Showing posts with label patent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label patent. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

This Bicycle Shift System Didn't Catch On

The National Archives (of the U.S. of A.) has published a "coloring book" as a PDF, making use of digitized oddball patent drawings from their collections. One of them is a fairly strange looking bicycle related patent application from 1899, from a Mr. John J. Hentz of Baltimore.

Hentz Patent bicycle shift system 1899
Full patent is online in Google's patent database

From the patent application text:
The object of my invention is to furnish a device by which to connect or disconnect the sprocket-wheels with the shaft on which they are placed, so that the motion of the shaft may be communicated to the one or the other of the sprocket-wheels, as desired, for the purpose of increasing or decreasing the speed of the bicycle while propelling it on a level or up an incline.
and later, "The operation of the device is obvious."

While operation of this gear shift device may be obvious, it was also not a very good design, with two entirely separate chains. Like most bicycle improvement patents of the 1890s, it didn't catch on.

Looping the Loop - Another Approach

Patent Drawing for K. Lange's Double Bicycle for Looping the Loop
Patent Drawing for K. Lange's Double Bicycle for Looping the Loop

From 1905, a patent application drawing from the National Archives.

Completely unworkable, one assumes. And oddly, at the same time, a "daredevil" named "Diavolo" was doing loops without any need for a special bike like this.

1905 - Daredevel does loop-the-loop on bicycle
Diavolo photographed in 1905

I blogged about this before; there are photos of this being done in 1903. So why the special bike idea? It doesn't seem like having wheels over your head would help of the bike fell across the loop.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Kickstarter Wheel of Fortune - Bicycle Turn Signals (Again)

There are very few new ideas - that is one lesson one quickly learns perusing Kickstarter. But some folks are able to package an idea in a way that is far more attractive, that much is clear.

Several years ago I had a blog post about a Kickstarter for bicycle turn signals built into gloves.

Failed Kickstarter proposal from September 2011

The fellow had a pretty ambitious goal ($50,000) and his product, as displayed in Kickstarter, looked in need of further development work. His proposal failed - he only got about 20 percent of his goal pledged.

I myself don't really get the logic for electric light driven bicycle turn signals, whether on your gloves or otherwise. I discussed aspects of why I think this in the earlier blog post but mostly I don't think they will contribute much to making urban cycling more safe. Such gloves would give information to vehicle drivers coming up from behind that the cyclist is turning - but this isn't a scenario where most accidents happen between cyclists and motor vehicles. Check out the top ten ways to get hit at - none of them would be helped by rear-facing turn signals for the bicycle. (OK, arguably a signal could be used for #9 where you change lanes to get around parked vehicles etc and are hit from the rear by a car - but these signals wouldn't obviate their critical advice, which is Never, ever move left without looking behind you first. Is the motorist going to be more likely to give you room because you have an electric thing on your hand?

I read in the WashCycle blog about this new Kickstarter to fund essentially the same idea

This guy has a lower target dollar figure and it looks like he might make it (as of mid-January). So apparently 100s of people (who peruse Kickstarter and have extra money) think this is something they want to own - because this Kickstarter is very up front that the whole idea is to sell funders the device. Even though Kickstarter maintains that Kickstarter is not a store.

As far as how this connects with cycling history, it was big part of early cycling history in the 1890s that folks submitted patent applications for very similar "inventions" - over and over. See some on Flickr.

Patent 573920 (part a)
Many different versions of "no flat" tires were patented during the 1890s with springs in the tires - all of which failed

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Flats Come in Threes??

I have written about this before - it seems often like flat tires "come in threes" - I don't have any for a long while, then boom - in short order, three.

Yesterday about a mile from home I realize the front tire was getting low on air but was not flat. After I stopped and checked it, I continued on, putting my weight as far back as I could, to put it on the rear tire (mostly). I was able to continue about 3/4 of the rest of the way without adding air (and I walked the last bit rather than getting a pump out).

First flat I've had in a while

I was a little worried that I had damaged the tire with this but it seems OK. Overall it probably isn't a smart strategy given that tires are kind of expensive. (Or good ones aren't cheap, anyway.) Now I'm wondering if I will encounter a rash of flat tires in the next few weeks. Hmm. I have seen a lot of glass on the bike trails lately, mostly from broken bottles. I have thought about bringing a little wisk broom, but then where is one supposed to sweep the stuff? If for example I swept glass off the 14th street bridge into the Potomac, is that even legal? Or am I supposed to carry the stuff with me, like a camper?

Patent 574015
An 1896 patent for a possible anti-flat tire system - one example of many . . .

For almost as long as there have been bicycles with pneumatic tires there have been people trying to "solve" the problem of flat tires by "fixing" or improving the design of bicycle tires (and wheels). So far, though, the standard pneumatic bicycle tire with inner tube prevails ~

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Another Kickstarter for Cyclists - the "Most Compact in the World"

From "The basic idea with FUBi was [i.e., is] this: a foldable bicycle that was very easy to store inside due to optimum compactness and at the same time would retain all the functionality and styling of standard full-sized bicycles!" and "FUBi is not intrinsically an ordinary foldable bicycle. It is a full-sized bicycle with a fold-able feature! There is a difference there."

This video, in my view, doesn't adequately address all the complexities of what they are proposing

The FUBi Kickstarter project page is the longest one I have ever seen (although I limit myself to looking at Kickstarter projects related to bicycling, so that may be a skewed sample). It is certainly the most ambitious project, in terms of the many novel aspects of the new bicycle they propose to build (and sell, eventually). Their Kickstarter seeks 90,000 British Pounds. (I don't understand why, at least where I live, it is given as in Pounds and not say Euros.) Most of the support so far is from a small number of people wanting to be at the head of the line to receive one when they are first available as a product. With 4,452 Pounds raised and 25 days to go, it doesn't look all that promising (based on what I understand about the usual trajectory for successfully funded Kickstarter projects) but maybe it will work out.

Folding Bike Patent 1896 (p2)
Folding bike patent, 1896 - the interest in folding bikes is of long standing

The FUBi people (or guy?) have a problem, I think - there is no "elevator ride" (that is, brief) way to explain all the aspects of the FUBi bicyclke - this is certainly not just a bike that folds up, but rather a collection of different innovative bicycle technologies, rolled up into a folding bicycle. Here are just some of the unusual (if not novel) aspects to the FUBi design:

* Truss frame design (which is the solution to providing stiffness for this folding bike, but can be a feature of any bike).
* The front and rear wheels have what are described as "an inverted hub as the center of hub is rotating, whereas on a regular hub the axis is fixed and non rotating" - the wheels are identical and only 50 mm wide (compared to 100 mm for a standard road bike front wheel).
* The drive cog set and rear derailleur are outside the chain and seat stays, which is associated with the used of identical narrow front and back wheels.
* The rear (and only) derailleur uses the spring opposite from a traditional modern derailleur - it pulls the chain up onto the larger rings rather than down to the smaller rings (while the rider applies pressure through levers to pull the derailleur in the opposite direction). This is described as a "totally new fast shift derailleur."
* Tension is applied to the chain by a separate system than the derailleur.
* Headset design has the front fork rotating outside of (in front of) the tube where the bearing are.
* The brakes and other aspects of the design are easily adjustable or simply allow use of several different diameter wheel sizes, thus the bike can be said to be usable in configurations ranging from mountain bike to road bike.
* FUBi claims that their bottom bracket, that uses ball bearings mounted directly into the frame and not a cassette is a plus or simplification but I'm not sure most people would see it that way and it isn't particularly unusual (at least not historically).
* And two different ways to fold it up - one fast, another so that it is reduced to the size of tennis equipment bag (and a small one at that - except for the wheels, of course).

I am not an expert of bicycle design and patents, but my impression is that the only piece of this (other than the overall folding design) that is truly new is the "fast shift" derailleur. (And maybe the wheel hub design?) But certainly the amalgamation of all these unusual design features in one folding bicycle is different.

One of 19 (at present) videos on YouTube from "FUBiworld" - how the frame assembles

Kickstarter now requires a "risks and challenges" section to each project proposal be completed - in other words, risks and challenges to the completion of the project if the funding is acquired. The FUBi people talk about some engineering issues, mostly to do with the use of titanium, possible problems with the supply chain for some parts, and building out their team - sure. But a more interesting risk or set of risks for someone putting money into this expecting to get a bike out of it (which is everyone who is putting more than trivial amounts of funding into it) is whether it is a good bike or not. By "good" I mean more than just "does it ride well and all the parts work," but also whether it is easily maintained over the long haul, because a good bike should last a long time. You know, as in at least ten years. To me, to take as obvious both that this bike would ride well and that it will be possible to maintain it in say 2025, seems doubtful - there is risk in particular with the design of the rear derailleur that if FUBi otherwise isn't a success that you end up with a bike that requires a part that isn't available.

Panasonic bike at Shirlington
A Panasonic Villager - a bike that demonstrates the problems with one-off bicycle innovations that don't catch on

This somewhat sad bike (note the missing left pedal) that I photographed (more for the odd frame design) was considered an innovative bike when made decades ago in that it had its freehub in the bottom bracket and not in the rear wheel - as a result, since no one else adopted this design, these bikes are not easily maintained (other than taking parts off of another example of the same bike). At the same time, the design of the bike is such that reworking the bike to use a standard design is also not possible - much like it would be impossible (I think) to redo your FUBi with a standard rear derailleur.

On the other hand, Kickstarter seems to be much about providing people who have some money they don't know what to do with the opportunity to have something really unusual, if only for a while (that it is unusual). So what the hell. Sure, FUBi.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Converting Bikes to Snow/Ice Use - Patents

Snow Bike Patent - 1900
Snow Bike Patent, 1900

"The invention contemplates the employment of a bicycle of any preferred style, in combination with supporting sleds or runners and means for imparting motion thereto." and . . . "The rotary motion of said shaft is converted . . . to a reciprocating motion upon the part of the push-bars, which are alternately projected and retracted, engaging the snow or ice at each stroke, and so propelling the vehicle."

Apparently the idea was to propel the bicycle as though it was someone's crazy version of a cross country skier, in which the poles do all the work.

Snow Bike Tire Design Detail 1900
Snow Bike Patent, 1900 - augmented wheels

To make this work, rather elaborate changes are made to the tires, fixing a set of teeth to the outside edge of the tire. Uhm, wouldn't it have been easier to run the chain down directly to do this??

The "ice velocipede" below looks more sensible, although since it preceded the above by six years, apparently it hadn't caught on.

Ice Velocipede Patent 1894
Ice Velocipede 1894

The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved snow and ice velocipede, which is simple and durable in construction, and arranged to enable the rider to travel over the snow and ice at a high rate of speed. and The invention consists principally of single front and rear runners supporting the frame, and connected thereto by horizontal pivots and a propelling chain mounted to travel along the rear runner and driven from the crank or pedal shaft through the medium of a sprocket wheel mounted on the pivot connecting the said runner with the frame. (Crazy way to write.) and The propelling chain is provided with spikes or blades adapted to pass into the snow or ice, so as to propel the vehicle forward. Aha! Well, it might work. But again, we don't see these around . . .

Bike Snow Shoes Patent 1896
Snow Shoe Attachment for Bicycles

This is the simplest of the bunch, although it seems likely to have traction problems.

Traction "Vehicle" (Bicycle Patent, 1895)
Traction Vehicle

This isn't actually a patent for a snow bike (snow isn't mentioned in the patent) but rather a tracked bicycle that could, presumably, have been used on snow as well as on other difficult terrains. (Also it seems to be a purpose build device rather than a conversion.) Could this be used for cyclocross? Again, we don't see these around today, do we. Presumably the energy required to get this to move at all was a bit of a problem.

Keep in mind these are 110+ year old patents - what is interesting is that there are plenty of patents from the last 20 years that aren't that different. Go to Google's patent search and simply search on "bicycle snow" and see what I mean.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kickstarter Bike Light Opportunitie$

Kickstarter provides endless entertainment as one reviews funding proposals related to bicycles (among other things . . . ) and tries to understand why some are funded while others, alas, are not.

When you think about it, improving a bike's light or reflector system to enhance visibility and safety is an ideal Kickstarter direction - the costs to "kickstart" a new commercial product can be within Kickstarter's audience and if presented correctly, such products seem more about "fun" and being hip than simply about being safer (which is boring - and with Kickstarter, boring = no funding).

Today there are two "live" Kickstarter projects related to lighting products that I will look at . . .

As of today, this theft-resistant front light is already 225 percent funded - wow! What makes this proposal so darn attractive for Kickstarter funders?

* The video is clever, fun to watch, yet seems authoritative and the proposal's logic sensible - even unassailable.

* It addresses a real problem - theft of stuff off parked bikes. And we wouldn't want to end up like their friend, whose light was stolen and then was hit by a car.

* Even though designers and builders of a theft resistant bike light wouldn't need to be MIT engineers, these guys' bring those credentials (and wear the T-shirts to prove it).

* For $50 bucks support, they promise to send you one of the things to own, even though the "expected retail price" is $70 - so it's a deal! And note that the overwhelming support for this project is at this level. People are supporting this because they want one, and perhaps because they think they will get one cheap.

Electric lighting for bikes is this old - but even then they understood theft, as it notes the "principal object of the invention is to provide a bicycle with a detachable lamp, including a dynamo . . . "

Let me make a few critical comments . . .

* In the video, they show the critical bolt that makes this thing theft resistant. The video has been updated to state that they have, thanks to comments, changed the bolt design to make it more theft resistant. This, however, gets to the main drawback with this thing - which is that in the places where people steal lights off bikes a lot, you are operating on faith when you walk away from the bike and don't take attractive crap bolted to the bike with you, fancy bolt or no fancy bolt.

* Uh, this light just makes itself even more attractive for theft with it's "sexiness" (hipsterishness). Isn't that obvious?

* Well, I suppose other people are more organized and actually of late my bike tools are pretty well organized (sort of - in the sense that I can usually eventually find things) but really, do I want not one but two special allen key like things to have to keep track of?

* The design, which maximizes theft resistance, is otherwise not so great, MIT or no MIT. In particular, this is a "weight forward" design which means every time you hit a bump, the light is inclined to move down. Or up. So you then grab it and shift it back to point in the right place - but with the "tighten the metal clamp" approach used here, this isn't as easy as with the usual rubber ring holding light in place approach. I guess they figure you just tighten the clamp so tight it won't move. Maybe that will work. Make sure you have the special wrench with you.

The main issue I guess I have is that these characters say they see cycling in cities as a "battle" which is made clear in the first part of their video (which is in daylight and has nothing to do with lighting) that shows typical urban carefree youth riding in traffic illegally and idiotically. Motorists care about one thing - getting there faster. When you ride like a fool, they worry you might cause an accident that will delay their arrival wherever it is they are going and it makes them suspicious of all cyclists. Is this really helpful for the cycling community? Because like it or not, the motorists aren't going to perceive two cycling communities - the fool one and the other one. (/end of rant) Anyway, I don't think a mildly theft resistant light really helps with the urban bicycle "battle."

These urban warriors are learning as they go. Not only have the updated their anti-theft bolt design, someone pointed out that their understanding of guns wasn't very accurate. In their FAQ, they originally had this:

4. Why does it look like the
barrel of a revolver?

As you know, city biking can be a battle. We captured the struggle of the urban cyclist in our design.

Someone must have written in that the thing doesn't look like a gun barrel, but the revolving chamber where the bullets go. So now it reads:

4. Why does it look like the
cylinder of a revolver?

As you know, city biking can be a battle. We captured the struggle of the urban cyclist in our design.

Hopefully that isn't supposed to suggest we carry while riding. And forgive me if I somehow doubt the urban battle credentials of someone who doesn't know the difference between a gun barrel and a revolver bullet chamber.

But wait - there is another Kickstarter bike light project underway, and unfortunately I actually have a twitchy impulse to back this one. Ack!

Oh, I hate to admit it, but for me unlike the gun-based project first discussed, this is sexy sexy sexy. Up to a point . . .

For someone who rides back and forth to work every day, particular during the season just ending (when it is dark either in one direction or for a while, both) an annoyance is the need to rely on batteries for lighting. It doesn't feel very green. (Yes, there are hub dynamos and so-called bottle dynamos but no thank you.) I have rechargable batteries but still, it isn't great.

This thing is like free power! A single unit that magically (actually it uses "eddy currents") pulls power from the rim of a spinning wheel without making contact, then drives LED lights facing either front or back that are in the same compact unit. Couldn't be simpler! (It does take away some of the power you would otherwise be using to propel the bike, but much less than a dynamo hub, apparently.)

And people like this idea - although as of this minute he has yet to reach half the $50,000 he is seeking, three more backers have joined just while I was composing this blog post. So I think he'll get to his $ target.

Again, this is a project where most of the backers are planning on acquiring the device (or devices - separate price if you want a front version and a back one). The pitch is that the price here is a good one (or at I think that is what is meant by "We will never produce it again in this form, so you get a unique fascinating high tech product much sooner than anybody else at a price considerably lower than the normal market price (if we succeed to jump on the market).")

So, where do I see problems with this? Well, like most simple generator set-ups that provide direct power to the light, when you stop, the light goes out. In order to have continuous light you have complicate things with chargers and batteries, which in this case would eliminate the elegance of the "all in one small unit" design here.

For myself, I'm doubtful that having a light that hangs off the side of the brake boss (as he describes it) would be a very durable location. For whatever reason, I would expect to break the one off the rear brake in about a day (by accident). And it wouldn't work with a bike with any sort of rack on the back, which for commuters is fairly common.

For some people, the less elegant approach of a generator unit that would have to be connected by wires to the lights would probably be better. The developer suggests that might be part of a future version. As clever and elegant as this is, I don't think I'll be signing away $199 today.

Alvey Adee of Dept of State & Bicycle
This Assistant Secretary of State didn't have to worry about theft or power for his lighting system in 1914, I suspect

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Schrader Valve Patent - 1892

Schrader Valve Patent (1892)
A patent for a product used widely to this day

The Schrader valve had a patent application in 1892 and the patent was issued in 1893 - and they are used on bicycle and car tires even now. (Racing bikes usually use Presta valves, however.) Every once in a while, looking at these old patents, one sees something like this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A "Better" Drive System? 1893 Illustration

Lovely Bike illustration from Cycling Monthly (1892)

This illustration from a bound volume of issues of Cycling Monthly is the colophon at the end of the book, advertising the services of the publisher. Cycling Monthly was a publication containing patent applications related to bicycles published in the 1890s.

The publisher provided this nice line drawing of a bike - note the unusual drive system for the bike with levers as part of the pedal system combined with the usual chain drive.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Bike in a Horse (Patent, 1892)

VeloHorse Patent, 1892
A "VeloHorse" patent from 1892

The oddest claim is that this is a "useful improvement" to bicycle design.
My invention relates to certain new and useful improvements in velocipedes. The object of the invention is mainly, to conceal the motive power gearing of a velocipede having its body constracted in imitation of an animal, preferably a horse or pony, and further to provide a simple, cheap and durable carrying frame of the character named, and to the accomplishment of the above the invention consists of certain novel parts and in certain novel combinations of parts as will be fully set forth and claimed . . .

Saturday, November 12, 2011

1890s Bike Patents, Sensible and Not So

I have posted about drive systems other than chains before - even though the typical bicycle's chain drive approach was the development that made the "diamond [frame-shaped] safety" bike possible in the 1880s and is amazingly efficient, inventors then and after keep trying to come up with better alternatives.

Shaft Drive patent, 1894
Shaft drive patent in 1894 for a "chainless safety bicycle"

The text of the patent application makes it clear that this was just one "chainless" approach~
The invention relates to the driving mechanism of the class of chainless safety bicycles, and the object is to provide an easy running and noiseless driving mechanism for such machines which while simple and cheap will be strong, durable and readily adjustable. To this end the invention resides in details of the construction and arrangement of the parts making up the driving mechanism of such a machine, as more particularly hereinafter described and pointed out in the claims.
This was not the first patent for a shaft drive system for a safety bike. The typical (and easier) shaft drive approach is to have two regular chainstays and to replace the chain drive with the shaft drive - here the right chainstay is also replaced by the shaft drive, so that the shaft drive replaces to different parts of the bicycle, both its drive system and part of its frame. I suppose it seems more elegant to have a single straight piece of metal rather than two in that space.

Some manufacturers still are trying to come with shaft drive bikes that will sell, but I don't expect them to become common any time soon - as the Wikipedia entry notes, a properly lubricated chain is more efficient.

So while the 1894 patent was not a recipe for success, it was an idea that had a tenacious appeal (apparently, judging by its refusal to go away). The Columbia Bicycle folks tried to sell shaft drive bikes during the 1890s-1900s but they were always the most expensive option and never caught on.

Other patented ideas, however, were just goofy ~

The advantage of this patented idea was what, exactly?

I am quite surprised to read there was a whole "class of velocipedes" using a "continuous circular track" that the bike operates within, as stated in the patent application's text (see below) - I guess if I looked at more old bike patents I would probably find them.
The object of this invention is to improve the construction of that class of velocipedes embodying a continuous circular track or rim in which is mounted a wheeled frame for the rider, and which is pedal driven by the rider. The improvements relate to the construction of the inner machine with reference to its engagement within, and guidance by, the great wheel or endless track.
How do you steer? I confess in the end to be more intrigued by the triangularly shaped chain ring - how does that improve things? There was the famous Shimano "Biopace" chain ring that was oval, but triangular?? Hmm . . .

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1895 Cycle Racing, Home Version

1895 Patent for a "Racing Index for Home Trainer Cycles"

From the patent application:
The idea of the invention is, to form a game or sport by which persons can contest against each other on home trainer cycles; a model on the track representing each contestant and the faster either person pedals his home trainer cycle the faster will the model representing him, travel on the model track.

In other words, you pedal your stationary bike and the little bike in front of you races your opponent (at the correct relative speed, hopefully).

Looks better from this angle . . .

Perhaps a modern version focusing on the exercise and "fun" aspects would be suitable for a Kickstarter funding proposal?

I think a proposal for funding a modern racing trainer duo cycle thing would do better than yet another Kickstarter LED cycle lighting proposal - enough, already.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cycling Patents Monthly (1890s) & Bike Child's Seat

Looking at Cycling Patents Monthly in the Hathitrust digital library is easier for browsing old bicycle-related patents than searching for them in Google.

The digitized issues of the journal, Cycling Patents Monthly, cover the years 1892-1895. Nothing but cycling related patents! Apparently the volume of patents connected with bicycles was unprecedented during the cycling craze of the 1890s. As usual, I found a patent for something that one sees today as "new."

1895 Child's bike seat patent
1895 patented version above includes a sunshade

Front Kiddie Seat
Today's version, but no shade

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bike + Umbrella, Then & Now

I have noted this before, but there are very very few new ideas for how to improve bicycles (that are good, anyway).

A "new" product first patented in 1896

Other bloggers have looked at this device, the "Überhood," and critiqued its likely performance, for example Mr. BikeSnob and the Wired Gadget Lab. (It turns out an Überhood isn't a neighborhood that is better than all the rest.)

And I had a blog post about a similar product - patented in 1896!

Patent Application for Parasol Attachment (to a Bicycle)
One assumes they weren't trying to get the 1896 equivalent of $79 like the Uberhood people, but it still failed

I wonder why they haven't looked for Kickstarter funding.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More Kickstarter Bicycle Improvement Possibilities

Kickstarter is "the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world" (they say) and it turns out, some of these opportunities are for new products to make cycling safer or easier (and hopefully more popular). In a previous post I looked at a couple of modestly scaled money raising endeavors for safety lighting proposals. Thanks to tire that inflates itself as you ride. They only need $250,000 (yes, a quarter of a million dollars) to get this under production!

It's a clever idea - there is a small tube that runs around the entire tire right in the middle of where the tire contacts the ground and as the bike compresses this tube, air if forced through the valve into the tire until some previously set limit is reached, then it stops. If the pressure goes down, it pumps it back up.

Of course there are many clever ideas that are patented that don't enjoy commercial success for one reason or another. What about this idea?

The problem that the inventor is trying to solve is simple enough - bike riders should be able to jump on their bikes and ride off knowing that the tire will soon be inflated to the right pressure if some air has escaped since the last time the bike was used. It is not an anti-flat system that would say pump the tire up fast enough to keep ahead of a lead created by a nail (for example). It also solves the problem of having your tires always at a consistend pressure as you ride since I don't think anyone has ever argued that the small amount that this happens is actually a problem for anyone. Therefore your user is the person who is tired of pumping air in her or his bike tires once in a while before riding.

Are their many such people, really? One wonders. For one thing, while it is not a good thing, many people who ride even relatively frequently (for Americans) are rather lax about their tire pressure, based on conversations I have had. Those people who do care about it, it seems to me, are not likely to feel a desire to turn this activity over to an automatic system to do it for them.

Efforts to keep air in the tires or avoid having flats have been proposed (and patented) since the development of the safety bike in the 1880s, so attempts to simplify cycling by reducing interactions with tires are not new. For example, below is an 1896 patent for a "self sealing" bike tire.

Self Sealing Bike Tire Patent (1895)
Patent 551,408, the self sealing tire

Why didn't the self sealing tire succeed? Well, because it was a layer of complexity and cost on top of what is the best thing about bicycles - that they are pretty simple devices. And also that they introduced a new failure "opportunity" rather than just getting rid of the old one. And of course you have to pay more for it.

This particular idea is quite elegant (in a way) but the Kickstarter proposal fails to suggest what the price point is that they have in mind for these fancy tires that inflate themselves. While in theory anyone would say, "sure I want a tire that keeps itself at the right air pressure" I suspect when they see the relative cost they will wonder if operating the pump occasionally is really that inconvenient (for that portion of the cycling public who care about their tire inflatiion situation other than when the tire is more or less flat). That, in the end, is the issue - are people (Americans - I assume a Dutchman for example would guffaw if he saw this product) so lazy that they will pay $$$ more for a high priced tire rather than fill it with air occasionally themselves? The product developers don't argue that it is a safety issue, unlike that yellow light in your Ford Explorer so you don't tip the thing over with underinflated tires.

And I'm pretty sure, notwithstanding their remarks in the FAQ, that this approach does introduce new problems to manage. They claim that a "little filter" will keep dust and dirt from interfering with the intake of air to inflate the tire, but given where it is (down practically on the ground) and the small sizes, presumably then the issue is the "little filter" getting a lot clogged. Also, as shown in its development phase, this pressure gauge limiter thing that rides on top of the inner tube valve looks like trouble with a capital "T". They admit in their FAQ that in production this thing would ideally be a lot smaller and perhaps not angled straight out from the rim but rather along the rim somehow, or supported by a spoke. Well - yeah. Because a weak point in every inner tube is at the valve, so putting that big monster thing on top of the valve is begging for trouble. They don't need just their own tire, I think, but their own wheel-tire combo.

Finally, the tube (they call it a "lumen" which apparently is a biology term for a tube-like structure) that is compressed as the wheel turns and does the pumping runs on the outer center of the tire where the greatest wear is on any bike tire. However thick the wall of that lumen (tube) is is how long your tire lasts. If you get a little cut through that lumen - well, so much for the self inflating feature and the tire is ruined (which they admit in their FAQ). So, for a given style of tire, this self inflating tire costs more but lasts a shorter period of time and has a risk factor for the failure of the feature that you paid extra for.

Industry statistics don't say how many bicycle tires are sold, but presumably the best result for the inventors would be to get a nice urban bike equipped with these tires as standard equipment. Perhaps they'll get lucky.

Anything that makes riding a bike easier can be considered, if you are in the cycling camp, to be good for society (more green, more exercise, etc.). This is something that replaces one small inoffensive task (that many are a bit inattentive to, but with few serious consequences) with unnecessary complexity and cost, and then claims to be easier. I guess it depends how you define "easier."

That's enough Kickstarter bike projects for today.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Springs, Not Air, for Bike Tires (1896 Patents)

For whatever reason, in December of 1896, more than one clever (or not so clever) inventor decided that they could make their fortune with a tire that required no air (or at least was only optionally inflatable). All three of the patent applications below were made with one month ~

Patent 573907
Patent number 573,907

The patent above is straightforward in intent:
This invention relates to tires, being especially designed for use upon bicycles and other vehicles, and the object in view is to provide a mechanical tire resembling in action a cushion or pneumatic tire, the elasticity being obtained through the medium of a series of springs disposed around the wheel-rim and incased within a suitable sheath or cover, thus dispensing with the necessity for a pneumatic tire and avoiding the disadvantages of frequent puncturing and repair incident to the use of pneumatic tires.
The design is simple enough - one wonders if the inventor built a prototype that worked. Why are we still riding around on tires filled with troublesome air?

Patent 573920 (part a)

Patent number 573,920, part a

The next submission to the Patent Office seems to have decided a more complex approach was called for - in fact, he patented two separate spring systems as possible ways to solve the problem. (See above, and below.)

Patent 573920 (part b)

Patent number 573,920, part b

Just before 1896 ended, we have the submission below - the simplest approach yet. The inventor takes a more middle of the road approach - air is optional, not required:
If preferred, my improved tire may be used without being inflated, the spring D serving to maintain the tire in its proper position and to give elasticity thereto; but said tire may also be inflated with air in the usual manner, if desired, and by the usual means, and in this event both the air and the spring serves to give elasticity to the tire and to maintain it in the proper form.

Patent 574015
Patent number 574,015

Alas, 115 years on, we are still riding around on tires that get punctures.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ideas for Bicycle Saddles (1896)

Google presents zillions of digitized patent applications - in the 1890s there were so many patent applications related to cycling that there was magazine, Cycling Monthly, that was nothing but patent and trademark applications related to bicycles. Not surprisingly it is more entertaining to page through that (if one works in a large library where there are some issues) and then bring up the Google versions rather than try to find 1890s patent applications for bicycle stuff directly in Google.

One quickly realizes that then as now, there is a sense that there must be a better bicycle saddle. The following examples are all from 1896 ~

Patent for Bike Saddle 554337
Patent number 554,337

The notion in the above "invention" is that really you just want to sit on a couple of springs.

Patent for Bike Saddle 556250
Patent number 556,250

Above is something like the opposite view to the previous patent - no, what you really want to do is sit on a shaped piece of wood! Oh, with a slit in the middle.

Patent for Bike Saddle 557238
Patent number 557,238

Above, the well-known view even today (perhaps even more so today) that a wider base of support is key.

Patent for Bike Saddle 558917
Patent number 558,917

A rather complex contoured approach . . .

Patent for Bike Saddle 562919
Patent number 562,919

The last example here (but hardly the last patent application for bicycle saddles from 1896) is an "add on" to an existing saddle the would provide inflatable cushions held in place by their invention.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bicycle "Body Shield" (Patent, 1896)

Patent from Google that demonstrates that while the basic bicycle design hasn't changed much, ideas for how to improve cycling have had their ups and downs.

Bicycle Body Shield Patent, 1896
Has every crazy idea been patented?

The object of the invention is to provide a new and improved body-shield more especially designed for use by bicyclists,boatmen, or other persons exposed to the force of the wind, the shield being arranged to not only break the force of the wind against the body of a bicycle-rider, but also to protect the throat, breast, face, and ears of the rider and at the same time permit the rider to easily get on or off the bicycle.