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Bicycle Designs

I came across a Time Magazine issue devoted to the best inventions of 2020.

Magazine cover courtesy of time.com

Two cycling accessories were among the 100 innovations featured. The Bontrager WaveCel helmet and the add-on CLIP friction-drive motor.

One complete bicycle was on the Time Magazine list. The Gocycle GXi folding electric bicycle.

Photograph courtesy of time.com

The bicycle has come a long way in the 150 years since it was invented.

The forerunner of the bicycle is widely accepted to be the Laufmaschine (running machine) invented by Baron Karl von Drais in 1817. As the name suggests, this two-wheeled device was propelled by either walking or running. This style was known as a velocipede in most of Europe, a Draisine or Draisienne in France, and more generally a Dandy Horse.

Illustration courtesy of bicyclinghistory.net

The most important moment in bicycle history came in 1867 when Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement added a mechanical crank drive with pedals to the Dandy Horse design.

Photograph courtesy of bikecitizens.net

The bicycle has been fertile ground for inventors ever since.

Graphic courtesy of businessfirstfamily.com

Here are some patented ideas that didn’t gain widespread acceptance.

This single-wheeled cycle patented in 1885 by J.O. Lose was not a winner. Despite the integrated umbrella to keep your cigarette (or is that a joint?) dry.

Illustration from US Patent No 325,548 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

In 1900, C.H. Bemenderfer invented “…a simple, inexpensive, and light attachment readily applicable to an ordinary bicycle without entailing changes in the construction thereof and calculated to carry a considerable burden without greatly increasing the labor of the bicycle rider.”

Racks or panniers turned out to be a more practical way to carry cargo on a bike.

Illustration from US Patent No 646,791 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

In 1901 W. Eastman and W.H. Sayer adapted Bemenderfer’s third wheel design to run on rails. Given that full-sized bicycles are not allowed on some trains in Malaysia, it might be worth reviving this idea. If you can’t beat them, join them 🤣.

Illustration from US Patent No 674,082 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

Another invention that didn’t float is this water bicycle, patented by D.H. Mosteller in 1913. Both the arms and legs provided the power to turn the propeller shaft. The legs were underwater, which would have made pedalling difficult. Note that the water bicycle was steered by the chin, which sat in a chinrest connected to the rudder at the front of the water bicycle.

Illustration from US Patent No 1,072,027 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

L.S. Burbank patented this arm-powered machine in 1900. You might have thought that this idea was not a winner either.

Illustration from US Patent No 642,544 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

You would be wrong. You can buy a very similar machine, the Rowbike, today.

Photograph courtesy of startup selfie.net

Other early ideas continue to attract innovation. G.H. Williams patented this spring-cushioning device in 1902. I have something like it, the Redshift ShockStop, on my bike now.

Illustration from US Patent No 714,121 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

The compact bicycle has gone through many iterations since this version was patented by C.H. Clark in 1921. This design was easy to carry “…through revolving doors or conveniently into trains, street cars, or any place where the room is restricted or where there are a considerable number of people moving about.”

It was not easy to pedal. Look at the size of that chainring compared to the rear sprocket.

Illustration from US Patent No 1,381,281 courtesy of patent images.storage.googleapis.com

Clark’s design is one of many that fell by the wayside. New transportable / folding bike designs continue to surface. A quick search on kickstarter.com revealed the Halfbike, which is not far removed from Clark’s patent.

Photograph courtesy of kickstarter.com

Other folding bikes on Kickstarter of course include a number of e-variants. The differentiator is usually the ‘revolutionary’ folding mechanism.

There are full-size bikes on Kickstarter. One intriguing design is the 8bar MITTE. Sliding dropouts and two different forks allow the frame to switch from a road-oriented geometry to a cross-oriented geometry.

We will see if these designs survive or fail the test of time. Whatever the case, we are sure to see new ideas in bicycle frame design, some wild and wacky, for many years to come.

About alchemyrider

I left Malaysia in 2008 as a non-cyclist. I am back home now with three road bikes and all the paraphernalia that goes with being addicted to cycling.

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