27 April 2017

Riding On Air--Or Full Of Hot Air?

When I first built my Bontrager Race Lite frame--my Christmas present to myself in 1995--I installed a Rock Shox Mag 21 fork because that was what I had.  Within a few months, though, I'd replaced it with a Rock Shox Judy SL.  Even if you weren't a mountain biker--or on this planet--back then, you've probably seen the Judy SL, with its distinctive yellow finish, in person or images.

It was a great fork, at least for a few rides.  It suspension consisted of a Monocellular Urethane (MCU) spring with a hydraulic damping cartridge.  MCU, like "carbon fiber", shows the power of words or, more precisely, marketing:  Both terms entice people to fork (pun intended) over large sums of money for plastic.

To be fair, though, the hydraulic damping cartridges weren't much sturdier than those springs.  Neither one stood up to sustained punishment, something I could inflict on a bike even in those days, when I was skinny.  

I would soon find out, though, that my springs and cartridges weren't failing because I was a particularly hard-charging rider, as much as I fancied myself as one.  Other mountain bikers were having similar experiences.  In fact, I even witnessed riders losing their suspension in the middle of rides or, worse, jumps.  

Some of those riders switched to other suspension forks, like those from Manitou and Marzocchi.  On the other hand, other riders--including yours truly--retrofitted their Judy forks with Englund air cartridges that we kept inflated with tiny pumps that had needles like the ones used to fill up basketballs and soccer balls at the ends of them.

Those air cartridges were far more durable and were smoother than elastomers (especially when they got dirty) or other kinds of suspension.  It makes sense when you realize that what is arguably the first successful kind of suspension for bicycles (or wheeled vehicles generally) ever made is the pneumatic tire.

Hey, it's not for nothing that we have the phrase "like floating on air" to describe a smooth ride.

With that in mind, I can't help but to wonder how this bicycle would ride:

What I am about to tell you is not a joke:  The bike is inflatable.  Yes, the bike.  

Its frame consists of a series of rubber tubes connected by valves.  This system is supposed to help keep the bike rigid while it's ridden.  The seat stays (or, as the psfk article calls them, the "tubes connecting the seat and back wheel") can be adjusted to give a softer or harder ride.

In case you were wondering:  The rubber tubes were designed with a Kevlar sheath which, according to the bike's designers, make it difficult to cut and help to support the rider's weight.

The bike is designed so that when it's deflated, it will fit in the storage boot of a car.  So, perhaps, it won't surprise you to learn that the bicycle was designed by Ford engineers.

Henry Ford was a bicycle mechanic and, even in his seventies, took "a three mile spin every evening after supper," according to a Time magazine article.  I wonder what he would make of this inflatable bike.


  1. And the handlebars do what...? A 90 degree turn device would make all our lives a lot easier...

  2. Coline--I couldn't find any mention of the handlebars!

  3. They are flat in the car but at right angles to the wheel in the diagram...

  4. Coline--You're right. I don't know what they designers have in mind.