11 April 2016

An Ovation That Hasn't Found Its Audience

We've all seen, or at least heard of, "solutions in search of problems." They seem, as often as not, to come from engineers, inventors or simply geeks who have too much time on their hands.

The bicycle world has seen its share of such "solutions".  What's sad or funny, depending on your point of view, is that even if no problem is found for the solution and said solution fades away quietly, someone might revive it.  An example is elliptical or ovoid chainrings, which I discussed in an earlier post.

I remember hearing about another innovation that left me wondering, "And the purpose of this is...?"  I hadn't thought about it in a long time until someone passed along a video of it:

I guess somebody figured that if four-wheel drive works for jeeps, two-wheel drive would work on bikes, especially mountain bikes. 

The bike in the video made its debut in a 2005 robotics show.  I have to wonder whether its inventors knew that, nearly a decade and a half earlier, someone else had the same idea. And it shared the same problem with its descendent:  It didn't work very well. 

The Legacy Ovation first saw the light of day in 1991.  I remember reading about it in one of the magazines at the time.  If it looks like a conventional mountain bike with an oversized speedometer cable running through it, well, that's pretty much what it is.  Besides the cable, the other major difference is in the front wheel, which is a rear wheel, and the fork, which has a diameter of 135 mm (most front forks are 100 mm) to accommodate the wheel. 


As you can probably tell, the rear wheel (the one that's actually in the rear) is powered in the same way as rear wheels on other bikes.  Each end of the cable has a rotor-cut gear mounted on the side opposite the freewheel.  So, the rotation of the rear wheel causes the front wheel to turn.

The idea actually sounds pretty good.  One of the problems, though, is that of "fighting" the gear, which has a lot of resistance.  Also, having such gears exposed leads to rapid wear and deterioration, which was the downfall of the few Ovations that were ridden.

Solutions like the Ovation don't always find a problem, thankfully.  But sometimes they find a market.  And the bicycle's developers confidently predicted that their invention would capture "20 to 40 percent of the market over the next few years".  It, of course, didn't, and neither did the bike shown at the robotics show.  From what I understand, there have been a couple of other attempts, since then, to create a two-wheel drive.  They didn't gain traction (pun intended) with the public, either. 

Still, even if the two-wheel drive bicycle doesn't find the problem it's supposed to solve, the idea probably won't die.  As long as there's the potential for finding an audience, would-be inventors and entrepreneurs will probably continue to work on this "solution", whether or not it ever finds its problem.


  1. Wow - I have to admit, this Ovation is something I've never seen before. No shock to me that it wasn't successful, though.

  2. Brooks--It's not a shock to me, either. And it's hard for me to imagine how any revival of it would be successful, either.