by Ray Birks
I’m currently sitting in a back room, surrounded by the electronic whirring and precise sounding movements of 3D printers that are carefully depositing filament in a predetermined pattern to fabricate something from the minds of their creators. It’s comforting in a way, like subtle background music at a nice restaurant, and they keep the room warm because they operate at high temps. They’re still mesmerizing to watch, even after a few years of being around them, because you can basically dream something up, use free software to mock it up, then in a short period of time you’re holding it in your hand, for pennies on the dollar.
Last year I wrote You Say you Want a Revolution when I first started to dip my toe into the 3D printing world, in which I detailed some of the things I had printed. This year I started to design and modify some of my own parts using free software such as Tinkercad and OnShape and it’s exciting every time something comes off the printer, warm to the touch, like mom’s chocolate chip cookies.
I am an avid cyclist so my lens for creating and printing things is filtered through tire sealant splattered safety glasses. Here is an updated review of some of my recent prints which I noted have become less of a novelty and more practical. I usually find prints on a variety of sites including Thingiverse, Cults3d, Yeggi and STL Finder; not to mention good ol’ Google, and they were all either free or of nominal cost.
The first print I’m detailing I was able to reverse engineer in Tinkercad because it wasn’t quite the right size for its intended application. Originally it was a simple toothpaste tube squeezer that I wanted to use on my grease tubes. Being a cheapskate, I’m always pushing and milking the last bits out of my grease tubes hoping I can get just enough to erase a squeaky derailleur hanger or seatpost clamp. But the toothpaste model was too small so I was able to import it into Tinkercad, modify the design slightly and then print a new version that fit correctly. It works well and makes me happy every time I get to move it up ever so slightly on the grease tube.
Toothbrush Chain Cleaner – This print takes a bit longer and has two parts to it that screw together, but allows you to use those old toothbrushes to create an easy to use chain cleaner. I don’t use this to do a deep cleaning of my chain but it’s a quick after ride habit to get the dust and dirt off. If I printed this again I’d modify it to be slightly smaller so the toothbrush heads were closer together and have more scrubbing power. I also now find myself scouring the Dollar Store for hard bristled toothbrushes.
Nalgene Water Bottle Holder – This one has reaped immense benefits right out of the box. My son recently started bikepacking with me so I’ve had to think of ways to carry extra water. This cage lets me strap a Nalgene to my bike and doubles the amount of water that a normal water bottle provides. I was a little hesitant to take it on bumpy roads and trails but it survived a recent loop near Conconully on some rocky downhills without spilling a drop. I’m looking forward to using this on my next trip to Baja California where fresh water is at a premium. I printed this with hydrophobic filament for increased durability as it picks up less moisture and warps less than standard filament.
Stubby Hex Bit Holder – I saw this tool on the Berm Peak Express YouTube channel and although it’s probably not a crucial tool for the workshop, it does what it’s supposed to do very well. When you attach a water bottle to a frame sometimes the bottle cage gets in the way of a larger allen key. This tool makes it so you can easily tighten those bolts and since it’s smaller it may prevent you from over tightening and/or stripping sensitive bolts. It solves a problem that probably didn’t need to be solved in the first place but that’s not really the point. Hey! I made a tool!
Park Tool Repair Stand Tool Caddy – The most useful item in my workshop is my bike stand and the most useful accessory I’ve printed is this tool caddy. I already had a tool caddy from Park Tool that was a part of my system but this addition adds a lot more space and gives me a place to drop my allen keys and random parts.
Pegboard Tool Holder – I have a derailleur adjustment guide and it’s a bit unwieldy and doesn’t sit on my peg board very well. 3D print to the rescue. This specific tool holder is designed to cradle the Park Tool DAG-2.2 and it does its job dutifully and without complaint and at least makes me look like a competent bike mechanic.
Handlebar End Cap – I was working on my brother in law’s bike over the winter and noticed he was missing one of his end caps, which can cause injury in a crash if the bars swing into your leg or stomach so I printed one up that even had the logo of his bike on it.
AirTag Holder – There is a special place in hell for bike thieves. In fact, they may have their own version of hell that is even hotter and contains more pitchforks and gnashing of teeth. But with the recent introduction of Apple’s AirTags at least us bike owners have a fighting chance of tracking down the thieves and getting our bikes back. This AirTag holder goes under your water bottle cage or by itself using the same mounts and contains an AirTag. If you’ve never experienced what an AirTag can do, it sends out a secure Bluetooth signal that can be detected by nearby devices which in turn shows the location on your iPhone. It also alerts you when the AirTag, attached to your bike, leaves your current location. AirTags are heaven-sent.
Wheel Truing Stand Extensions – Because my wheel truing stand was a bit older, it didn’t work with larger 29” wheels unless I took the tire off. These extenders make the wheel stand taller and give me more height to drop in my wheels avec tires.
Bearing Press Cups – I printed these because I didn’t have a decent tool to help me press bottom bracket bearings into my frame. I had a process I’d cobbled together from Lowes but these additions make me more confident that I’m not going to mess things up.
Remote Holder for the Bike Shop – Every good shop deserves music and every good mechanic needs a remote so he doesn’t have to go across the shop to make adjustments. But where to put that remote? This quick print makes a handy remote holder that can be screwed into the wall or peg board to make the remote…less remote.
While 3D printing is no longer in its infancy it still is foreign to those who haven’t experienced it. There are still lots of possibilities as the technology and software progress, designers become more creative and printers and filament become better and cheaper. I understand 3D printers are not cheap and having access to one is a privilege so to some this may seem frivolous. But as one creator summed up his 3D printing journey with the quote, “I made that, it’s cool and I’m proud of that.”