SOLIDWORKS Meets Vintage Works: Speeder Bike Motorcycle

Our customers range from cool to coolest. Recently, we had a conversation with Vintage Works founders Paul Nelson and Dave Wall about their vision and some of the projects they’ve tackled over the past couple of years. If you’ve seen the Star Wars Speeder Bike motorcycle, you already know some of their work.

 “The Star Wars inspired Speeder Bike motorcycle was an insane project, and I’d say we did it out of passion. We said ‘we’re basically going to spend our life savings on some really, really expensive machined parts and design something to show off what we can do’ because we’re trying to figure out how to do something we love for the rest of our lives. People describe me as the dreamer and my business partner, Dave Wall, as more practical and grounded.  Most people let their time and finances limit their creativity.  We do the opposite. First we set a goal, and then we figure out how to do it.”

Co-founder Paul Nelson tells us: “Dave and I had many conversations about the Speeder Bike project. There are so many people who talk about their dreams but don’t take action. We have full time jobs making industrial machinery, so if we want to use our mechanical and electrical engineering backgrounds to create projects that will capture people’s imaginations and inspire people to believe anything is possible, we have to take action and make something incredible.  We can’t just talk about wanting to do it.  Our challenge was that this project could financially ruin us if we weren’t careful, but we decided the reward is worth the risk.  Once Dave said, ‘you know, Paul, you’re right. Nothing’s going to change for us if we don’t take a risk like this. I’m on board. This is the right thing. We have to do it,’ we made a commitment that we were going to design the Speeder Bike starting in October 2015 and have it ready to unveil at the Iola Car Show in July 2016.”

“We designed and built the bike in 9 months on nights and weekends, but when it was about 90 days away from the unveiling, we had no Speeder Bike. We made the challenge even more difficult by deciding to build a second Speeder Bike and leave it bare aluminum. We basically had a body designed and some of the frame. We had maybe 30 or 40 pieces on hand, 200 parts in the machining process and 150 more to come. There were still so many things to figure out, like the hubless wheel design, suspension, and steering. We had to design our own sound effects, and find space to cram in the PLC controller, 400 watt sound system, air compressor and tanks, pneumatic valve bank, and more.  One of the hardest parts of the design was finding room for all the components inside a body made to the same dimensions as the movie vehicle.”

“There was never a point where it was obviously going to work, especially in the timeframe and the budget we had. We even got to a point where, by the end of March 2016, we said ‘there’s no way we’re going to get this done without something changing,’ so we ended up taking a ton of vacation just to get to the point where we had enough pieces to put this all together.”

“There was a tremendous amount of doubt whether or not we’d actually be able to get it done and even Dave was making comments like, ‘okay, we don’t have to make it drive during the car show. We’re just going to have it be there and just get it painted, right?’ I thought we were really close, so I recommended we shoot for having it work and if we don’t get to that point or something comes up, having it ready to get its weathered paint job at the car show isn’t a bad fallback plan. But, let’s do our best to have it finished for it’s unveiling.”

“Finishing the Speeder Bike came right down to the wire. We started assembly with less than 3 weeks before the unveiling. Fortunately, there were no major assembly issues. Our retired “metal magicians” Chris and Mitch tweaked any parts that didn’t fit quite right. The stress to finish the bike was offset by all grinning as the Speeder Bike went from an idea and a pile of parts to quickly look like something right out of the movie!  With only 2 days before the unveiling, we made a video. We hadn’t driven it yet, so one of our guys, Josh, turned the throttle and it went five feet, and said ‘okay, let’s go drive two miles to where we’re filming.’ And everyone’s asking, ‘you sure you don’t want to trailer it there?’ We don’t have time to trailer it there! Josh did his best to ride it and he found out that it was pretty top heavy. Most motorcycles have an engine and transmission down low, whereas for this to actually look like the authentic movie vehicle, everything was way up high, so it has a real high center of gravity. And then with the handles it’s kind of like driving a zero-turn lawnmower so it’s just not a conventional motorcycle to ride at all.”

 
The bike has an independent front and rear air suspension, and Josh found it was easiest to ride when it was kept low to the ground.  When we were about 100 feet from where we were going to be filming, the left foot peg hit a pothole and it was completely torn off! It was laying there on the ground. The entire thing: the foot peg, the arm, all that stuff was laying there. We were dumbfounded, and thought ‘we have to debut this at this car show in two days! And we have to film a bunch of stuff so we can make a video.’ In an hour’s time, Josh put his costume on, took as much video of the bike as we possibly could, and then took it back to the shop. Fortunately we had a second Speeder Bike there that we were able to take that whole foot peg assembly off of it, get it powder coated and reinstalled, and then took the broken one, got it sandblasted, and welded it back up, all within a day. That night we had to load everything up to take it over to the car show. In a day, our camera man Todd had a finished video where you can even see the missing foot peg if you look close enough!”

Both Paul and Dave tell us that they couldn’t have completed this incredible project without the rest of the Vintage Works team; “to say the pressure to finish this project on time wasn’t high was an understatement. We have to thank all the volunteers who made the Speeder Bike happen – Mitch, Chris, Shawn, Cheri, Doug, Dalton, Kate, Dave V., Dave B., Tim, Josh, and Ryan, and thank everyone’s families for letting us take the time to build this awesome project. We hope our Speeder Bike inspires others to dream, and we can’t wait to start on the next project!”

As always, thanks for reading! And May the Fourth be with you! 🙂

Rachel Diane York

Rachel Diane York

Community and User Advocacy Manager at SOLIDWORKS
I was the founding member of the Tech Valley SOLIDWORKS User Group and a huge fan of our fantastic Community. I've taught and provided technical support for SOLIDWORKS as well as presented at many user group events. In my spare time I enjoy: billiards, reading, and playing video games. Please feel free to reach out!
Rachel Diane York
Rachel Diane York