Designing Freedom for Disabled People to Enjoy the Great Outdoors
: April 9, 2020
In 1996 Christian Bagg was a 20-year-old outdoor enthusiast living large when a snowboarding accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.
After his injury, Bagg wanted to return to a life of doing whatever he wanted, which involved an unabashed love of the outdoors and, let’s face it, being an adrenaline junkie. Still, even readily available wheelchairs would not adequately accommodate his considerable height, much less avail him of the needed freedom his thrill seeking requires. That motivated Bagg to spend the past two decades developing wheelchairs, skis, and other conveyances that enable paraplegics, quadriplegics, and other disabled people to visit and explore the great outdoors.
Bagg’s most prized invention is a mountain bike he designed and built for himself. Little did he know that loaning one of his bikes to a camp for disabled children would change his life—again. Bagg witnessed a 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who rarely spoke, return excited and energized from her first-ever experience of complete freedom on a bike.
Her exclamation after the ride: “Best day of my life!” was a turning point for Bagg. Her incredible joy helped galvanize the mission of the company he eventually founded: He would make access to mountain trails, woodland hikes, and the beauty of the great outdoors a reality for disabled people around the world.
Bagg was studying to be a machinist when he was injured, so he had knowledge of how things work, but minimal design skills. The powerful and easy-to-use capabilities of SOLIDWORKS® compensated for his lack of design experience.
When he first envisioned an electric-powered, three-wheeled bike with a two-wheel articulating front end, he bought a Markforged 3D printer. He asked Will Gill, whom he knew from the University of Calgary machine shop, if he could run the printer and help create a 3D-printed prototype out of carbon fiber.
Thus their new company, Bowhead Corp. (named for the headwaters of the Bow River in the Canadian Rockies), was born. Gill had used SOLIDWORKS 3D design tools as a student and liked how easily the software interfaced with Markforged carbon-fiber 3D printers.
Therefore, he and Bagg chose SOLIDWORKS for Entrepreneurs for its design, simulation, communication, and visualization tools to complete the development of their innovative bike, the Bowhead Reach®, a hybrid between a mountain bike and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV).
With SOLIDWORKS for Entrepreneurs Gill completely redrew Bagg’s design, taking the concept to the next level. SOLIDWORKS for Entrepreneurs then enabled the pair to cut a full year off the development cycle of the Bowhead Reach by reducing the number of prototyping cycles and leveraging 3D printing for development, prototyping, and production—all at dramatically lower cost than a more traditional design and manufacturing path would incur.
“The Reach required complicated configurations and complex 3D-printed assemblies, for which SOLIDWORKS provides the perfect solution. By driving design iterations with SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing, we were able to launch the Reach sooner than anticipated due to reduced prototyping time,” Gill explains.
SOLIDWORKS’ capability of facilitating the creation of complex assemblies using multi-body parts is especially advantageous to Bowhead. Instead of 3D printing unwieldy components or assemblies of several large parts, Gill used SOLIDWORKS’ multi-body part design tools to create what he calls “Lego®-type” designs, in which large parts or assemblies are broken down into multiple bodies—like Lego bricks. Once printed, these parts click together to form larger parts or an assembly.
“By driving design iterations with SOLIDWORKS and 3D printing, we were able to
launch the Reach sooner than anticipated due to reduced prototyping time.”
The first Bowhead Reach bike was delivered to the first customer in November 2018, and Bagg and Gill learned that riders were not content with just riding the bike but were jumping it over obstacles.
“When we first designed the Reach, we didn’t think that people would be jumping it eight feet into the air,” Gill explains. “After learning more about how our customers use the bike, we took our base design and made modifications to support specialized uses, such as beefing up the shock absorber for jumping or replacing the throttle and braking controls with forearm paddles for use by quadriplegics.”
“SOLIDWORKS for Entrepreneurs not only helped us launch the bike early, but it also has enabled us to address other functions and requirements quickly,” Gill continues. “Whether we’re conducting topology and simulation studies to create a lighter, stronger suspension; using SOLIDWORKS Composer to automate development of our user manual; or leveraging SOLIDWORKS Visualize to create exciting, compelling imagery, SOLIDWORKS solutions support our mission of helping disabled people enjoy the great outdoors.