Talking to creator of 3D printing startup PrintMyRoute

As a cycling enthusiast, there’s a good change that you’ve received some truly crap bike-related gifts from family and friends.

How many miniature bicycle-print socks can one person own? Whilst gifts that reflect our biggest passion are always a thoughtful gesture, most items presented by those who don’t know their derailleurs from their handlebars are simply your standard selection of safe-present options – and dull ones at that – with a crudely drawn bike adorning the front. Fortunately, you may not have to resign yourself to receiving another penny farthing-sporting tie this Christmas thanks to the latest invention of cycling enthusiast and entrepreneur Jake Morgan.

Hi Jake, can you tell us a little bit about where your idea came from?
I was first inspired to print 3D routes when I saw some of the Tour de France stage visualisations. I love working with data and maps – I’m also a passionate cyclist myself, and in awe of athletes and their amazing achievements – and I thought it would be a cool idea to see what a 3D printed model of my own Strava routes would look like.

When did you start the company and what kind of attention have you received so far?
I purchased our first 3D printer three months ago and I’ve been 3D printing Strava routes ever since! I’ve been refining the process and making tweaks here and there. After I’d made a few good prints, I spoke to a few members of my local cycling club who all liked the concept. Our 3D printed routes initially spread by word of mouth, and I decided to start the website last month and at the same time began promoting on social media. Feedback so far has been great, people seem genuinely interested in the product. I’ve also been surprised by the number of runners enquiring about the product, but after seeing some of their routes I can see why!

How do you actually create the pieces?
We can take pretty much any GPS data file – for example an exported GPX file from Strava, or a TCX file from your Garmin – run it through our software and make a few tweaks to make sure it looks good. We’ll then ask the customer if they’re happy with the preview – e.g does it look impressive enough? This is then passed to a 3D printer. We had the option of printing in various different materials and opted for PLA which is a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources.

How long does it take to print a route?
It generally takes between two and six hours for a full print. The bigger and more complex the route the longer it takes.

What’s the biggest route you’ve ever made?
Our biggest route so far has to be a nearly 2000km route for a John o’Groats to Land’s End ride. However, short routes look just as impressive as long ones. The Alpe d’Huez seems to be very popular at the moment. It’s ‘only’ 14km but with 21 hairpins and an average gradient which stays above eight per cent, it’s a really visually appealing and interesting 3D print and a great reminder of the pain of the ascent and the exhilaration at the summit!

What variations can customers get?
We have three main variations of 3D prints to choose from; the Linear Elevation Profile is a side on view of the route showing you the lumpy ascents and descents over the course of route – it’s a 3D print of a 2D profile. Then we have the popular Map Profile, which is a miniature scale map of the route – essentially adding an extra dimension to the linear profile, and we’re also offering Pre-Made routes, so those are routes that won’t necessarily have GPS data available – e.g. if someone did the Alpe d’Huez but didn’t record it with a GPS device. We’ve also added the climb to Everest base camp and will soon be adding the Nuerburgring/Nordschleife and other popular circuits to this category. We’ll also soon be offering another option – a 3D print mounted in a box frame which will include a plaque featuring for example the name of the route and date etc. And of course, we can print in different a variety of different colours!

How accurate are the renderings?
The renderings we produce are incredibly accurate, basically the route you rode is what you’ll see in the rendering and this is what you’ll get when it’s 3D printed.

Obviously 3D printing is coming on leaps and bounds, do you see the format taking a greater lead in the cycling industry?
I’ve been following 3D printing for a number of years, I find it a fascinating process and there’s potentially no limit to what you can create – I say potentially because there are still limitations in the materials that can be printed. I’d love to be able to print my own chain-rings, and cassettes, and one day I’m sure it’ll be possible to do just that. As for the cycling industry, I can definitely see it being adopted for bespoke components – maybe where cyclists require very specific measurements made to a high precision – I think Chris Froome has bespoke 3D printed parts made for him. In its current form, it’s still a quite a time consuming process but I’m sure it’ll become more efficient as the technologies mature and maybe the cycling industry will begin to adopt it over more traditional methods of manufacturing.

What are your aspirations for the future of the brand?
It’s really hard to say as we’ve really only just started on our journey but it would be great for PrintMyRoute to become and established and recognisable brand, where the majority of cyclists, runners and other athletes are aware of what we do and would consider a 3D print of their latest route as something as normal and as ordinary as a coffee and cake stop!

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