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How Funky Pi Mobility Bikes Tamed Quirky Curves With 3-D Software

This Bay Area-based startup manufactures ultra-slick bikes that look like nothing you’ve seen before. But that recycled aluminum arch wouldn’t have happened without cheap prototyping technology.

Pi Mobility bikes

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Pi Mobility doesn’t just make electric bicycles–the Bay Area-based startup manufactures ultra-slick bikes that look like nothing you’ve seen before. But designing the recycled aluminum arch found on PiCycle bikes wasn’t easy. It was a process that, according to CEO Marcus Hays, would have been pricey and time-consuming if not for the help of 3-D design software.

The company had been researching bike design for six years and had gone through six prototypes when it was given the opportunity to participate in Autodesk’s Clean Tech Partner Program earlier this year. The program supports clean technology startups by providing up to $150,000 worth of
design and engineering software for $50.

“In the space of zero days, we began making discoveries one after another, the most
critical being that if we altered the aluminum tubing formula ever so slightly, we would reduce the initial inventory cost of goods by
$360,000,” explains Hays. “By opening everything up half an inch, it made everything fit together
better and reduced all of the minor handwork that was causing us so much
difficulty. That single shift reduced our assembly time from 20 hours to four hours.”

Pi Mobility’s bikes still aren’t cheap–the cheapest model, which will be sold in Best Buy in Spring 2011, costs $2,995.99. But even that model (the Pi Cycle ST) has some impressive features, including a Wi-Fi-based “Pi-Q” Smart Phone Interface with USB
Keyless
Ignition, Wi-Fi tracking and remote diagnostics, and a charging time of just 3.5 hours.

Pi Cycle’s other 2011 model, the Pi Cycle Limited, retails for $4,995.99. And thanks to the company’s digital design capabilities, more models will probably be released soon. “We have 10 different vehicles on the drawing board, any one of which we could push out very quickly now,” says Hays.

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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