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Trek patent hints at fully custom 3D printed saddles and MTB grips

Could your next bike saddle be tailored specifically to your backside?

Matthew Loveridge
2 Dec 2021

Bike and component maker Trek has filed a patent describing a system that could be used to make individually-tailored 3D printed saddles. Titled Bicycle saddle with zonal compliance and filed in March 2021, the patent covers a series of steps from pressure mapping the rider-saddle interface, to creating a 3D printed lattice that's specifically adapted to the rider's backside. 

3D printing is already being used to make high-end saddles including the Fizik Adaptive models and Specialized's Mirror, but as yet, no brand has offered a fully custom option. 

Saddle makers have attempted all manner of methods for matching riders to seats with notable examples including sit bone width-measuring Specialized Ass-O-Meter, Fizik's Spine Concept, Selle Italia's idmatch, and various demo programmes. 

These schemes can give a useful starting point when it comes to saddle choice, but no brand has found the silver bullet that would create a perfect match every time. 

It's perhaps far-fetched, but 3D printing could perhaps offer the most viable option to date.

What does the patent actually say?

Trek's patent credits engineer Alan Baryudin as the inventor, and details a 'saddle design system' that gathers and stores 'rider-saddle pressure values' before processing them to generate a 'saddle base' constructed in the form of a 3D printed lattice. 

In simple terms, that might mean a rider sits on a special pressure-mapping saddle in a bike shop, a computer goes bleep blorp, and a 3D printer either in the shop itself or more likely in some far-flung factory gets to work making a custom saddle. 

As is usual with patents, the scope of the design is pretty broad, leaving many possible avenues open. 

It suggests 3D printing as a manufacturing method but alludes to 'other fabrication techniques' as well.

Importantly, it notes that the 'system can be used to generate custom saddle designs for individual users and mass market designs tailored to different groups of riders based on riding style, rider size, rider weight, rider sex, etc.' perhaps hinting that, like its rivals, Trek will first offer non-custom 3D printed saddles, but that fully bespoke ones are the ultimate ambition. 

The patent also gives some insight into how a custom programme might work, allowing for an approach that combines data measurement and algorithmic processing with input from a human user – a bit fit specialist, perhaps – and rider feedback.

Data would be gathered from a special saddle that incorporates 'a plurality of pressure sensors' that might be part of the cover, or built into its base.

'If any areas of concern [ie, excessive pressure] are identified, a pressure reduction goal is set for each identified area, and the reduction goals and original pressure data are fed into a saddle design application (or algorithm).'

The patent suggests that standard 3D printing materials such as polyurethanes might be used to construct the saddles, but allows for alternatives and also proposes that specialist strain rate hardening materials such as Rheon might be used as part of the design. 

Rheon, incidentally, has already made an appearance in bike tech – Chromag uses it for its Rift mountain bike knee pads.

3D printed mountain bike grips

The patent doesn't stop at saddles. As a bonus, it also details a 3D printed grip that would presumably be used on mountain bikes, and perhaps other flat bar designs. 

Shown only in cross-section, it's proposed that the grips could be made based on data collected from sensor and/or rider feedback, with a similar approach to the saddles.

Is 3D printing the future?

Custom 3D printed components will always be more complicated and expensive to produce than more simple mass-market designs, so it's highly unlikely we'll see them taking over completely. 

However, the possibilities are intriguing, and truly custom saddles could be a game changer for riders who struggle to get comfortable with off-the-peg designs, particularly those whose physiology isn't entirely symmetrical. 

As ever with patents though, there's no telling if this one will result in an actual product or products. 

Trek's UK representative gave us a boilerplate response when asked about the patent: 'Trek is always in development of new products. Trek will provide information on new products when they are available for all riders around the world to enjoy.'

Does 3D printing tickle your fancy? Read the full patent here.

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