A company called Superstrata is claiming to have produced the world’s first custom 3D printed unibody carbon fibre bike. That’s quite a niche – but is it a gap in the market?
Superstrata will be producing both the Terra and the Ion – the Ion being the eBike. Both are printed in a single pass of carbon fibre thermoplastic composite. There’s no shortage of hype around the tech being used to make these bikes, which are made ‘using next-generation thermoplastic materials, making it extremely impact resistant, yet remarkably lightweight’. These then are not carbon fibre bikes as we usually know them, layered together with epoxy.
The press release continues:
‘This bike was designed to leverage all the benefits of this new manufacturing technology to get the best of both worlds: strength and lightness’ said Bill Stephens, an award-winning bicycle designer and the creative force behind Superstrata.
We can’t comment on strength, but on weight they certainly claim some light numbers. A complete Ion eBike will apparently weigh in at 11kg, while a Terra will weigh 7.5kg. But, with a claimed 500,000 customised permutations to choose from, perhaps those weights are based on the skinniest or smallest of everything? The frame can be tailored to riders’ heights, weights, arm and leg lengths, riding positions and even preferred stiffness levels. Apparently you could even have the necessary adjustments made to accommodate larger than 40mm tyres – giving a little more than just light gravel potential.
Both the frame and fork are printed using the same unibody construction technique – separately of course, or you wouldn’t be able to steer! – meaning that both can be customised.
But what about the third part of the Keith Bontrager triangle, cost? Well, the Ion eBike will be $3,999 and the Terra $2,799. Not cheap, but not all that expensive for a custom frame. Perhaps a lot to spend on something with so much new technology in it, but then for some that’s likely part of the attraction.
Talking of attraction, it’s got quite the Buck Rogers aesthetic to both the Terra and the Ion. With a hub gear on the Ion eBike – the precise motor to be used is apparently still to be determined – and the standard 125 Wh battery, we’re promised that the Ion will look like it’s had a big meal, rather than being noticeably different from the Terra. If you upgrade to the larger 250 Wh battery, its belly will be a little bigger, with the downtube made larger to accommodate it. While it is removable for servicing, it’s not designed to be removed on a regular basis for charging etc.
What the ride quality is like remains to be seen, and whether this will be the Next Big Thing or even just a stepping stone on the way to a change in bicycle production methods remains to be seen. In a few years from now will we be looking on this as we currently look back at a GT Lobo? Will be be fondly reminiscing over the days when alloy was hydro-formed? Or will we still be joining metal tubes and carbon fibres together and waiting for 3D printing to offer something to compete with current bike manufacturing technology?
If you want to see one of these in the flesh, there will apparently be one on display in Selfridges in London later this month.