A recycled plastic bike

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Matt Clark, an industrial designer in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, sent me these pictures of a recycled plastic bike that he designed and built. You can see from the assembly picture that the frame has an internal triangulated rib structure, which gives it its rigidly. Before I heard from Matt, a reader named Adam emailed to tell me about the construction of the bike, which he saw in Burbank and was quite impressed with. “I even rode it and it works very well and isn’t even the slightest bit flimsy!!!! It was stunning” said Adam.

Instead of paraphrasing Matt to explain the concept, I’ll let him tell you about it in his own words:

The bicycle is aimed at improving and solving multiple issues involved in production. It is also designed to utilize automated processes and more cost efficient materials (plastics).

The bicycle consists entirely of reinforced and unreinforced recyclable polypropylene. The patent-pending bicycle features a two component frame: the plastic INNERFRAME and the plastic outer structure, both dual components.Ideally, the material would be sourced from recycled plastic sources (IE: old bottles etc) to reduce environmental impact and costs.

The INNERFRAME, which gives the bicycle it’s rigidity, is most easily described as a spaceframe-like structure that features triangulation and molded “beams” to increase it’s strength. Additionally, this prototype, utilizes reinforced polypropylene for the inner chainstays. One main objective was to make the frame fully recyclable and it, absolutely, is.

The process would streamline bicycle production by providing pre-molded halves that could be either linear vibration or hot air welded together. All of the processes could be accomplished without the need to notch and individually weld each tube together and eliminates the heat treatments required for aluminum frames. This reduces the cost of production by reducing labor while simultaneously utilizing a more affordable material.

Interesting concept, so thanks to both Adam and Matt for letting me know about it. Another reader, Brian, just let me know that Bike Commuters has already posted about this design, so you can read more about it there. If any of you have questions or want more information about the design, you can contact Matt directly by email.

Update: It was pointed out to me that the title of this post is somewhat misleading because the prototype frame, which I called recycled, was actually made from virgin plastic. I said recycled in the title because the intent of Matt’s design concept is to produce the frame using recycled materials. Still, it would be more accurate to call this particular bike “recyclable” since the prototype was not made from recycled material. Sorry for any confusion.

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13 Comments

  1. Will July 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm -  Reply

    This would go great with Richey’s idea to bring affordable bike to Africa.

  2. colin July 21, 2008 at 2:29 pm -  Reply

    That bottom bracket looks a bit high there creating a rather poor riding geometry. I wonder if that is just a slip up due to not knowing how to build a frame or a limitation of the angles in the frame due to the plastic material.

  3. bikesgonewild July 21, 2008 at 4:56 pm -  Reply

    …on one hand, i have to applaud matt clark for an intelligent & resourceful concept & product…but it may be the sound of one hand clapping…

    …quite simply, if we judiciously recycled all of our plastic 'waste' products, there are probably better everyday uses for them, whereas cheap steel bikes are already a well served market…

    …i guess it would all come down to economic feasibility studies, but either way, i thoroughly applaud, w/ both hands, the man's efforts & thought processes…

  4. Anonymous July 21, 2008 at 8:54 pm -  Reply

    I can’t see that as repairable as a steel frame, which is a real issue in much of the world where they need to repy on the ability to shop weld tubes back in place crudely. Also, plastic (‘carbon fibre’ is encased in a plastic resin solution) rides like crap already, and this doesn’t even have the carbon matrix.

    If you want a reliable bike for Africa, start steel frame production there. Beside the fact that labour will be cheap, the labour will employ locals, and bring expertise to the community. As it is, the rumours are that if you want to tour in the developing world, take a steel frame, because you can always find a steel welder.

    Don’t reinvent the wheel when the wheel is just fine, just take the wheel to them.

  5. Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 12:09 am -  Reply

    actually, plastic can be welded.I wouldn’t call it common knowledge, but it’s true.

    http://www.malcom.com/

    for all the reasons you mentioned it could be great for that application.

    1. Hot-air plastic welders are generally less expensive than metal welders

    2. They require less voltage

    3. No welding helmet/goggles needed(it’s not harmful to eyesight)…hardly even need gloves

    4. The plastic welders are arguably easier and safer to use

    5. A person or group could be trained quickly to use one

    I don’t know if it’s reinventing the wheel…but it makes you wonder…

  6. bikesgonewild July 23, 2008 at 12:26 am -  Reply

    …anon 9:54pm…great points as regards empowering less fortunate people around the world by bringing simple manufacturing to them…

    …given the opportunity, ingenuity can lead to other creative solutions…

    …of course, that thought also goes back to matt clark & hopefully he'll continue being creative…
    **************************************

    …i was just about to post the above when i noticed anon 1:09am's entry…interesting info, no doubt…i'd still go w/ metal over plastic but the use of both technologies would undoubtedly benefit many in "third world" environments…

    …thinking practical solutions but watching ‘le tour’ at the same time…

  7. Velotopia July 23, 2008 at 12:37 pm -  Reply

    Man, this is ugly. And I hate plastic, yet this somehow has some appeal. Cheap bikes for the masses, I suppose. As long as it is a use for recycled plastic, and not another reason to use more oil and make more plastic.

  8. robb July 24, 2008 at 10:29 am -  Reply

    interesting. I wonder if the same process could be applied to a recumbent design. One of the big drawbacks is the relative low volume and complex assembly, both of which might be addressed with this kind of construction.

  9. Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 10:53 am -  Reply

    Please make your ‘bents out of plastic. Save steel for bicycles.

  10. Anonymous July 27, 2008 at 4:09 am -  Reply

    Hello

    My name is Toni Abram, I am an Open University student in the UK, currently studying Design and Innovation.

    A large part of my course is a project and since February I am been researching the design of an all terrain vehicle for a child with a disability – you can read about my work on my project blog at http://tonilouisa.wordpress.com/.

    I am now coming towards the end of my course and have just started to write the final project report. However, I need to write a little about materials, production and costings and I wonder if you can help me this?

    I need to discuss:

    * whether the product, device or system can be made practically and any special production requirements, machines, test equipment or facilities.
    * any supply, production or distribution issues.
    * the economic viability of my idea.
    * the environmental and social sustainability of my design.

    And:

    * Identify any life cycle environmental issues raised by your project, for example the environmental impacts of the manufacturing process, the impact of the product in use, the disposal of the product at the end of its useful life.

    Would you be able to offer me any advice on this, particularly on the best materials to use in my design for a sustinable product.

    Thank you for any help you are able to offer.

    Toni Abram
    http://centronuclear.org.uk

    P.S.

    You may be interested in the following:

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/06/17/cardboard.bike/

    http://www.sprig.com/experts/156/

  11. Anonymous August 8, 2008 at 12:30 pm -  Reply

    that photo was taken at the Art Center campus in Pasadena. Is this guy a student at Art Center?

  12. Nitin August 30, 2008 at 10:09 am -  Reply

    This would be a great product to showcase in India. How can I contact Matt Clark?

  13. Anonymous March 12, 2009 at 8:48 pm -  Reply

    This would be great for developing countries, not only because of the cost effectiveness of it, but if the frame could somehow be manufactured to carry clean drinking water that would be double rad.

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