As mentioned previously in this series of blog posts, I am a huge fan of bicycles, cycling and all the gear and tech that comes with it! I also think that this sport represents huge amounts of innovation in the field of design and engineering.
Whilst working part-time at Evans Cycles in Glasgow last year I was able to see all of this new tech, fresh off the press! One of the products that really surprised me was the ALM Ultimate saddle by British cycling brand Fabric;
“At Fabric, we challenge existing solutions and strive to improve the cycling experience for everyone. Whether that is in contact points where body and bike meet or the accessories we use to keep moving safely throughout the year.”
When designing this saddle, Fabric threw away all the rule books and in-turn created something completely unique in what is already a very saturated market.
There is no doubt that this is the most beautiful bicycle saddle I have ever seen. To my eye it strikes all the right chords of my minimalist heart. If it was about looks alone, there is no question that this saddle would sit upon the seatpost of all of my dream bikes.
The ALM Ultimate is a collaboration between Fabric and the Airbus Innovation Group, and if you are wondering, yes, it’s the same Airbus that makes aeroplanes! The Airbus Innovation Group is home to their R&T area that works within the airline industry and on new projects outside the industry – such as this.
Working together, Fabric and Airbus first built prototypes for the ALM saddle using 3D printed titanium, (Additive Layer Manufacturing, hence the ALM name), before moving on to full carbon rails and shell. This helped to reduce both the overall weight and cost of the final product. Because of the 3D printing process, Fabric is able to produce both the saddle shell and rails all as one ‘uni-body’ piece.
Resources: Cool video on Airbus’s view and excitement for ALM (Jonathan Meyer: the art of Additive Layer Manufacturing)
The single piece, carbon fibre design of the Fabric ALM Ultimate allows the rails to connect with the shell further outboard at the rear of the saddle. This wider connection creates a ‘leaf spring’ action where the rails flex outwards, which effectively spreads the shell when you sit your full weight down on it. All in all, this gives a full carbon saddle similar levels of comfort to a conventional plastic shelled saddle. This level of comfort has never before been achieved in a saddle made with carbon fibre. It is because of this flex that Fabric feel that only a thin layer of padding, bonded to the top of the shell is necessary, helping them achieve a total weight of only 140 grams! Is this level of innovation the future for the cycling industry? Have we exhausted the innovation possible using ‘conventional’ manufacturing techniques? I do believe that high level, advanced manufacturing techniques such as ‘Additive Layer Manufacturing’ do need to become normal practice when designing new and innovative products, and I think that this example from Fabric represents an exciting move for the cycling industry!
However… will this innovation see companies like Brooks who are creating high quality, traditional, hand made saddles, struggle to compete? So I finish this post feeling quite conflicted between my love of long lasting, handmade goods, and the exciting advances made through modern, high-tech and fully automated manufacturing processes…
All images from fabric.cc