By 'open-source', I mean where people see the internals of each other's designs, and build on each other's works, as they do in science (or in 'open-source' software development).

I am a bit tired of 'black box, it's just magic' methods where I'm expected to simply believe in something, without being able to see exactly what that thing is and how it works.

I think it is very cool to reuse ideas and plans: so are there 'open-source' bike designs?

  • Are you asking about bike frames or bike parts? The frames are basically open source since they're unpatentable and frequently copied/modified. Components are often patented and are much higher precision so just having a part is often not enough to let you reproduce it. For example, an "open source" hydraulic brake caliper would involve the design drawings and high precision manufacturing, whereas there's a lot of detailed information about framebuilding freely available.
    – Мסž
    Feb 16, 2011 at 23:45
  • @hhh: I've assumed you're asking about frames rather than components. I hope that's what you want to discuss.
    – Мסž
    Feb 17, 2011 at 2:29
  • What's "wirtchaft"? Feb 17, 2011 at 16:21
  • @hhh - I still don't understand the sentence that the word is in. Can you rephrase? Also, if this question is about frames, can you please clarify it to say that? Feb 18, 2011 at 0:22
  • 1
    @Neil and @hhh - I edited the OP to rephrase, based on my understanding of 'open-source'.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 18, 2011 at 17:27

3 Answers 3

  1. openbike.org (itself open) has inspired independent projects such as Jetrike (whose author makes plans available).

  2. Expired patents may also count as open source because inventions must be fully disclosed. See for example a linked braking system from 1978, Calderazzo's US Patent #4102439, which makes it very difficult to flip yourself over the bars. (I read about this in Bicycling Science by David Gordon Wilson, Jim Papadopoulos, & Frank Rowland Whitt.)


In a way bike frames are inherently open source. Since you get a copy of the entire object you can do what you wish with it. Since almost all the ideas are old and unpatentable, even modern intellectual property laws don't apply to much of it. The precision is relatively low, and the rider insensitive to small variations, so it's possbile to reproduce most of the design from measuring the final product. This is less true with composite parts, and suspension design is sufficiently specialised that simply copying the geometry is unlikely to work. Materials do change shape slightly during manufacture, but allowing for that is fairly straightforward for the most part (but for example thermoplastics with a 10% size change on cooling are much harder).

Most of the real design effort goes into making the frame work well with everything you bolt onto it. Getting a description of the design thought process would be more useful, but that's a book-length project at the very least. Tiny things like where exactly you put rack mounting points or at what exact angle the cable stops go can take hours of thought and experimentation. It's not micrometre accuracy, but a millimetre either way can often be crucial.

Then we swing way out of the mainstream and start designing frames for cargo bikes, recumbents or tall bikes. Here the design effort is often more about getting something that works rather than something that's extremely polished, simply because the market is not very mature (meaning it's not a contest for a fixed-size market, it's possible to build your own entirely new market). One you move away from "diamond frame bicycle" the design gets a lot more complex. Simple things like rideability are not widely well understood and some universities offer physics courses in dynamic stability focussed on bicycles. Sample explanation here. Wikipedia has an outline

You can buy detailed plans for a couple of different recumbent trikes, and Ricky Horowitz's Thunderbolt plans are free and public, but still copyrighted. An open source design for a particular type of bike frame would be mostly useful as a collaborative design exercise. I suspect few people would build exactly what was described, so documenting the design process might be a more useful focus than simply describing the results.

  • Most of the real design effort goes into making the frame work well with everything you bolt onto it
    – user313
    Feb 17, 2011 at 2:06

You could start making your own design at Thingiverse and see whether people will build on it. Maybe look at some existing designs on Instructables or Atomic Zombie and work from there.

  • Although don't directly copy the Atomic Zombie designs as that would be unethical.
    – Amos
    Feb 17, 2011 at 6:23
  • ...since their designs aren't open source. But it might give you a starting point for designing your own.
    – Amos
    Feb 18, 2011 at 11:51

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