36T is a startup based in Torquay, Victoria who have just announced that they plan to manufacture and sell carbon fiber road racing wheels in Australia. This is exciting news as Australian bicycle and bike equipment manufacture has all but disappeared.
The manufacture of bikes and cycling equipment has long been centered around Taiwan and China, including for iconic and innovative Australian brands such as Malvern Star, Bont and Knog. There are, of course, the custom framemakers who produce locally including Darren Baum, Ewen Gellie, Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch, Paul Hillbrick and Peter Bundy, all with great reputations and with a focus on ‘custom’ rather than scaled production.
Joining this group of Aussie manufacturers with their carbon fiber wheels, 36T was founded by Jon Partington, a mechanical engineer with experience in automotive and motorsport engineering, and by Simon Pilkington who is a computer-aided engineer with aerospace experience, as well as the obligatory automotive experience. In collaboration with the Deakin University’s School of Engineering, 36T will utilise the ‘cutting edge’ capabilities at Carbon Nexus which is the university’s multi-million dollar carbon fiber research facility for R&D as well as production. Their mission: “to design and manufacture the world’s best cycle wheels.”
To pursue this bold aim, this young company has been awarded a $25,000 grant ‘Smart Design Voucher’ from the Victorian State Government, which fosters innovation to build new export opportunities.
Competing against Asian Manufacturers
I asked the company how they can compete against the skill and cost-savings of Taiwanese manufacture. The Taiwanese not only produce the bulk of the worlds’ carbon fiber frames and bike equipment, they are also regarded as the best in this field.
“36T is based close to Geelong, in Victoria (Australia). Geelong has a strong manufacturing history, and today has a focus on high tech manufacturing. Deakin University is producing some excellent talent through its engineering science and sports technology courses. Carbon Nexus is available to allow us to develop new materials, and companies such as Carbon Revolution (manufacturers of carbon fiber car wheels) are paving the way for high tech manufacture right here in Geelong.
Further, whilst there is skill associated with the effective production of composite components, the sensitivities and practices in manufacture are well documented. In contrast to our Asian counterparts, 36T is responsible for both the design and manufacture of our products, and is aware of these sensitivities at a fundamental level. Such awareness enables 36T to develop designs sympathetic to manufacture in the very early phases of concept and detailed design development.”
What is the 36T Wheelset Advantage?
“We design highly-engineered wheels,” says 36T co-founder, Simon Pilkington, “that aim to offer the rider the very best combination of performance in terms of weight, inertia and stiffness. We want to offer a product with a vastly superior quality of manufacture and finish, and sell it at a competitive price.”
36T front wheel conceptional render
36T rear wheel conceptional render
At this stage, very little technical information has been released, however hints have been dropped that weight and stiffness are the key performance factors. In wheelset design there are considered to be three performance factors: aerodynamics, stiffness, and weight. Achieving two of these attributes is often at cost of the third, i.e. a lightweight and stiff wheel places a lower priority on aerodynamic capabilities. I asked 36T about their performance priorities and whether aerodynamics would take a back seat to weight and stiffness.
“As the first entrant in a new quiver of wheels, 36T wanted to satisfy the most general use conditions faced by the competitive athlete, with particular attention to mass start events such as road racing and criteriums. In criteriums and road-race events, rarely is low yaw-angle drag the most significant influencing attribute. Attention must be focused moreover on wheel stability, low turning moment (induced by cross-winds), low inertia, and high lateral/torsional stiffness. 36T believes a 35mm x 25mm semi-toroidal rim profile is best suited to this application.
“But does this mean 36T totally disregarded aerodynamics? Absolutely not! Our Aero development is currently constrained to the virtual world using CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) FEA (Finite Element Analysis), which is another reason for first developing a less Aero-focused first product, but design efforts and decisions have always included aero-attributes. Our asymmetric rear-wheel spoke design reduces the NET ‘wetted’ spoke area (area of the spoke in contact with the wind) by preserving a spoke count of 16pcs, but increasing the section of the drive-side spokes, and selectively changing the reinforcement fibre used. Our drive-side spoke nest has >170% the ultimate load capacity of the non-drive side nest, and is nearly 2x as stiff, but has only a 30% increase in surface area, minimising the aerodynamic impact of the higher structural requirements of the rear-wheel spokes.
This looks new, the spokes appear to ‘wrap’ around the hubs
“The sum of 36T’s efforts has resulted in an extremely competent wheel-set for conditions ranging from alpine ascents/descents, criterium events and sprints, to technical courses and adverse weather conditions. Our CFD data shows highly competitive drag coefficients and turning moments through a broad range of yaw angles, whilst boasting significantly reduced mass.”
On the road with 36T
The young Australian company want to deliver a competitive ‘all-rounder’ carbon fiber wheelset for competitive road cyclists. They are on-track to send out their ‘evaluation wheels’ shortly to their brand ambassadors and testers for feedback and quality assurance.
Prototype of the 36T
I enquired about availability and pricing, “The first production wheels will be available by mid-year, although in limited quantities. 36T pricing will be competitive with other brands of carbon intensive wheels, and include our additional patent-pending technology advantages.”
As an Australian brand who are taking the bold step to manufacture locally, I look forward to supporting 36T and wish the team success and growth. To find out more, visit www.36t.com.au