Motorcycle Madness: Building a Big Bike

Iso View of Ben's Bike
Isometric view of Ben’s bike


After months of intrigue (and a huge conference in Dallas), the Magic Wheelchair Build Team is back, creating the most epic motorcycle costume possible for Ben! The costume’s CAD is ready to go: a mix of Tron and Akira, with some Indian Motorcycle design elements weaved in. The team is using SOLIDWORKS PDM to keep their design data in one place where they can collaborate, making changes as necessary. With the design complete, the build team has split into mini-teams, working on machining foam, prototyping electronics, and so on.

Ben in his motorcycle


We’re two months away from the reveal—let’s do a quick rundown on what the mini-teams have been up to:


Back at it again on the ShopBot! Sal and Albert have been putting in the hours in the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, CNCing foam like nobody’s business. They started by testing cuts for sanding. During last year’s build, the team spent countless hours sanding down pink foam, to the point where one team member literally sanded his fingerprints away. This year, Sal and Albert are working out how to cut down sanding time, while still machining at a brisk pace. “It’s time versus quality,” Sal explained. It’s possible to machine foam so fine that there is little need to sand, but that can take a long time to cut. After some experimentation, Sal settled on a 10% step-over, as there is minimal sanding to smooth out the foam. But if those cuts take too long, he’s willing to go to a 20% step-over. We’ll see how it turns out!

CNC stepover trials. From left to right: 25%, 20%, 10%, 5%
CNC stepover trials. From left to right: 25%, 20%, 10%, 5%


Sanding away...
Sanding away…


With testing out of the way, the true machining has begun. Most of the front wheel is cut, along with the parts to connect the wheel to the body, and the back wheel will soon be completed. The outside layers of the front and back wheels have not been machined yet because of electronics (see below). Work on machining the body will begin this week.

Most of a machined wheel.
Most of a machined wheel


3D Printing

This year, the team is doing more experiments with 3D printing details. Rather than spend time machining foam and sanding down small detailed parts, they want to put the bevy of 3D printers in the lab to use. So far, exhaust pipes have been printed, and parts of the engine will be printed on the new, gigantic Gigabot 3D printer.

The Gigabot printing away
The Gigabot printing


Machined parts and 3D printed exhaust pipes and rivets
Machined parts and 3D printed exhaust pipes and rivets



Electronics are a huge part of the build. Ben loves lights and buttons and the team is determined to create a special dashboard he can play with. The team also wants to add audio elements to the bike, giving Ben the ability to “rev” the engine while pushing a button. Color actuators, noise actuators, non-functional but interactive switches, a faux RPM gauge, side lighting, LEDs on the wheels; there are a lot of electronics planned for this bike!  None of the team members are electrical engineers, but SOLIDWORKS R&D Development Senior Manager Nicolas Lefebvre has taken the lead, leveraging his skills as a programmer.

Electronics workshop led by Nicolas (middle)
Electronics workshop led by Nicolas (middle)


Nicolas led a workshop teaching team members how to program and work with Arduinos. The group spent a few hours on a Monday getting on the same skill level and experimenting with LED strips. One of the challenges the build is facing is how to best light the stripes on the wheels. Remember how the outer layers of the wheels aren’t machined yet? That’s because the team is still not sure how to best cut the channel for the LEDs.

LED testing
LED testing


They want the LEDs to be removable in case they need to be replaced at a later date. The current plan is to put a piece of etched acrylic over a channel machined into the outer wheel layers. That piece of acrylic will be removable, so the LED strips can be reached. The issue is how to attach and detach the acrylic. Magnets? Screws? Laser cut nubbins into the acrylic? SOLIDWORKS Alliances Specialist Gabe Enright has taken over the prototyping and he’s experimenting with 3D printing the channel. A final decision hasn’t been made yet, but Ben’s wheels are going to have light up stripes no matter what!

Potential wheel design
Potential wheel design


Soon the team will begin construction on the frame, and there’s been intense discussion over how to add a part to the costume so Ben can be pushed. Ben uses a manual wheelchair, and while he’ll have room to push himself while in the costume, his caretaker and family need a way to push him as well. The current thought is to mount a pipe handle to the back of the frame and have a post come up between the wheel and tailpipe. There’s still some designing and experimentation to do, but the team is up for the challenge.

The wheels are turning for this motorcycle! Plans for the reveal are in the works, and the costume is scheduled to be completed for Ben’s birthday in early June. Get ready for more updates on Ben’s build and keep those engines revved up!


Help support Magic Wheelchair and amazing kiddos like Ben!

SOLIDWORKS is working hard to make Ben the most incredible costume ever and help the non-profit Magic Wheelchair achieve its goal of providing kids in wheelchairs with epic costumes. SOLIDWORKS is funding Ben’s costume build in its entirety, but we invite all our readers to support Magic Wheelchair in Ben’s name! If you visit his page, you can donate directly to Magic Wheelchair and help support them and all the lives they touch with their great work. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting build and get your engines revved for more motorcycle madness!

SOLIDWORKS is partnering with the Magic Wheelchair to create an over-the-top costume for a child in a wheelchair. According to their mission statement, “Magic Wheelchair builds epic costumes for kiddos in wheelchairs —  at no cost to families.” Motorcycle Madness is an ongoing series dedicated to updating our readers on the current project’s progress.

Read about our previous build, Keep on (Monster) Truckin’ with Jonah here.

Sara Zuckerman

Sara Zuckerman

Sara Zuckerman is a Content Marketing Specialist in Brand Offer Marketing for SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS.