Yep, this project is about reinventing the wheel. But don't let that put you off - this is serious!! I have spent much of the last four years developing bicycle wheels with integral suspension.
We are at the final push now: I need your help to take our fully-functioning and tested prototype 20" front and rear bicycle wheels into production.
We showed our loopwheels for the first time in public at the Bespoked Bicycle show in Bristol 12-14 April 2013. The reception and feedback was brilliant - thank you to every one who came to our stand. There are some pictures and early Twitter feedback on the Loopwheels Facebook page, and some of the reactions from the press are here:
The latest full review is from Bike Radar 13 May 2013: http://m.bikeradar.com/gear/category/components/wheel-sets/product/review-loopwheels-20in-spokeless-suspension-wheel-13-47253
GizMag / Ben Coxworth 17 April 2013: http://www.gizmag.com/loopwheels-suspension-bicycle-wheels/27129/
RoadCC / Dave Atkinson 18 April 2013:
The Headset Press / Dan Hunt 19 April 2013
Blogging cyclist Martin Cox did a review after he rode Loopwheels; here's what he thought: http://themartincox.co.uk/2013/05/loopwheels-ride-world-exclusive/
And here's a piece by Peter Eland of Velovision: http://www.velovision.com/showStory.php?storynum=1264
Note on updates
I'm adding updates as the campaign goes along, often as a result of feedback in messages sent to me from Kickstarter supporters. See updates 8 & 9 in particular for pledge updates, added 25 April 2013, and for conversion of pledge amounts into US dollars. There are now choices of colours for your loops, as well as the original gorgeous blue. A different colour is an extra £100 and the choices are shown in "Updates".
I'm also adding in FAQs in the section at the end. So check back for the most recent information!
What is a loopwheel?
Loopwheels are a brand-new 'pat pending' 20" bicycle wheel with integral suspension. A spring system between the hub and the rim of the wheel provides suspension, cushioning the rider from bumps and potholes in the road.
Loopwheels have a conventional hub with a hub brake and hub gears. But the spokes are replaced by a spring system. This gives an amazingly smooth, comfortable ride compared with a conventional spoked wheel.
Why do we need your help?
We now have high performing pre-production loopwheels for both a front and a rear 20" bicycle wheel. Until now, our wheels have been made in very small numbers, and fitted onto bikes which we have bought individually. I need funding to move forward into proper production, to pay the upfront tooling costs for the bespoke components that attach the springs to the rims and hubs, so that we can manufacture our loopwheels at an affordable price to share with the world. Then we can make our loopwheels in batches not as individual wheels.
So what exactly will I spend the funding on if we reach our target?
As well as the cost of pledge items (including bikes), I will use the money to fund:
- the extrusion tool for the aluminium components of the loopwheel;
- the upfront costs of bulk orders of components;
- a resin system for the springs. (At the moment we make the springs using a simple steel tool which has been good enough for making springs for the small numbers of wheels we've done to date. But we need to invest in a much more sophisticated resin system for making springs in larger quantities and more quickly);
- materials to make assembly jigs, and other simple production equipment such as benches to fit out the industrial unit we've used for testing & development work.
And if we exceed our target: I might be able to afford some extra labour to help me out assembling loopwheels and posting them to backers!
What exactly is a loopwheel?
This picture shows the loopwheel and its various components. The ones marked "JP" are the bespoke elements designed by Jelly Products (JP) (that's me!!) Other components are standard bicycle parts that I've bought in "off the shelf".
The springs are made of carbon composite material, carefully developed and tested to give optimum compression and lateral stability as well as strength and durability. I've designed connectors to attach the springs to the hub and rim, and these are aluminium extrusions. There are three springs in each wheel, which work together as a self-correcting system. The spring configuration allows for the torque to be transferred smoothly between the hub and the rim.
Front and rear loopwheels have different spring rates. The rear is roughly twice as stiff as the front wheel. A front and rear loopwheel can be used together as a set, or you can use a single loopwheel alongside a conventional spoked wheel. Loopwheels provide suspension on a bike which has none, or can be fitted in addition to suspension forks to give a smoother, more comfortable ride.
Because of the suspension within the wheel, you can use high-pressure or puncture-resist tyres. So you don’t need to rely on fat (and sluggish) tyres to cushion your ride.
What are the benefits of loopwheels over conventional spoked wheels?
Most folding bikes do not have suspension because conventional suspension forks add weight and bulk to the bicycle. That is particularly unwelcome in a bicycle which needs to fold down to a compact size. Replacing the spoked wheels with Loopwheels provides full suspension in a bike which hasn't got room for a traditional suspension system, but each loopwheel weighs only about 300g more than its spoked equivalent. So you get a much more comfortable ride with no impact on folding, and only a small weight gain.
Unlike suspension forks, loopwheels provide tangential suspension: that is, they work in every direction. So they respond to a force hit head-on in the same way as they do to a force from above or below.
What’s the benefit to the rider?
Comfort: Tangential suspension gives you a really comfortable ride, and people find they can take bumps, kerbs and cobbles more easily on loopwheels.
Reduced vibration: I find when I ride a loopwheel that I don’t experience the usual feeling of vibration up my arms, because loopwheels absorb and isolate you from the “noise” of the road. So I get less wrist and shoulder ache on long rides. I didn't expect this when I set out on developing this product - but every one has commented on this when they ride loopwheels for any distance.
Smooth ride: The pedalling cadence is slightly different when you ride loopwheels, because the springs release energy more evenly. This makes for a very smooth easy ride.
FUN!!! AND - every one who has ridden a loopwheels bike so far has said “Wow!" - and smiled. A lot.
How much travel is there in a loopwheel?
45mm. The springs have a lot of give in them, as you can see on the video (the close up of the wheel at a junction). You can see the amount of compression on the photo below, which is of a prototype loopwheel on one of our test rigs. It shows the lower spring changing shape significantly compared with the two, which are not under compression:
How did the idea of loopwheels start?
In 2007 my idea of a wheel with tangential suspension was born when I was sitting at Eindhoven airport waiting for a flight. I saw a mother pushing her child in a buggy. The front wheels hit a slight kerb and the child jolted forward because of the impact. It happened several times in the time I was waiting there. At that point this idea was just an idle doodle in my sketch book, and I left it that way for quite a while.
In 2009 I was doing a lot of off-road cycling and kept thinking it would be awesome to have tangential suspension in a bicycle wheel. I made some early prototypes. They worked OK and proved the concept, but those early prototypes didn't really perform better than a spoked wheel. I knew that to be worth doing, this wheel has to be better than what's already available.
I did a patent search - and found that lots of people had tried this idea before, especially in the early 20th century. But the materials that were available then just weren't good enough for the idea to be made to actually work successfully, and I didn't let this put me off.
We have applied for patent protection. I have registered design rights granted, and Trade Marks on the loopwheels name and logo.
Can loopwheels be fitted to any bike?
No. Currently we are just making 20" diameter loopwheels, which is a small standard wheel size. Many 20" wheel folding commuter bikes don't have any suspension so loopwheels are ideal for them.
We are fitting our loopwheels to a Dahon Mu folding bike. The bikes we've used as demonstration models came to us from the UK Dahon distributor Raleigh, who are part of the the great bicycle heritage of our local city of Nottingham.
Because of the way loopwheels work, they can't be fitted to every bicycle. As the wheels react to changes in the terrain, the hub and the rim become non-concentric. This means the loopwheel needs clearance between the top of the tyre and the front forks. This isn't a problem on some bikes - they have this much space for those fat cushioning tyres (which, with loopwheels, you don't need any more). But you need to check this on your own bike if you're going to make a pledge just for wheels.
You need there to be a minimum of 260mm from the front wheel axis (the centre of the hub) to the underside of the fork, and from the rear wheel axis to any part of the bike frame, in order to fit loopwheels to your bike.
In addition, loopwheels have hubs sized as follows:
- Front drop out centre: 100mm
- Rear drop out centre: 117mm
The "drop out centre" on a bike is the distance between the forks where the hub fits. People also refer to the overlock nut dimension: it's basically the same measurement. Watch out to check your forks are wide enough for our hubs!
We supply the brake cable and its clip. It is quite easy for you to fit the cable to your own bike brake lever.
The hubs we are providing on our Kickstarter loopwheels are made by Sturmey Archer. The front drum brake hub set is their X-FD and the rear hub set is their X-RD3. So our Kickstarter wheels are 3-speed only. In future, we plan to do a wider range of hubs and gear speeds. But keeping it simple at this stage ensures we can deliver on our commitments to you.
What's the production plan?
So, how will we manufacture loopwheels once we reach our funding goal?
We already have a lot of what we need for production: our pre-production loopwheels have been tested for strength, longevity, durability, compression rates and lateral stability and we have designed them with ease of manufacture in mind. We know who is going to supply each component, the cost of that component and the lead times for delivery. We have a workshop which we have been using to develop and test the wheels, and which will now become our assembly unit. (You can see it on the video). We are now designing jigs to hold all the components in place as they are assembled, and we are working out the most efficient assembly method and planning each stage of the assembly process.
Some of the components of loopwheels are standard bicycle parts: that's the rims, hubs and tyres. We buy these in from the manufacturers in Europe. Currently we get hubs from Sturmey Archer in the Netherlands, rims from Schuermann in Germany, and we use Continental tyres with a reflective strip. The hubs come with brake cables and clips.
I designed the components which attach the springs to the rims and the hubs. These are bespoke to loopwheels and there are up-front tooling costs to have these made in quantity: they are aluminium extrusions.
I designed the carbon composite springs in close collaboration with a company with long experience in composite materials. This is KG Archery, who have been making high quality archery bows for over 30 years. So the main component of loopwheels are made locally to us in Nottinghamshire (Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest tradition lives on here!)
Next steps on production
Once we reach our funding target, we can place our orders for the tooling of the connector components, and order the hubs, rims, tyres and bicycles. At the same time KG Archery will get to work on making the number of springs we shall need. This is one of the most time-consuming parts of the manufacturing process and involves a high degree of specialist knowledge and experience.
What about larger wheel sizes?
I have a 26" loopwheel in development . . . I ride a prototype 26" loopwheel on my MTB but it's not quite good enough yet. So I need to do more R&D on it still . . .
STOP PRESS! See updates 8 & 9 for further pledge information, amounts in US dollars, and add-ons!!! (25 April 2013)
We are offering our first production loopwheels to Kickstarter supporters. We've priced them lower than our expected retail price (which we anticipate will be at least £600 for a set of 2 wheels). We are offering them on a Dahon Mu folding bike or you can pledge for the wheels without a bike. You can pledge for single front or rear wheels, or a wheel set. You'll see that rear wheels are more expensive than front wheels. This is because of the higher costs of the components, including stiffer springs.
We hope you like our other pledge items. Oli Pepper of Morvelo was inspired to design this loopwheels technical cycling jersey when he saw Sam's "tangential suspension" diagram (shown earlier). Wow!
Our good friend Neil Bennett was inspired by loopwheels to draw some cartoons on the "reinventing the wheel" theme. Neil is better known as the cartoonist "NB"; his work has appeared regularly in The Times, Private Eye, Independent on Saturday magazine, Punch and the New Statesman. We love his drawings and are offering them as T-shirts and as prints. Here's the design for the loopwheels T-shirt (Apologies - the quality of the scans here are not as good as the final product . . . and the colour of the loops will be turquoise not green)
And we'll be producing NB's Penny Farthing "Wheels Reinvented" cartoon as a high quality A4 print.
Or if you prefer, you can choose your pledge reward to be NB's Stone Age Loopwheel cartoon (as a high quality A4 print):
If you just want to help us on our way, you can (of course) pledge any amount of money over £1 to support us - you don't have to pledge as much as £20. But then your reward is just a warm glow, and backer updates from the project.
Risks and challenges
This is an ambitious project and it has been a long road to reach the point we are at now: tested and high-performing loopwheels. There were over 30 prototype wheel attempts before we found the right combination of design and materials, and many more different "recipes" for the composite springs. We weren't sure if we would be able to fund all the development and testing we needed to do, but we have done. We are not at the end of the road yet by any means! But we believe we can meet the challenges well, and will continue to find successful solutions if obstacles arise.
Risk no 1: a delay in supply of components
Assuming we meet our funding target, our biggest risk is reliance on external suppliers. The risk here is that there are delays in production. A delay in the supply of one component will hold up the whole production of loopwheels. But we know all of our suppliers well and we have experience of working with them. They are all long-established in their fields. We have identified a back-up supplier for every component. So we've got mitigations in place.
Risk no 2: managing the demand for loopwheels.
We have deliberately limited the number of loopwheels we have offered as pledges so that we can be confident that we can make enough wheels to fulfil pledges in a timely fashion. We expect the main pinch point to be making the springs. So we've tailored our plan accordingly.
Risk no 3: managing the production efficiently
We have lots of experience of R&D but very little of managing a manufacturing facility! So this is new territory for us. Happily we are being helped by a good friend who has 15 years' production experience and is working with us part-time. He has helped us develop our production plan. We already have a workshop big enough for production of loopwheels. The wheels have been designed from the outset with ease of assembly in mind: Sam has 20 years' experience of designing products for commercial manufacture. We are designing a series of assembly jigs now (to hold the components in the right place as the wheels are built) and with our kickstarter funding we will have these made and equip our production unit with the benches to make the production process as smooth and efficient as possible.
Risk no 4: the unexpected
Finally, we are a small company, so an unexpected untoward incident like a serious illness could have quite a major impact on us . . .
. . . but if you're reinventing the wheel, you expect to face some challenges along the way!
If you say you are reinventing the wheel, people laugh. But I'm quite determined (some would say stubborn!) So I didn't give up. I'm also creative and never short of ideas. I kept evolving my design and the combination of materials until I got a wheel that really performs. Brilliantly.
So please help me share loopwheels by supporting this campaign. Every pledge really matters to me. I am really grateful to every one who has helped me get this far, through encouragement and support in lots of different ways. In particular I'd like to thank David Duffield, who has never doubted either 20" wheels with suspension, or English engineers and inventors. He encouraged me to get on with it from the first day he rode them. And thank you to Kickstarter backers - I can only do it with your pledges . . .Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (29 days)