A custom recumbent trike and quad shop in Utah is taking 3D custom manufacturing on the road, every day, with a 3D printer on many desks.
By Mark Langlois
Customizing recumbent trikes as a business came to Ashley Guy, founder and president of Utah Trikes (UT), the first time he rode one. He liked it, but he wanted to personalize it, to customize it for himself. He wanted better trikes and he wanted everyone to know about it. He said kids on bicycles followed him around and people stopped him on the road and asked what it was. Armed with a band saw and drill press, he founded Utah Trikes when 2006 turned into 2007.
“Custom parts were in the DNA from day one,” said Guy in an interview with D2P. He rode bicycles for years, but his arms and wrists started to bother him. That happens to a lot of riders, he said. He wanted to try something else.
“Initially, I started out riding trikes. There was an immediate desire to make them better, to make them faster, lighter, more efficient. Then we set out figuring out how to make those parts to make it possible.”
Utah Trikes published hundreds of rider videos featuring young riders, and Guy said those videos and Utah Trikes’ blog alone are lowering the age of his customers. The videos may explore a single trike, or a single part, a quad, compare two trikes or quads, but what they all show is young people enjoying a ride. He said in the last five years, he’s seen the market evolve from the elderly to younger people who want to enjoy a ride. Now he isn’t sure if the market’s age demographic can be specified.
Utah Trikes uses video and a blog to get the word out, and because its custom parts fit on trikes or quads, video works particularly well. Company employees or customers appear to be enjoying themselves as they ride. Video titles include “Drilling and Tapping out Catrike Super Headrests,” and “How to Replace the Spindles on Your Catrike by Utah Trikes.” Another is “Removing A Wheel with a Sturmey Archer Full Drive Hub,” followed by “Catrike Allignment,” “Install a Derailleurs,” and “How to Adjust Your Chain Length and Boom Length.”
One 20-minute video focused on direct versus indirect steering, with advice to a customer to focus on the trike they want rather than the steering they heard about. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, the video said, with both being adjustable. Some riders said indirect steering had less vibration with a push-and-pull motion to it, while direct steering had a better road feel with a side-to-side movement. Direct steering was less expensive and more simple.
Guy knew from the beginning, from the interest people showed in his trike, that he might create a business around trikes.
“From the get-go, I wanted to make it a business. I started putting out videos and pictures and articles about what I was doing. I created a following right off the bat,” Guy said. “We became the Orange County Choppers of the trike industry. We work with various manufacturers of trikes and we customize their trikes.”
He said Orange County Choppers taught motorcycle buyers to ask for the custom fit or design they want.
“Most people who buy motorcycles aren’t buying from OCC, but when they walk into a motorcycle shop, they’ve learned to ask,” Guy said. “We sell a lot of parts to other bike shops as well.”
Bigger is better
In March, Utah Trikes expanded beyond its 15,000-square-foot Payson, Utah, headquarters and shop by moving into an additional 45,000-square-foot facility in Springville, Utah, 15 minutes away. The additional space will allow Utah Trikes to bring in more manufacturing equipment, more automation, and it will allow it to create a room for custom wheels and space for full production of the company’s eQuad.
When Guy talks about a custom quad, he’s talking about the company-designed Revolution eQuad, which is designed for customers who want a small car replacement, a golf cart, or an all-around riding vehicle, off-road or on-road. The Revolution eQuad features a UT-designed axle differential; rear suspension; custom UT-built wheels; and 1,000-watt motor, as well as plus/minus select motor power level; thumb throttle; reverse feature to back up; and intuitive tilt steering. It also has an optional rear brake; optional mirror; optional headrest; optional rear cargo rack; optional trailer hitch; and optional puncture protection.
The company can powder coat in any color. It manufactures mounts, accessibility aids, holders for canes, and clamps to hold displays. It also manufactures racks of all shapes and designs.
Utah Trikes, a dealer and customizer of trikes and quads, transforms off-the-shelf quads and trikes from other manufacturers to the point where each person’s ride is a “one-of-a-kind trike” for each “one-of-a-kind” rider.
“It used to be mainly an effort to make them wider, more efficient, and faster. In the last five years, fat tires have become really popular, and motors and electrifying have become more popular. We’re motorizing them. We’re making fatter tires. We’re making monster truck versions of trikes,” Guy said.
Utah Trikes is electrifying trikes for off-roading that used to be the playthings of the elderly in retirement communities.
Utah Trikes came a long way from the band saw and drill press of 2006 at its founding. It employs 36 people and tripled in space since 2020. For the new space, Guy ordered a programmable and automated saw that will speed cuts and free up the worker who used to stand there and watch the cut. He also ordered new welding equipment and mills.
Guy said 10 people used to run out of the shop and spend five hours unloading a 53-foot semi-tractor trailer. He said now it takes two people 15 minutes.
Heavy lifting before 3D printing
Before 3D printers, manufacturers might design a part in SolidWorks, machine a jig out of aluminum, and tweak it If necessary, they would design another jig and machine it again. At some time in the R&D process, they might decide enough is enough and make the part because they couldn’t justify the time it took to make the third jig. Guy said that process could cost thousands of dollars.
Today, company designers use 3D printers that run nearly all day. Guy operates a Stratasys 450 MC 3D printer using Nylon 12 carbon fiber to make parts, jigs, and fixtures. He uses the printer when a part has to be extra strong.
“Almost every day, all the printers are running. Now, with 3D printing, we can design a part, print it, test it, tweak it all we want, and once we’re done, we can get it machined,” Guy said. The 3D printing cost might be only 10 or 20 percent of the old process.
“The biggest thing the 3D printers allow us to do is go to manufacturing a lot faster,” Guy said. “We do a lot of things nobody else is doing. We powder coat frames. That was the first big piece of equipment and training we did. We build our own wheels, which seems like something most bike shops can do, but most don’t. Hardly any trike shops make their own wheels. We cut the spokes. We build the hubs. We offer fat tires, carbon fiber wheels. It’s a level of customization we offer.”
A more complete list of processes and capabilities at Utah Trikes includes powder coating, machining, cutting, bending, welding, and shaping aluminum.
“We machine it, paint it, anodize it, pretty much the whole process,” Guy said. “Our design capabilities are top of the line. That’s the big part. The first step in actually making new parts is being able to put them into CAD. You’ve got to be able to do that.
“The fact we’re experts in the parts we offer is a help,” he continued. “If we need to design a new part, we can do it in a cost-effective manner from the idea to having a CAD file to 3D printing a mock-up part, to testing it for fit and then machining the part for small batches or prototypes. We like to say we can do anything your wallet can afford. We can do it. It’s going to cost this much. You’d be surprised at how many people say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
The Stratasys 450 MC printer helped Utah Trikes solve one of its most challenging manufacturing problems.
The company faced a difficult manufacturing challenge of how to weld the head tubes on a quad that had as many as 10 angles, right and left, that had to mirror each other. “If they weren’t set precisely, it visibly looks wrong and the quad itself wouldn’t roll straight,” Guy said.
Eyeballing the weld doesn’t cut it
The old process called for workers to use measuring devices and eyeball the assembly as they welded it. “We did it, but it was extremely time consuming and there were times we’d weld it, and it wouldn’t be exact. We’d have to start over again,” Guy said. “Our particular problem was we didn’t have a five-axis mill.”
One idea was to hire another machine shop to make a jig, but the price was between $7,000 and $8,000. What if that jig was off? What if they needed to tweak it? The $8,000 jig just became a $16,000 jig. How long would it take? Guy said in order to hire the machine shop, they needed to design the jig in software, which they did. They had the file, but instead of hiring the machine shop, they used the Stratasys 450. It needed to be tweaked. They made revisions and printed it again.
“In the end, we made two sets. We were into it for $2,500. If a machine shop did it and tweaked it, it would have been $14,000 or $16,000,” he said.
Guy wrote about mounting a video camera on a trike in a blog post that described each iteration and its pros and cons. The first design, attaching the camera to his helmet, taught him he moved his head from right to left a lot. Without other riders, it was boring. He then attached the camera to the handlebars using a headlight mount, Home Depot hardware, and wing nuts.
He attached the recorder nearby so he could see what he was filming. He repurposed a water bottle holder and aluminum to hold the recorder. He could point the camera where he wanted but he had to loosen and then tighten the wing nuts each time. The handlebars vibrated and that ended up on the video, which he scrubbed using SteadyHand software.
To eliminate some of the vibration, his brother suggested a microphone shock mount, which he tried. He eliminated the wing nuts by using nylon lock nuts. To keep tension on the handlebar mounts, he used fender washers and two neoprene washers. The result was smoother, but still shaky because the camera was suspended in the mount. Guy revised the video mount by trying a basic mic clip, and he liked the results.
Among the tips for higher speed, Guy offers ideas for seat position, wheel alignment, tires, and aerodynamics, among others. He recommends setting the seat position forward to put the weight near the front crossbars. He said that for him, a recline allows him to pedal harder, but he said each rider has to find the right balance for themselves between pushing the pedals and aerodynamics.
Guy said the tires must be parallel or they scrub on the road, causing friction. He said linkage steering, rather than direct steering, reduces shaking and increases stability. He said smoother and harder tires under higher pressure improve speed.
For aerodynamics, Guy recommends a fairing over the driver that is close to the driver and low in front. That, plus a tail sock to reduce turbulence behind the trike, can add 3 to 7 mph. He also suggested looking over the trike to improve efficiency. The wheels must turn freely and not rub on the brakes. Training to be stronger is important, he said, and adding a hill to a daily climb may improve strength. Another option is 30 minutes of riding a day, starting in the lowest gear and pedaling as fast as possible. Move up a gear at a time as training continues.
Utah Trikes started manufacturing its eQuad in late 2019 and 2020, but Guy said full scale production will take off when UT occupies its larger facility.
“The big thing to do is a lot more fabrication and production work than we do now,” he said. “The big thing for us is to be less reliant on other manufacturers. Supply issues across the board became an issue in 2020. It used to be we’d order a trike, and in a couple of weeks, we had it. There are manufacturers now that are out 35 weeks. European manufacturers are out 20 weeks. The whole idea that we’re at the mercy of other manufacturers is something I never felt good about.”