry-level bikes are made? Almost certainly not, but at the high end, it could point to a future where the idea of buying off the shelf is an unthinkable as this sort of mass customisation is now.
We can’t wait to get out on the bike and see how it rides in the real world, something we hope to be able to do soon. Regardless of performance, the R160 could be one of the most influential machines ever made, simply because it points to a future where what was previously unachievable becomes commonplace
If this has intrigued you enough, then the robotbike.co website is now up and running and ready to take orders. Do let us know what you think in the comments below…

You can read more at BikeRadar.com

RockShox High Pressure Digital shock pump

Shock pumps are specific items for mountain bikers with air spring-equipped suspension. Suspension is best set up using externally measured sag but an accurate pump can make tuning and re-adjustments far easier.

Most pumps on the market use rather simple dial gauges, which typically work just fine. However, these can lead to some level of human error in reading and so for absolute accuracy a digital gauge is hard to beat.

Finishing second in our recent shock pump grouptest, this digital pump is sure to lead to greater inflation accuracy. While branded RockShox, this same pump can be found with Fox or even Truflo branding too. As a result, we’d recommend simply picking the one at the best price.

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  • The best mountain bike shock pumps – 11 tested

The digital gauge proved to be equal in accuracy to the test winning Syncros SP1.0, but an otherwise simpler and more generic construction brings the price down. This exact accuracy does allow for extremely precise suspension adjustment, something that can make a noticeable difference on the latest generation of high-volume, long-travel forks and shocks.

The generic valve head is basic but effective and we’re yet to see it leak air on release. It’s connected to a long hose that makes it far easier to thread into awkward gaps on some frame designs.

You can read more at BikeRadar.com

Brooklyn Bicycle Co. adds hybrids

NEW YORK —Brooklyn Bicycle Co. has expanded its lineup with the introduction of two hybrid models, the recreational bike brand’s first hybrids — the Roebling and Lorimer

Brooklyn Bicycle Co. adds hybrids

NEW YORK —Brooklyn Bicycle Co. has expanded its lineup with the introduction of two hybrid models, the recreational bike brand’s first hybrids — the Roebling and Lorimer. Brooklyn’s lineup now covers 12 models.

Industry veteran Tony Karklins buys Guru Cycles assets

CSG still owns trademark name. Karklins planning domestic carbon frame business.

FINDRA is breaking the mould with grown-up mountain bike kit for women

It’s been described as mountain bike kit for grown-ups. Based in Scotland, new brand FINDRA has gone from startup to award-winning business in just over a year. It’s testament to the strength of vision of founder and designer Alex Feechan – and to the growth of women’s cycling.

The women’s mountain bike clothing brand launched in late 2014. Within its first year, the choice of technical fabrics, natural colour palette, dedication to function and understated styling – which contrasts markedly with the majority of women’s bike clothing on the market – not only gained the company a loyal customer base, but launched it onto the pages of online cycling retailer Wiggle. 

BikeRadar spoke to Alex Feechan, the woman behind FINDRA, to find out what motivated her to start up a new women’s clothing brand, and why she took the approach she has to design and manufacturing. 

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Ground-up approach

Feechan comes from a design background, having worked for many years in the fashion industry. Her approach is based, she says, in researching the market to determine what women want – and designing products from the ground up.

“I started FINDRA because of my own passion for biking, and my background in design.” Feechan tells BikeRadar. “I started riding a few years ago and got really hooked on it, and decided to go buy some kit to wear. I felt there was nothing out there for me as a woman that was particularly well designed or looked or felt good.

“It felt like everything that was available suffered from the ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach, which is basically taking a man’s product, reducing it in size and adding a pink flower or go faster stripes to it, which felt condescending,” she adds. “With my background in design, I felt there was an opportunity to do something more interesting.”

Market knowhow

Award-winning women’s clothing

The future for FINDRA

You can read more at BikeRadar.com

BRAIN Dealer Tour: Asheville

Start: October 17, 2016 1:00 am End: October 19, 2016 1:00 am Location: Asheville, NC BRAIN editors, event sponsors and guests will tour Asheville, N.C. on bike.

Crankbrothers being distributed by Lusty Industries in Australia

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.?(BRAIN) — Crankbrothers has a new distributor within Australia: Lusty Industries Pty Ltd.? Lusty Industries started distributing the brand’s pedals, wheels, tools, pumps and components on Jan. 1