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Bicycle IP – Cranking in the 1890s

/ Stephen O'Brien / Articles

New Spin on Old Technology

With the 2014 edition of Le Tour de France underway, it’s a good time to have a look at bike related IP. During the tour there will doubtless be the usual discussion and debate amongst cycling enthusiasts about the technology being adopted by the professional riders, and whether they should adopt the technology on their own machines. You’ll possibly hear references to elliptical chain sets, tubular rims/tyres and other developments, and you’ll certainly hear talk of electronic gear shifting and power meters.

Rolling in the 1890s

Surprisingly, the foundations of many of the mechanical developments used on the latest bike designs can be traced back to the late 1800s, at least. The 1800s was a prolific period for bicycle related developments. Indeed, in terms of bike related patent activity, nearly a third of all patent applications filed at the USPTO in the 1890s were bike related. Many of these historic patents are accessible today.

Elliptical Chain Rings Turn Full Circle

For example, US Patent 557,676, which issued in 1896, addresses the problem of dead-spots in the pedalling cycle – the same problem addressed by current technology chain-sets used by the pros at the tour. This problem involves the uneven application of power by the rider during the pedal stroke.

US Patent 557,676 addresses the dead-spot problem by utilising an “elliptical drive gear”, which is similar in concept to the elliptical chain rings used on present day racing bikes.

Tubular Rims

Tubular rims are usually the rim of choice for professional riders as they are thought to provide a lower rolling resistance than clincher type rims/tyres.

Tubular rims are fitted with tubular tyres which are glued to the rim. Patents for tubular rims existed as early as 1900, at the least. For example, US Patent 640,174 describes a tubular tyre for a bicycle wheel which is fastened to the rim by “… gluing the edges of the rim and then tacking them.” US Patent 636,153, which issued in 1899, describes a beaded tyre similar to those used on most bikes today.

Braking Systems

Patents directed to calliper type brakes for bicycles can also be traced back to the 1890s, at the least.

For example, US Patent 627,912 describes a front wheel centre-pull type calliper braking system which is activated by a lever fitted to the handle bars.

The system is similar in principle to the current braking system typically used on road bikes.

The 2014 Vintage

This year’s tour will doubtless reveal additional innovations which will generate excitement amongst cycling enthusiasts – particularly in the area of electronic gear shifting and pedal based power meters.

Some of that technology will be the subject of current patent applications by applicants looking to secure a competitive advantage for themselves, and the rider.

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About Stephen:

Stephen O’Brien is a Senior Associate in our ICT team and also leads our sports technology practice. In his spare time, Stephen coaches a South Australian based triathlon squad and is a contributor to Triathlon and Multisport Magazine

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