DRAWING MADE WITH BIKECAD 'PRO'
BikeCAD is a bicycle design tool used by many frame designers, cycle stores and bike fitting specialists. I have personally been using it since 2013 and have updated my review inline with the many updates to their software during that time. Currently in 2023 there are three versions, two are 'Free' and another is their paid for 'Pro' version.
I do offer a few recommendations but this is not really a tutorial of how to use BikeCAD, as there are plenty of very informative 'YouTube BikeCAD videos' and instructions on their site. This is more a story highlighting the benefits of BikeCAD, it does appeal to a variety of users so I have broken it down into five sections:
BikeCAD Free Online: Benefits for the occasional user.
BikeCAD Free standalone: Comparisons between the 'Pro' and 'Free Online' versions
BikeCAD Pro: Benefits for a bike fitter.
BikeCAD Pro: Benefits for a frame designer.
BikeCAD Free & Pro: Drawing comparisons and conclusions.
DRAWING MADE WITH BIKECAD 'FREE'.
BOTH OF THE FREE VERSIONS STILL OFFER PLENTY OF DATA AND ABILITY TO CUSTOMISE COMPONENTS AND ACCESORIES SUCH AS BOTTLES, CAGES AND BAGS
BikeCAD FREE ONLINE:
For the occasional user the free version is more than adequate, with enough data and configuration options to be of immense value. For those who do not want to download the 'standalone version' programme onto a computer the online option is the one for you. There are two ways to start composing a drawing via their 'Quick start menu' or 'Design Archive', originally via a Java plugin (that you can still use but only on 'Internet Explorer'), but now by default it is set to open in any browser, simply click on the 'Open model in Bikecad' green tab and wait for it to load.
Important note as quoted from BikeCAD: "The free ONLINE version of BikeCAD takes a very long time to load. After the loading message disappears from the screen, the screen may remain blank for a couple of minutes as the app prepares to launch." That's valid, it does and you do have the be patient; very patient! I have updated all my drawings to the browser version as I couldn't get the Java plugin method to work anyway, in reality the Java version has effectively been superseded. Note you need to be 'signed in' (joining their site is free) to save your drawings, which you can keep private or allow others to view.
Understandably being online it is slower compared to the other two versions that are loaded onto your computer and run offline, but you will find it clicks through fast enough; note it is far quicker if you do not display the chain and rear derailleur. Technically you can add brand logos but it can struggle with these, potentially causing it to crash, although for aesthetics you can add writing to the frame and components as I have below, this is different to uploading a brand logo and causes no issues. I have used this method of composing a drawing many times and it's consistently fast and stable; I'd definitely suggest making this the default way of using BikeCAD Free online.
Many use the free version after a 'bike fit', to see how their 'fit' data matches an 'off the peg bike'. Most manufacturers list their relevant frame geometry data that will allow you to quickly recreate the bike via the 'primary dimension' box. A second option is if there is a bike from their design archive close to what you need you can upload that and amend it to your own design, you then add your bike fit data to see what the 'bike fit' will look like.
Many bike fitters now use jigs such as 'Retul','Trek Precision fit'', Guru or Shimano, which will provide the rider with four key bike fit contact points, Saddle height and setback, then reach and drop to the bars. These key measurements will often be supplied as handlebar and saddle X & Y, shown above as 479-650mm and 236-722mm, or 225-677mm from the saddle clamp; all of which are easy to add to the drawing so you can then clearly see if the bike is suitable.
The Pro version can display even more measurements that in fairness are much easier to measure on an actual bike than the X & Y coordinates are.
BikeCAD FREE, STAND ALONE VERSION: In 2021 a second free version option was introduced, that like the Pro version is loaded directly onto a computer, (click for a link to the download page one their site) and compared to the online free version is far quicker. This version has a similar user experience interms of stability and speed to the Pro version but with limited features as you'd expect, although it does offer more features than the online version, such as BikeCAD Morphing that many find useful when comparing one drawing to another. The downside compared to the online version is you have to download the programme to your computer, that aside it's definitely the 'free version' to choose as some of the issues I referenced with the online version like adding brand logos and stability do not apply.
FROM SIZING FIT, TO BikeCAD PRO DRAWING TO COLLECTION FIT
BikeCAD PRO BENEFITS TO A BIKE FITTER:
The 'Pro' edition is loaded directly onto a computer and once installed can be used without internet connection with a one off fee of $750.00 (Canadian). Note there is no subscription there after and includes updates.
When a customer visits the store for a 'sizing fit' to work out what size bike they need, I can add their bike fit data to the bike I have drawn up for them; I already have the popular models we stock on file in each size. For other manufacturers I can quickly compose one as most list the geometry, for fitting purposes you need not be as comprehensive, a totally effective yet basic drawing with less paint, logos and tube profiles can be composed very quickly.
The picture above is a typical example of where BikeCAD helps me as a bike fitter, I can use the jig to obtain the 'fit' data, add that to the drawing and vice versa. In this case the customer was considering the longer lower more aggressive Trek Emonda, BikeCAD will show me the data I need to set up the jig for each bike so they can 'feel' the difference, I can then 'show' them that difference on the drawing. You can even morph one drawing into another to view the transition, not only highlighting the difference between the 'fit' but also the bike design and associated riding experience. This is particularly useful during the sizing fit for a new bike, as in this example we were comparing the focused Trek Emonda to the more compliant Trek Domane, the morphing transition can help illustrate how in part that is achieved.
All the key components that influence the fit can be changed and then adjusted such as bars, stem, headset spacers, saddle angle and setback; just like they can on a real bike and again all transferable to the jig. I can even learn what length seatmast I need to order. On the 'Domane' Trek offer four different masts, BikeCAD can clearly show me which would be suitable; with an RRP of £189.99 getting that right first time is of great benefit.
As a 'BikeCAD Pro' user I can export the drawing as a pdf or Jpeg then email it to them; because I have access to more data in the Pro version I will automatically include some that's easier to cross to reference on their current bike, such as bar height for example. If the customer is using 'BikeCAD Free' I can also send them the 'BikeCAD Pro' file, as it will upload and automatically convert it to their free account.
BikeCAD PRO, CARBON FRAME, DISC BRAKES, INTERNAL SEAT MAST
BikeCAD PRO BENEFITS TO A BIKE DESIGNER
This part of my review was written during my time at Enigma Bicycle Works, where I was their Bike Fitter and custom geometry frame designer, which is the focus of what BikeCAD is set up to be of course; a bicycle design tool. The following was a story of a customer's visit who wanted a UK built titanium bike, with a 'classic look' and low front end. Although written in 2013 the journey is as valid now as it was then.
Enigma Build Story: After the initial consultation and a fitting we can start to design the frame geometry around the parameters of both the bike fit and desired riding experience. The first drawing below is shown in this way so the customer can see their relevant bike fitting data and dreams come together, then how that will then translate into a complete bike. Gradually the design and drawing evolves as options and adjustments are discussed and implemented.
All the relevant frame and bike fit measurements are clearly shown to be viewed and analysed, we can even choose the final build colours, wheel dimensions and even logos' to give an even clearer indication of what the completed bike will look like. Any relevant adjustments are easily made and seen, as the frame-bike design gradually evolves and the alterations can be dismissed or retained as appropriate.
BikeCAD PRO DRAWING SHOWING FRAME DESIGN & BIKE FIT DATA
In this case the customer wanted a lower front end than they could find off the peg, we can show how much the drop to the bars can be achieved with a custom geometry frame, plus we can change the amount of spacers under the stem, flip the stem and even change the stem's angle, increase the stem length, rotate the bars, change reach and drop of the bars and even reposition the brake levers on the bars, all relevant to the overall bike fit.
As a frame designer we can focus on the relevant data in numbers, just as valuable is the customer can visibly see how the complete bike will look, especially when the fit was completed using the jig. After all nothing worse than seeing their face drop on collection, "I didn't think the completed bike would end up looking like that"! Well with BikeCAD they can see just what it will end up looking like.
You can stipulate tube sizes in BikeCAD and even show how close the mitered top and down tube interface with the head tube, look carefully and it's clear that the bottom of the top tube doesn't quite meet the top of the down tube and leaves space for the multi-pass welds; that gap replicated perfectly on the actual built frame, a credit to both the accuracy of the BikeCAD software and the build team and significantly it was just what the customer both needed and wanted; perfect.
BikeCAD PRO DRAWING FOR THE BUILD TEAM.
The 'BUILD TEAM' frame drawing is actually the same as the 'FRAME DESIGN & BIKE FIT DATA' one shown earlier, but with the Bike Fit data substituted with the data the build team need; they also don't need the components so they have been removed. You can create and save templates that help with this, in this case I simply select a saved template to change the display from a bike to a frame, then another saved template to change the data, which makes morphing between the two drawings quick and easy.
BIKE DRAWING, TO FRAME DRAWING, TO COMPLETED BIKE
Designed by Paul Smith, tubes cut and mitered by Max Norrell, welded by Joe Walker, bead brushed and mirror polished logos' Jaco Ehlers, the mirror polished logos' were then anodised by Greg Stevens who then skilfully built this stunning frame into a stunning bike; the end result, a true Enigma. Designed and built by the Enigma Team in Hailsham, Sussex, England.
COMPARING SIMILAR DRAWINGS COMPOSED IN BikeCAD PRO & FREE ONLINE
The more intricate the drawing, both in design and logos, the more appealing the Pro Edition of BikeCAD is to use. I composed all three drawings above separately. In Bike CAD free not displaying the chain and rear derailleur made such a big difference to the speed, not uploading brand logos, also cured any stability issues I had.
First drawing: BikeCAD Pro, lots of data, very fast and stable
Second drawing: BikeCAD Free online, less data can be shown, plus with chain and derailleur displayed this proved a bit to much for my laptop to cope with. Being online it is understandably slower, which is not really an issue, what was is that it crashed quite frequently when I attempted to upload brand logos, to the extent I gave up and I reduced the amount I added; note adding text to frame and components is not a problem. I tested this several times over a period of weeks on two different Windows 10 laptops, both up to date, reasonable specification and normally relatively fast, I used Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Firefox on each laptop; both had the same issue on all three browsers. I tested them again when Windows 11 became available when updated some of the drawings; with the same results.
Third drawing: BikeCAD Free online, no chain and derailleur and I did not attempt to upload brand logos, (again note text would have been OK). Clicking through each change was quicker compared to the second drawing, 100% stable with no crashes. I have used this method many times on many different drawings, it's by far the best compromise of speed, stability and data shown; you could always add the rear derailleur and chain at the end, save that drawing and then try to upload brand logos if desired. Yes I have referenced this method as a compromise, but the reality is it's not much of one, all you really miss out on is the ease of uploading logos, and if you are very patient then you can even do that; it's both free and impressive! I Recommend using this method with the free online version. Better still, download the Standalone version as many of those issues no longer apply.
BikeCAD Pro: For a professional bike fitter and frame builder it's a valuable piece of software; very fast, stable, with lots of data.
BikeCAD Free online: For the occasional user providing drawings are composed without displaying the chain and rear derailleur and you don't upload logos it's fast enough, stable enough and with enough data; it may be a diluted version of the Pro edition but it's still very impressive.
BikeCAD Free standalone: Personally I'd use this over the online version as it is has more speed, more features and is more stable; you can always upload the drawings to the BikeCAD website if you would like them online instead of locally on your computer. It's a massive improvement and closes the gap performance wise between the 'Free online' and 'Pro' versions; it's very impressive.
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