3D Printing Is Changing The Concept of Custom Gear

3D printing helps these three companies create bespoke gear for discerning triathletes.

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3D printing helps these three companies create bespoke gear for discerning triathletes. 

As futuristic as it sounds, 3D printing can trace its roots to the basic ink jet printer. The revolutionary step to 3D printing occurred in 1983, when engineer Charles Hull invented the stereolithograph, a machine that could make 3D objects from a digital file using UV light and photopolymer, a honey-like substance. The next big innovation came soon thereafter when engineers at the University of Texas at Austin created the selective laser sintering (SLS) machine. SLS uses lasers to fuse together materials layer by layer. These technologies are how gear companies are now making custom items for triathletes who crave the perfect fit. Below, three brands leading the charge.

Skelmet Falcon 1 Sunglasses

$229–$439, Skelmet.com

What started out as an idea in November 2014 to create truly custom sunglasses using 3D technology became a company with a working prototype just one short year later. After finalizing the suppliers and manufacturing process, co-founders Rain Wang, a mathematician and Miss Universe Canada finalist, and electrical engineer James Cao launched Skelmet on Indiegogo in February 2017, and they’ve already surpassed their funding goal of $20,000. Buyers begin by scanning their head using the free Skelmet app. Then Skelmet prints your glasses using nylon filament for better flexibility and weight (they come in at a scant 17 grams, about the weight of three nickels). The hingeless design does help create a custom fit but also makes them harder to store. They don’t look any different than other sunglasses, but they do flex a bit more without feeling flimsy. Available in graphite black, sapphire black or white, five lens tints are available as are polarized lenses (lenses can be swapped out) plus there is a prescription lens option. If you have struggled to find a pair of sunglasses that are just right, or want the absolute lightest sunglasses, these are for you.

XLAB Custom Mounts

$30–$40, Xlab-usa.com

While XLAB hydration and fueling products fit the majority of bars on the market, there are a few exceptions. Some aerobars measure more than 22.2mm in diameter, and some athletes put their bars so wide that the standard clamps for XLAB’s Torpedo Versa System are inadequate. To combat this problem, XLAB 3D prints special clamps custom fitted to your bars ($30 for the clamps that fit oversized bars, $40 for the clamps that expand the mounting width). You send your bar specs to XLAB, who will print your clamp in 3 to 10 days using a high-strength polyamide plastic. From a distance, these parts are indistinguishable from the standard XLAB components. Upon closer inspection, they have a slightly rough texture and you can just make out the small lines that formed during the process. They feel every bit as hard and durable as any other bracket, so don’t be concerned about their longevity. Only available via special order, interested buyers can contact Sales@xlab-usa.com.

Raceware 3D Mounts

Prices vary, Racewaredirect.co

Based in the U.K., Raceware got its start in 2012 and has an impressively large line of computer and camera mounts and brackets created using the 3D process. Specific to triathletes, they also offer bar end plugs and disc valve hole covers too. Raceware uses nylon filament for its products in order to offer colors other than black, and select products can be made using carbon fiber. The nylon offers a bit more flexibility than plastics, which is needed to be able to get the mount onto the bar, but is still plenty durable for everyday abuse. Buyers can choose from 11 colors, and you can even add your own name.

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