Innovation built into parts includes correct calculations to guarantee low weight and high resistance so rack can safely support all types of bicycles on the market (photo: 3HM)
Published on 05/12/2021
By Eduardo Geraque | FAPESP Innovative R&D – Five years ago, the mountain biking craze that took place in Brazil raised a technical question in the minds of Helton and Heitor Machado. Car bicycle racks were not always functional. The alternative, removing the front wheel and placing the dismantled bicycle in the trunk, was complicated and did not leave room for other baggage, a no-go when travelling on vacation or for other longer journeys. “Surely there’s another way,” the brothers thought.
“We had the idea of designing a new type of rack fastened really securely to the car roof with suction pads,” recalls Helton, who at the time was a mechanical engineering student at Piracicaba Methodist University (UNIMEP) in São Paulo State, Brazil. He and his brother Heitor, who had a degree in accountancy and finance, decided to found 3HM Suporte de Equipamentos Esportivos in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, not far from Piracicaba.
Their first product, called LevaBike, took three years to develop and meet feasibility requirements. The front wheel of the bicycle is removed, and the fork is gripped by a crossbar between two large suction pads anchored to the car roof. The rear wheel is tied fast to a third suction pad. The rack is easily stowed when not in use and takes up very little room in the trunk.
Once the design was ready and they had built the parts for a prototype, they embarked on the testing stage. In partnership with the local unit of global auto parts supplier Denso, the brothers drove the assembled device bearing two bicycles through a wind tunnel blowing at 180 km/h without affecting the stability of the rack or damaging the car roof in any way.
Air temperatures ranged from -20 °C to 50 °C during the trials. “All testing of the equipment, including tests performed by other specialists, showed the suction pads to be secure and resistant,” says Heitor, the brother in charge of managing the firm.
Design, materials research and perfect machining of parts were key to the success of their first prototype. The innovations included correct calculations to guarantee low weight and high resistance so that the rack could safely support all types of bicycles on the market.
Among the problems detected by the innovators in their analysis of existing products was that some did not fit certain vehicle models. “We have 45 types of car in Brazil. We were able to develop a rack that works well with 80%,” Heitor says.
However, they did fail to create a system that would enable bicycles to be transported without removing the front wheel, so the design required further technological advances. In early 2018, the first prototype of a new product called Top LevaBike won funding from FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE). According to Helton, the results were positive. This product can be used with 98% of the cars sold in Brazil, and the bicycle can be transported without any disassembly.
“Technically speaking, we improved load performance and suction pad geometry,” Helton says. The overall weight of the rack was also reduced, and the bicycle’s front wheel does not need to be removed.
Top LevaBike has not yet been brought to market. The main challenge is implementing a more robust production line. “In PIPE Phase 1, we validated the concept and executed a prototype using a 3D printer, resin, and low-productivity dies. We now need to develop the dies and tools for mass production of Top LevaBike so that the product is commercially viable,” he explains.
The success of the first product has attracted customers abroad, according to Heitor Machado. The suction pads were presented at a number of trade shows and sold in other Latin American countries, especially Colombia. “The bike market is set to continue expanding. Our results in January 2018 were up to 50% year over the year. The outlook is very promising,” he says.
Five years after entering the market, 3HM has sold more than 6,000 units of its first product in Brazil and abroad. “LevaBike is one of our flagship products, but we’re also betting on the launch and success of Top LevaBike to meet the needs of a larger group of customers. Partnering with FAPESP is essential for innovative small firms to develop competitive products for the domestic and export markets,” Heitor says.