Every month there are a bewildering number of patents filed and granted that relate to the bike world. Lots would be seen as somewhat wacky and useless to most of us, but hiding away in the mass of paperwork lie some interesting inventions that can often give light to which direction a brand is moving in. Sometimes they're put in place after the launch of a product, more to protect that particular product and any future ones that would share the same technology.
Not absolutely everything can be patented though. They are available in all fields of technology but must be new, involve an inventive step and are capable of industrial application. Although looking through some patents they do meet through those criteria by the skin of their teeth.
Patents do have many benefits. They can provide incentives for research and development departments or firm and they put all these new inventions out into the public domain, providing more information and perhaps inspiration for future inventions. They also enable small companies or individuals, who can afford to patent and defend their patents, the ability to become licensors, accruing capital from their inventions while they might not necessarily be able to implement them in a product themselves.
They do, however, receive a hell of a lot of flak. Some people see them as blocking innovation and waste resources. There are rules, regulations and criteria in place for patents, but some companies and individuals do scrape very close with low quality and broad patents that have the potential to do more harm than good. Like most things in life, it's a balancing act and also requires doing things for the right reasons.
Patents usually stand for 20 years from the date of filing.
Here's the start of a regular round-up looking at the more interesting patents we've come across in the past few months.
Specialized Suspension SystemPatent Number US 2019300096
Specialized's patent on their recognisable Demo and Enduro suspension layout is a perfect example of a brand patenting a layout to protect their bike design for the years to come, and possibly hints at more bikes following a similar design than just the Enduro and Demo.
The patent must describe the invention, and so layout, so there’s lots of talk of frames, subframes, pivots and articulation. In addition to this there are quite a few drawings accompanying the patent to illustrate embodiments, some of which we can recognise as bikes in production, and others with possible variations on the layout, some showing less amounts of concentricity between pivots which could up the amount of adjustability for the designers, and some with different shock placements increasing the amount of concentricity with pivots.
Specialized's layout isn’t a million miles away from the Canyon Sender, both employing a four-bar layout to connect the rear wheel to the main frame and so dictate the axle path and responses to acceleration and braking, then a second set of links to drive the shock. Specialized differed from Canyon in making the links that drive the shock share the same pivots as the links connecting the rear wheel to the mainframe, in theory, reducing the amount of adjustability in the design to somewhat separate the anti-squat and anti-rise from the leverage ratio. Now some of their embodiments in the patent show the ability to have more freedom in pivot placement.
The patent also describes how it came about due to wanting a low center of gravity by having the shock placed as low in the frame as possible, citing other more conventional designs with the shock placed higher as being detrimental to the bike's handling.
There is also reference to longer travel suspension designs often having great amounts of forwards axle path, especially at the end of travel. It seems Specialized sought to combat these two points, although the amount of rearward axle path in the new Demo 29 is only around 3mm before travelling about 23mm further forward from the sag point to the end of travel. The shock is, however, positioned incredibly low in the frame, and with the length of the shocks on the Demo 29 and Enduro it puts that weight lower down.
The patent is valid in the US and Germany, covering the two most important areas in the bike selling world for companies as big as Specialized.
Spring Rate AdjusterPatent Number EP 3594526A1
Öhlins design and manufacture suspension equipment for a whole host of applications. Their parts show up on all manner of motorcycles, high performance road and race cars and, in recent years, mountain bikes too.
They have recently had a small flurry in patents ranging from spring and damper designs with ease of service features, position dependant systems and even a fully electronically controlled system that uses a series of consecutive events to control the suspension and reduce system power usage, rather than monitoring what is happening at every single millisecond.
The patent here focuses on a system for adjusting the spring rate characteristics in a shock, or fork, without having to take the shock apart. Something similar to what a few smaller, mainly suspension tuning companies have released. But if someone like Öhlins is patenting it then it could well find its way into production suspension parts without the need to purchase aftermarket kits to modify your current suspension.
As stated, the removing, replacing and rearranging of volume spacers is time consuming and not all riders have the know-how or tools to do the work themselves. Having a system able to do this from the exterior of the shock is of huge benefit.
Where Öhlins differ in their approach, and giving them the availability to patent it, is that they change the volume inside the air chamber indirectly by adjusting the volume of the damping area housing the damping fluid. The two working areas, one gas-filled and one damping fluid-filled, are functionally connected to each other to allow this adjustment. One side effect of this method of adjustment means that the shock is less vulnerable to a performance drop due to varying amounts of oil inside, for example, after a service.
Their artwork, and the patent text, show a means of adjusting the volume via a worm drive and what almost looks like a standard Öhlins rebound adjuster shaped knob. This enables the adjuster knob to be placed at 90 degrees to the moving elements inside the shock. Mounting the system inline wouldn't be possible due to the shock eyelet needing space for the bushing.
As is the case when adjusting air spring volume with tokens, the pressure is reset to the new volume inside the shock. A side feature of this construction is the ability to adjust ride height - for a given gas pressure inside the shock, adjusting the volume would change gas pressure inside, adjusting the ride height of the shock and so the bike.
This Öhlins patent, along with all their other recent patents are valid for Europe.
DT Swiss Voice Controlled BikePatent Number EP 3552941
Lurking away behind a very plain title is a patent from DT Swiss that became very interesting. Not least because of the lengths that DT go to suggest ways in which the patent and invention could be used.
Many people now have systems in their homes from Amazon or Google to control or provide information based on voice commands. The DT Swiss patent essentially outlines a system to control and give feedback on the bike from voice commands.
It mentions monitoring and control of suspension systems, drivetrains, lights, seat posts, electric motors used for drive assistance, battery units, tire pressure monitors, bike behaviour sensors, rider performance sensors and GPS sensors. A whole connected system of a bike constantly monitoring the state of its sensors and allowing control to parts of the bike through voice command and providing acoustic, optical or vibrating feedback.
It even suggests vocal encouragement from the bike when it realises you’re in a challenging climb or descent as well as outputting information and feedback to displays in goggles or devices in your helmet. Based on the operating conditions the bike could also provide warning to the rider for them to make adjustments or be aware of things about to need a service or even incoming weather.
There’s mention of your personal system being trained to recognise your voice when in a group of people and with other noise disturbances. So, you’d have to do a really good impression of your friend to operate his bike for him. There’s even a mention of engine braking on ebikes and brake energy recuperation, hinting to an even larger system of a bike.
The patent description is fantastic for a read into perhaps the future of electronic integration in the bike world. DT’s patent is valid for Europe, Germany and the US, so essentially covers the major players in the bike world.
Shimano Electric Brake SystemPatent Number US 2019359187
Shimano always do a good job of wording patents, as was shown when they cleverly disguised a potential gearbox transmission in their recent patent labelled sliding component and bicycle internal transmission device
Shimano also files and is granted a barrage of patents monthly. Some of them less interesting than their gearbox, referring to chain and cassette technology.
This particular patent, however, refers to electronics in the braking system, and the disconnect of the “operating member”, or brake lever, from the rest of the system. For lack of a better description, a drive-by-wire brake.
The patent uses a detector to monitor the brake lever and turn its inputs into a signal that the detector picks up. A controller uses these inputs to control the electric actuator which operates the brake calliper. The patent drawing show examples with the whole system inside the brake lever of a road bike, but given that there would be a mechanical disconnect between the brake lever and the calliper, the system could be anywhere else and potentially remove the need for brake hoses around the handlebars.
With the removal of that mechanical connection it seems there are a lot of challenges in the way to accurately monitor what is happening at the brake lever and process and act on those inputs fast enough. Lots of fine processing of lever travel and pressure is done so quickly by the brain and fingers without us even noticing, and to some degree this needs to be replicated in the electronics and mechanical aspects of this system.
If there is a separate system used for actuating the brakes given the input from the brake lever, then this could also be one potential aspect in an ABS system. More sensors detecting bike and wheel speed would be needed but the operation of the brakes being controlled by an electric system could allow Shimano to vary the brake pressure for the given inputs and reduce brake locking and skidding.
Shimano’s patent is valid for Japan, China, the US and Germany, covering all the major countries important to bikes and providing enough patent cover for effectively the world of bikes.
Tektro Brake Wear Monitor and Warning SystemPatent Number US 2019376572
Tektr'os patent is a little easier to decipher from the title, but hints at some useful technology to help riders out in the safety department.Their patent embodies a device to monitor the wear of your brake pads and give out a warning when the pads hit a point when they need changing. Most of us wear pads down until the backplates are hitting the rotor, and Tektro's patent sees the pads giving out a warning far before this point to ensure proper braking performance.
The system works by way of a small pressure switch in between the two sides of the pad spring. When the pads are new, or above the wear limit, the switch isn’t pressed into activation. Once the pads wear below the pre-defined limit the switch is activated and a warning signal is produced. The patent describes how this warning signal could be transmitted to the brake lever where a warning light comes on once the wear limit is reached.
Tektro also go on to describe a system with two switches. The first handles the wear of the pads, and a second switch is used to monitor whether the brakes are in use or not. There’s not much further on possible uses for this, but it could easily be used as the sensor in a brake light system. With Tektro's claims of improving the safety aspect of road, mountain and other bikes it could be put into place on commuter and road bike to warn surrounding traffic when the bike is braking.
Tektro's patent is valid for the US, Taiwan and China.