The Bicycle Bubble Machine

by heinzdrei, published

The Bicycle Bubble Machine by heinzdrei Aug 1, 2015

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Full video: http://youtu.be/-RRaYNLv_Zs

Finally, be the star of commuter traffic! Make all the kids in the neighbourhood happy! Or just jealous! Engage in inspiring discussions with chemtrail believers! With the wind-driven Bicycle Bubble Machine drawing a dense stream of soap bubbles behind you, you too can bring peace and happiness back to the streets!

The Bicycle Bubble Machine is a bubble machine attached to the luggage rack of your bike. I actually found bicycle-mounted bubble machines on the net, but they all run on batteries, neglecting the fact that on our bikes we have a source of energy which is much more sustainable and fun: relative wind. The Bicycle Bubble Machine only uses the relative wind created by riding your bicycle: a wind wheel will turn a wheel with bubble wands, which are blown directly by the relative wind. It works surprisingly well at a comfortable range of speeds, and with the funny, jet-engine look the machines have, when one is attached to every side of your bike, it's an eyecatcher. Well, at least it gave me a lot of strange looks when using it on the street.

This is my first real project constructing something which moves. While I'm not an engineer (so please be kind!) I did put a lot of work in this (and printed lots of prototypes ...): for example the tank was supposed to be printable in one piece, store enough liquid, not store too much liquid in 'dead' places, and not spill all the time while cycling. The design now for example has bulkhead walls to reduce sloshing effects. That said: it will still get messy, but that's part of the fun :)

While I thought about a gear system, I discarded this idea, because everything I could come up with led to a) a smaller tank, b) larger dead spaces of fluid, c) too many wind turbulences in the bubble path etc. If you're interested, I've written about the process of designing this here

This thing is not difficult to build. I tried to give detailed instructions.

Future improvements might be: a lever to temporarily block the bubble wheel, so you can turn off the machine when it is not needed; and modifications to the bubble wheel like combining two bubble rings to a long one for larger bubbles, or improving the topography of the bubble rings to store more fluid.

For the pulleys, I used Parametric Pulley by droftarts. I kept them although I dropped using tooth belts (replacing it with elastic ribbon), because they give good friction.

Please take a look at these remixes: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:976106, http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:973210 and http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1656828. They definitely make this design better; miroks tank prints easier and without difficult removing of support (his bubble wheel makes more bubbles and might print better on printers with problematic bed adhesion, but for you it might also lead to many connected bubbles which don't fly as good, as someone reported); 3dMODler's remix will help those with friction problems on the pulleys. The third one by jkf123 is a clever idea to reduce spilling even further, by collecting spilled liquid and leading it back to the tank again.

Print Settings






For the tank support "from printbed" not "from everywhere"!


Don't be scared by the long instructions. It's easy, I just want to be precise. If there are questions, please ask in the comments.
If you want detailed instructions with pictures, please see my instructable on http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Bicycle-Bubble-Machine/

Apart from printed parts, you will need:

  • a piece of wood to mount the machine on, which will then be put onto your luggage rack; I used 10cm x 70cm to have one bubble machine on each side (the wind wheel mount protruding a little over the edge of the wood); you should take less than 10cm width, however, as some bubbles that move down are less likely to pop then
  • small self-tapping screws (so your plastic doesn't break), optionally also small wood screws
  • sewing accessories: elastic ribbon (the stuff that makes your knickers hold, I used 8mm wide black), needle and thread, fixing pins
  • something to make the axles for the two wheels: I used 2mm welding wire (straight sticks); toothpicks will work, too, but they will break easily
  • small drills (like 2.5mm) to drill open the holes for the axis, as many 3D printers will not make the holes dimensionally correct; screwdriver and the like

Print one of every part, two of each clip (measure the diameter of the tubes your luggage rack is made of and tell me, if you need different clips). Print either two 3mm spacers or one 6mm. As for the slicer settings:

  • it is very likely that you'll need a raft to print at least the wind wheel; on my (probably badly calibrated) printer I also needed a raft to print the tank
  • the tank should be as solid as possible so it doesn't leak bubble fluid. My first tank with 20 % infill, two perimeters and two top/bottom layers leaked -- it didn't render it unusable, but it got soapy on the outside and if you left the tank full at evening, there wasn't much fluid left the next morning. I then did three perimeters and four top/bottom layers, which made it better. You might also consider a coating
  • for the tank you should enable support from printbed only, not elsewhere! This is because, inside the tank, there are bulkhead walls to prevent sloshing effects, which act as support also, but having additional support inside the tank will make it store less fluid, keep fluid in dead places and will be a mess to remove; but you will need support for the mount, so enable from printbed
  • the tank will need a lot of bridging (roughly 10mm) in the slanted that begins at a Z-height of about 40mm; give this good layer cooling
  • while I use the clips in PLA right now, I will replace them by ABS ones, which will last longer

Remove supports; for the support from printbed that it generated inside the tank above the refilling hole you best take a needle-nose plier. Take care to remove as much support as possible from the part of the tank where the wheel will be mounted - it should move freely.

Screw the clips to the down side of the wood -- mark their positions using the luggage rack you'll use later and attach them so that you will later first clip on from the side the clips with the opening on the side, then push down the other side of the wood to clip in the others -- see the beginning of the video and you'll understand.

Mount the tank on the inside, i.e. nearer to the luggage rack, with the screws. Put one axis into the large pulley, fixing it with a self-tapping screw through the hole in the pulley base. There are holes to do this with "trapped nuts" and corresponding screws, but this really isn't necessary, simple self-tapping screws suffice. Use a 2 to 3mm drill to make the holes right if they're too small.

Put the 10mm spacer on the axis. Now push the axis through the first axis hole in the tank. Inside, put the axis through the 6mm spacer or two 3mm spacers, then the wind wheel (with the screw hole on the other side), then through the second hole of the tank. Now, also fix the bubble wheel on the axis with a screw. Check the axis turns easily and both bubble wheel and pulley are fixed, moving with the axis.

Mount the wind wheel on the wind wheel mount, putting the small pulley on the back side of the mount, with the pulley base towards the mount. Fix both the wind wheel and the pulley on the axis using self-tapping screws. Now, mount the wind wheel on your piece of wood, with two screws in the long hole on the mount. Don't screw them tight on just jet.

Prepare the belt: cut a piece approximately 48cm long and put it around the pulleys so that it loosely fits. Fix it temporarily with a fixing pin or similar. Now test: the belt should be very loose: it has to be just tight enough that the friction will move the other pulley if you turn one (fill fluid into the tank for this test, as it gives resistance), but it must not be so tight that it skews your axis so they don't turn anymore. An even slightly too tight belt will result in no or fewer bubbles. When you're sure you have a reasonable diameter, sew the ends together, remove the fixing pins and cut off any overlapping piece of ribbon.

If you keep having problems with belt tensioning (i.e. getting the right friction), you might try this interesting remix, which adds spikes to the pulleys: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:976106

Put the belt over both pulleys. Adjust the wind wheel mount with the long hole so that belt tension is just perfect; then tighten the screws.

I placed the whole machine just on the luggage rack like you can see on the photos and the video. You can easily make this more secure with a couple of zip-ties. I plan on adding clips soon so it can easily be attached by clipping it on the luggage rack.

Now have fun! Use good bubble fluid, there are great differences in quality.

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Any thoughts to making mounts with magnets in them for cars? I'm not sure about highway speeds, but i imagine for 20 or even 30 miles per hour it would be fine, with strong enough magnets of course.

I haven't tried, as I'm more the bicycle guy :)
There have been people asking about a motorcycle mount. I believe magnets would have to be really strong or you would have to find some way of stopping them from slowly being dragged over your car's rooftop by the relative wind ... I did think about some way of mounting them in the gap between a side window and the door but then didn't work on it any further. I think best would be if you had a luggage rack on your car, so you could mount the machine to it with some sort of clip and screws.

A luggage rack based design would probably be a better idea, although if one were to use magnets, i would add some thin rubber strips or something else grippy, and since we would be using strong magnets, i imagine the friction would be enough at lower speeds. I really like the door mounted idea, since you can keep a eye on it, and might not have to worry about it growing wings. That's a fair bit of redesigning though... eh, how hard could be?

I didn't follow that path with the window mount further. I initially had the idea because of the plastic cup holders you can sometimes buy that slide into the window gap from the inside. It might be hard to get this robust enough, as it can't be that thick or else it won't fit into that gap, which is even thinner in modern cars. I guess layer orientation would be very important: I'd suggest printing the mount on the side, so the U shape that's supposed to slide into the gap would lie on the printers bed, and use some tougher material than PLA ... but thinking about it, I really believe this will still be a risky design and may break at some point -- the whole tank thing when filled with liquid has quite some weight and a wind wheel is by purpose designed to have a certain drag against the wind.

If you have the tools, you might try to bend a U shape holder from sheet metal and adjust the tank design so it can be screwed to the sheet metal.

For a printed design, attaching the whole thing to the luggage rack would be the much safer way to go, I'd think.

Could you tell me the weight when you fill it with fluid? I sorta figured for the drag, forgot about the extra weight of the fluid, and now that we mention it, the vibration thats caused by it turning might also become problematic at higher speeds, although im hoping/assuming the soap would act as a lubricant. And i was thinking about printing this in either petg, since thats nice to work with, and won't melt on a hot day, or nylon, but thats just because i really want to make something that gets stressed tested with nylon. I have a friend with a wider gap in between her window and car (old car), so i could see it maybe working, although i think your right about it not surviving well, unless i use nylon... although the way she drives, maybe not even then.

I just filled one tank I still had lying around (mirok's remix actually, but that should be nearly the same volume) and found it wouldn't take more than 350ml fluid. Under the assumption that bubble liquid had roughly the same specific weight as water (can't test, don't have any lying around, however I think it will be somewhat heavier), that would be 350g. Slicing the tank for use with PETG (assuming a density of 1.38g/cm^3) slic3r gives me a weight of about 206g. To that, you'll have to add some for the wind wheel and wind wheel holder as well as whatever it is you mount the stuff to (for my bicycle version, I used a piece of wood). This will easily add up to more than 1kg. So if you go for the door window mount idea, you should consider some sort of a diagonal strut leaning against the car door -- if you cantilever that weight I guess it's bound to damage something.

Oh, and of course, please do this at your own risk -- I really hope that friend is a good friend :D

She is, and with the amount of work it would take to get this to go on a car, im now thinking of doing one half or one quarter scale, and redesigning the bubble wheel for that smaller one so i still get bigish bubbles, and maybe play with the tank so it lasts a bit longer at that scale, than just attatching (maybe gluing, maybe using some steel filament, need to test that) it to a welding magnet (i have a large STRONG one), which in turn should sit quite still on her roof.

I'm curious how it will turn out and I would be very happy to see the results or see a remix :)

Think about whether you really want to scale this down -- this was my first bigger OpenSCAD project, the code is embarrassingly messy and while in the beginning I tried to keep it parameterized, this soon wasn't possible anymore. If you go for a really big magnet, I'd probably just try the original design and alter it to mount it to the magnet ... Just my opinion -- I'm glad this machine still appeals to people and I'm looking forward to seeing your work :)

Thanks, i was originally think of scaling down the print and disecting the magnet (it's two big squares attached by arms so i can angle pieces if i wanted too) but i think i was over thinking/complicating it. I could use the magnet as is, tweak the clamps a little, and just attach everything to the roof. Maybe i'll make her stay in a parking lot if she decided to drive with it (doubly so since im not sure thats legal on a car). Either tomorrow or the day after i'll start playing with the clamps, and than probably see if i can get it on there. Once i figure out how stable it is and if there is another way to attach it, like say the luggage racks, i might post a remix. I'll definitely post when i make it though.

Wie viel Plastik verbraucht das insgesamt?

Auwei. Ist jetzt zwei Jahre her, ich hab keine Ahnung -- mir fiele jetzt nur ein, dass man das ganze nochmal probehalber slicet. Alles, was ich sagen kann, ist, dass die ganze Maschine von einer Spule kam, das ist also die Höchstgrenze ... sorry!

Ok werd Ich machen... Trotzdem danke für die Antwort!

danke für dein cooles Design, ich hab mir dein Blubberrad 'ausgeborgt' und für meine Bubbleblast (https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2438587) etwas abgewandelt. Ich hoffe das geht in Ordnung.

by froetz

Klar, deshalb lade ich die Sachen ja hoch :) Und danke für die Erwähnung!

I think the police will capture me and bring me to some madhouse if i cycle around with this ;-)

Well, I was lucky -- they were really nice when they saw us filming the video, didn't mind at all and just had their laugh :)
I asked them whether we could film a short scene where they stop and search me, but unfortunately they didn't want that.

Hey kurze Frage wozu dienen die Clips denn ich kann sie auf keinem Bild zuordnen danke =)

Die Clips sind für ein schnelles, unkompliziertes An- und Abmontieren an einem typischen Gepäckträger. Du kannst es ganz am Anfang meines Videos kurz sehen: erst schiebt man es von der Seite, leicht geneigt dagegen, bis die seitlich offenen Clips auf der einen Seite einrasten, dann drückt man die andere Seite runter, bis dort die nach unten geneigten Clips einrasten. Mann schraubt sie einfach passend zum eigenen Gepäckträger von unten gegen das Brett. Falls Du einen anderen Durchmesser benötigst, sag Bescheid!

Ich danke dir für die schnelle Antwort finde es ist eine super Idee =)

Danke! Hat mir viel Freude gemacht letzten Sommer und es ist schön, dass es immer noch Leute bauen :)

That just puts a really ,really big smile on my face ! :)

Thank you very much, then it served its purpose :)

Funny that you commented today: just yesterday I found your braiding machine on instructables and then on thingiverse, marvelled for a while on it and then decided, that me and the kids have been in desperate need of a braiding machine probably for ages without noticing it! I'll definitely try it, as soon as I have finished or abandoned my own project for the 3d printing contest :)

Oh my God.... Last summer I had this very same idea in my head. Some details were different, but the basic idea and structure was exactly the same! Unfortunately it never turned into reality, in spite of the fact that I had everything it would have taken (mind and education of an engineer, SolidWorks and a 3D-printer) . But you didn't leave it just to level of an idea but you made it real, Heinzdrei. Big hand for you!

Thank you :)
I wish I knew how to work with mature CAD-Programs ... I recently started with Fusion360, as it's free for hobbyists, and I like it, but I'm always impressed what real engineers manage to realize just in software. Thanks again, I'm glad you like it :)

Most definitely awesome.

Hi, can you put some pictures of the assembly? That way will be easier to follow your instructions. Thanks.

You're right -- I now included a link to the detailed instructions I posted on instructables.com. Please see here for: http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Bicycle-Bubble-Machine/ . I hope that helps!

Your design is amazing. The instructions also. Thanks for your time. My kids are thanking you.

Your design looks seriously similar to a 2nd year project I did on the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam) a little over a year ago. Could it be that you have visited an exhibition there?

Oh, btw, video here:

No, I've never seen it before, although it's cool! Haven't been to Amsterdam since years, but things like your installation remind me that I should more often go to places where there is a really active artist community :( I actually first tried to make my bubble machine without any belt or gears at all (see my blog link in the description), but it just didn't work good enough at slower speeds, which is why I came up with this design.

I very much like the idea with the added color doing aleatoric painting -- what kind of color did you use? I would have thought that any added color would impair the characteristics of the bubble fluid.

Thanks, it was actually the first design I made, not much iteration required.

The time spent on the bubble mix was a whole different level. I have used food coloring in the end, and a bubble mix with glycerine. At first I tried out a 'J-Lube' mix, but the bubbles were too cohesive, this caused the bubbles to stick to the bubble-blowing device too much and mess up the flow.. The solution had a good lifespan and would carry just the right amount of food coloring. In the end after running the machine for a couple of days at the exhibition, the whole paper roll became like a soup. Dystopia galore.

Thanks a lot!
I make little remix for easy to print, but I take off my hat to heinzdrei!

Thank you! I had a look at your modification to the tank and indeed, I should have thought of that :) Being able to print without support saves you the hassle of removing the support in the tank where the opening lies. Very good!

If you want to change the original project, it has two small notes:

  1. The underside of four holes should be conical. Since prints better and countersunk head screws compatible.
  2. Inside the tank, I added one horizontal bulkhead, for preventing failures, but it is better to make them two or three.

Thanks a lot for your tips, I will try to adjust the tank design -- and I'll see that I upload the OpenSCAD sources (I didn't dare to do this up to now, as I'm still very much of a beginner and the source is an ugly mess that probably no one will understand; maybe not even me anymore).

This tning - the best start of all that can be!
And do not hesitate!
OpenSKAD sources-could have saved me a lot of time.

Thank you for you kind words and the good tips -- I will upload the sources tonight after work, sorry for not doing this earlier.

Comments deleted.


files are perfekt, projekt is awsome. thx allot man.
But pullys are Creative Commons - Attribution - Share Alike license. so your's is also Creative Commons - Attribution - Share Alike license!
You can't leave share alike away.


Thank you! I changed the license to "Crative Commons - Attribution - Share Alike", sorry, I did not think about this. Thanks for the hint!

Nice :D you sure brought joy to the kids

Where are the clips you reference in the instructions?

Ok, now uploaded

Damn, I forgot to upload them! I'm right now at work and completely snowed under, but I will upload them tonight (in Europe). Sorry!

If your luggage rack is not made of 10mm diameter tubes, tell me and I'll make adjusted ones. I did not yet upload the OpenSCAD source files as I am a beginner and they are terribly poorly parameterized :/

Just checked them, they are indeed 10mm. Thanks!

Oh and another note: before I made the clips, I fixed this with simple zip ties on the luggage rack. Not as elegant, but works for the beginning.

That is so awesome! Great idea.

I will be making this for sure to entertain my girls. what a neat idea and fun execution!

Thank you for the design!

Brilliant, innovative, and ingenious!

You might not be a store-bought "engineer", but that tank design is pretty advanced. You covered all the concerns nicely, and ended up with an elegant product. A+

Thank you! The tank part was not just a challenge, but the most fun part of it all -- it's so much fun, diving into technical problems and trying to solve them :)

I love the idea, here is more. Maybe try a full bubble wheel to reduce drag and add different bubble sizes?
Like this : http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:539019
Also having a funnel to speed up the air going thru the bubble wand would make it easier at lower rotational speed.


Thank you, those are very good ideas. I really like the full bubble wheel idea and will try this, as well as the different bubble sizes. I also thought about a funnel, but then noticed that after a good starting speed bubbles continue blowing at a relatively comfortable pace, so I didn't feel that big of a need -- but the funnel is definitely something I'll try. That's the best about all this 3D printing -- I just don't have to think about it for too long, I can just try it :)

Comments deleted.

this is GREAT.

the kids running after the bike are like the kids in the "rat catcher from hameln" story.
i need to make this asap.
once i am in the park i will catch myself some more kids.

actually.. an austrian should probably not post such things on the internet.. ;)

thank you soo much!

you should get/make some UV bubbles and stick a battery powered black light on the back and do a video. pretty please?

Wow. That's a cool idea, I've never known about the existence of UV bubble fluid. Right now I'm completely broke after spending much too much on tinkering the last months, but I assure you: one beautiful day I'll try this :)

fun story: i just bought some hundered UV leds i have no use for.

do you want some for free?

PM me

Comments deleted.

yeah!!! great work!!

Tolles design und wunderbare video.

Danke! Es tut gut, dass es Menschen gefällt :)