Giving BIRTH to a Bionic Runner
Every wonder how the frame on you BR is made? Just comes in a box right? Well there is a lot that happens behind the scenes, and I’m over here making sure it all happens to exacting standards. I have been in China overseeing the latest production run. It is an amazing experience seeing things progress from a raw piece of aluminium into a beautiful running machine.
Every single BR is hand made. They are welded by hand, assembled by hand and each one is inspected against strict QC standards at every step. The frame starts by turning ingots (blocks) of aluminium into tubes, folding mechanisms and frame parts. It is a multi step process involving many different types of processing.
Extrusion (the machine in the distance above) – We start with the tubes being extruded. This is basically squeezing aluminium through a shape, to make long lengths of an identical shape. A common thing extruded in your home is the aluminium around your windows, or the tracks that your roller doors slide on. It is sort of like a sausage machine for metal. Because the BR is a unique bike, we need to get all our tube specially extruded.
Hydroforming – We also use another process called hydro forming to make the bent tube that surrounds the folding mechanism. We use hydroforming because if you simply bend a tube it becomes very weak, whereas hydro forming ensures the tube is the same strength along it’s entire length by using a mould and injecting liquid inside the tube. The liquid pushes the aluminium against the mould and it is possible to control the exact thickness of the walls of the tube. It is a slow and expensive process, but it is of the highest quality and strength.
Forging (the green machine above, that’s right it’s 4 storeys tall) – we use a process where we forge the dropouts (where you back wheel slides into) and the folding mechanism. This process uses a massive press and 1500 tonnes of force to force the desired shapes. 1500 tonnes is the equivalent tohaving the weight of 1154 toyota prius’s pushing down on the metal! We use this process because it ensures a high quality piece that is exceptionally strong.
Before we started extrusion, hydroforming or forging, we had to make moulds from the highest quality Japanese tool steel. This metal is imported into China from the best steel mills in Japan. These moulds typically take 60 days to make once the steel arrives. It is made with a cnc mill, but because the metal is to strong, and the finishes so exacting, it is a very slow process.
So now we have the raw pieces to work with. They are then cut to size so that the tubes fit exactly together. The roller track, folding mechanism and dropouts use a CNC mill to make them neat and accurate. A CNC mill is a machine that can be programmed to create a exact cut time after time. Each piece is place into a specially made tool called a jig. These hold the piece so that it can be precision machined. Each jig we have had specifically made for our BR.
After this process they are welded by hand. Each tube has a jig that is used to hold it in the exact place for welding. This ensures that every frame is welded identically. Welding bikes is a highly skilled process, and the people that weld them are lifetime experts. The welds are then inspected for uniformity.
We now have the basis for a frame. They are then T4 heat treated (this causes the frames to go a grey color). This increases the strength of the aluminium, but the heat can also cause the frame to bend over it’s length. So then they are put on a metal table and a series of jigs are used to test for alignment and adjust it as necessary. All the welds are inspected again. They are then T6 heat treated to increase the strength further. They are then again tested on the alignment bench and adjusted if necessary.
The next stage is polishing. Every frame is hand polished, prior to painting. This is a process that most people would never think about, but it alone takes 20 minutes per frame.
We then use a proprietary tool to ensure the cranks are at right angles to the track, so the rollers run smoothly.
Every frame is checked a minimum of three times during production.
The raw frame is then sent to the painting shop to be powder painted. This is a premium painting process that is tough. They are painted and baked in an oven.
We now have a frame, but of course you can’t BRun on a frame, so stay tuned for what happens next in the BIRTH of a Bionic Runner.