Parametric finite element analysis of steel bicycle frames

Project Details


This project leads on from the earlier Parametric finite element analysis of bicycle frame geometries research project

Most bicycle steel frames are built with tubes of the same grade of material from a single manufacturer. Researchers at the university have used software that assesses the characteristics of more than 500 combinations of tubes from different suppliers and now suggest that the ideal combination of feel and ride quality requires mixing tubes from different manufacturers.

Performing Finite Element (FE) analysis on bicycle frames has become a common activity for bicycle designers and engineers in the hope of improving the performance of the frames. This is typically achieved by balancing priorities for key idealistic requirements, including:

Minimising the mass of the frame (possibly using competition rules to constrain this)
Maximising lateral stiffness in the load transfer from the hands and feet to the drive
Adjusting the vertical compliance of the frame to tune the softness of the ride
Maximising the strength capabilities of the frame to allow for a higher load capacity or better load distribution.

Our researchers recognised that mixing tubes from several sets was becoming more common. However, this is normally achieved by some bespoke framebuilders and isn’t common for mass-produced bikes. It is normally the framebuilder who decides which tubes will give the frame the feel the customer wants, and their success at this depends on their knowledge and experience. Our research aimed to use computer aided design to compare the hundreds of different combinations of standard tubes from a range of manufacturers.

A range of existing frame geometries were subject to various in plane and out of plane loading conditions to examine the influence of tube profiles on the lateral stiffness and vertical compliance of steel frames. Previous work in this area focused on characterising the influence of overall frame geometries (tube lengths and angles) on the stiffness characteristics of frames, and as such this research focused on extending this work to analyse the influence of the steel tube sets available on the market to commercial frame builders and designers.

The intention was to develop a parametric model that could be driven using a single spreadsheet to control parametric changes to the frame geometry and individual tubes based on commercially available options to understand how changes to these parameters influence stiffness, compliance and ultimately strength characteristics of a frame.

Key findings

The results of this research allowed researchers to work out which top tube, down tube, seat tube, seatstays and chainstays would give the best balance between lateral stiffness and vertical compliance for a road bike.

The team are planning to take the knowledge from the computer-specified ideal frame and test a variety of real frames produced by a range of manufacturers.

The team presented their findings at The 7th Asia-Pacific Congress on Sports Technology in Barcelona in September 2015.
Effective start/end date1/10/1430/04/15


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