The Rolo Bikes Story – An Incremental vs. New Design Approach

16th November 2015 by Royston Jones

This post was written by my colleague, Brett Chouinard, Chief Operating Officer at Altair, and was originally created for Altair’s Innovation Intelligence blog.

There has long been a debate in engineering, whether incremental improvement or new design is better for approaching a project. The incremental approach is often less expensive, less risky, and faster, which are all attributes valued by business. On the other hand, the new design approach has the advantage of design freedom and creativity, while also offering the promise of greater performance improvement. I was recently reminded of this debate when I had the pleasure to introduce Rolo Bikes‘ Adam Wais at this year’s European Altair Technology Conference in Paris. Adam’s presentation gave an in-depth look into the complex design process for the newly launched Rolo bike.

Back to Basics: Starting the Design from Scratch
What do you do when you have no knowledge of bicycle design or the bicycle industry, not to mention, no experience as an engineer? Adam admits, since Rolo Bikes had no previous design to incrementally improve, nor any knowledge and skills to produce one, they were left with the new design approach. They began the process by first determining what they felt were the most important elements of a great bicycle design:

  • Fit
  • Handling
  • Performance

Next, they conducted industry research to determine the industry norms and specifications that described their design elements. From those efforts, they identified the following industry leading performance objectives:

  • Frame weight: under 750g
  • Head tube stiffness: over 96 Nm/degree
  • Bottom bracket stiffness: over 65 N/mm
  • Seat Stiffness: under 200 N/mm

Frame weight is an obvious performance metric as it represents the majority of the mass of the bicycle. Head tube stiffness is also an important handling metric, as it represents how the rider experiences the road. High bottom bracket stiffness translates into an efficient power transfer from the rider to the rear wheel. Seat stiffness is a measure of rider comfort.

Once the team felt they had a good set of objectives, they were faced with the dilemma of how to design and produce a bike frame that reached those objectives. They quickly determined that the industry common practice of building, physically testing, and destroying many prototype frames did not fit their timetable or budget.

Rolo Bikes on display at Altair's European Technology Conference in Paris in October.
Rolo Bikes on display at Altair’s European Technology Conference in Paris in October

A Simulation-Driven Design Process
And this is where Altair comes in. Adam and his team contacted Altair and began employing a simulation-driven design process that involved the virtual development and analysis on many of the elements of a standard bicycle development process.   In four short months, the Rolo and Altair teams created virtual models of various safety, stiffness, and comfort tests, allowing them to create many alternatives to optimize the frame based on their objectives without ever creating a physical prototype. The result is a monocoque composite frame that is not only structurally efficient, but aerodynamically efficient as well.

So, what is the result of this radical new virtual design approach in terms of the performance metrics?

  • Frame weight: under 700g
  • Head tube stiffness: 97 Nm/degree
  • Bottom bracket stiffness: over 150 N/mm
  • Seat Stiffness: under 160 N/mm

But more importantly, an award-winning bicycle with industry leading performance metrics that looks fantastic and is a pleasure to ride.

Customized Bikes to Fit the Rider
In addition to reaching their goal of designing and building “one of the worlds’ highest performing road racing bicycles”, the team also accomplished something that has never been achieved before. The team developed a set of virtual design tools or “virtual rigs” that will allow Rolo Bikes to quickly analyze and customize new frame designs based on rider specific requirements. This essentially allows for the creation of a completely customized frame for a rider based on their dimensions, weight, personal stiffness, and comfort preference.

By using the simulation led virtual design process, Rolo achieved the benefits of both the incremental and the new design approach. They were able to develop a creative, high performance bicycle in a process that costs less and is four times faster than current industry design cycles. This opens up a new opportunity for Rolo Bikes to cater to the ever-growing demands of customer personalization and encourages the cycling industry to grow. While some might still be deciding on whether they should adopt the incremental approach or the new design approach, Rolo Bikes simply says – how about both?

Watch Adam Wais’ 2015 EATC presentation below:

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