When we think of “carbon copy” technology we think of the old days when carbon paper was used to make multiple copies of a document. This technology is still used (albeit less and less) with some rental agreements and other business contracts. However, when we think of “carbon copy” for bicycles, we tend to think of how a line of bikes all looks the same.
The truth is that all bikes are still somewhat made individually, even if the parts are more or less the same. No two bikes are truly “copies.” But British engineers Chris Turner and Andy Hawkins may have developed a bike that could very well be the first of a line of copies – bikes that are so much alike they could be considered clones! Their Airbike is made entirely of nylon – yes nylon – but it is supposedly as strong as steel. What is more interesting is that the bike has been created using a process called additive layer manufacturing (ALM).
This is essentially the basis of so-called 3D printing, which builds up the “print out” using successive layers of fused nylon powder that is just one-tenth of a millimeter thick. This process has been used for making models, taking what is on the computer screen and making it a reality. The difference here is that this laser based manufacturing process is now used to make a full sized product! The ALM had been used previously in the UK for EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company).
Because the bike is “printed out” it requires virtually no assembly, and no maintenance. Even the integrated beargins encased in the hubs and crank were produced as the bike was formed. Rather than paint or decals, the bike is adorned with embossed text. Of course all the parts can’t be printed out, but with the addition of a Kevlar belt drive and some tires, the bike is ready to go.
The current Airbike is of course just a prototype, but it could soon change the way bikes are made, as well as the way they are designed. But what we really wonder is if in a couple of years nylon could replace carbon fiber as the space age material in races like the Tour de France!