Patents & Innovation & Bayonet forks
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We need CAD images for the aero bar and conventional handlebar
What is innovation?
For purposes of this discussion, let’s define innovation as commercializing meaningful unique ideas. An innovation is something that is new to people and they are willing to pay a premium for.
For a company to sustain itself in the long term it needs to have meaningfully unique products. If you don’t have that, you're selling a commodity and customers will go elsewhere to pay the least amount. The ultimate proof of uniqueness is a patent. Jim Balsillie (the co-CEO of RIM/Blackberry) put it this way: “Your company is your castle, and your patents are the moat protecting the castle.”
But developing and writing patents takes time and money, and defending them takes even more.[ref: https://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2017/03/01/fox-and-sram-suits-continue-two-states-costs-mount#.Xph8xVNKgkh] Back in our Cervelo days we also found that focussing on patenting ideas sometimes causes people to look back and be defensive and takes focus off moving ahead. Sometimes it’s better to avoid the time and cost of a patent by moving so fast that your next new product will be out before the competition can respond to your last one. In a larger company it might be possible to have a patent engineer/lawyer write those patents to build your “moat” but in a small company it was hard to do that.
For many years the number of patents in the bike industry was pretty low and most of those were obtained by Shimano. But the bike industry has been changing a lot in recent times and the patent landscape along with it.
So now everyone seems to be protecting everything. That’s great as long as you feel your company can get value out of it, but “value” means that someone is willing to pay a premium for it.
So what does this all have to do with forks? Before you spend the time & effort to develop something new, as opposed to using an existing design, you better be sure that people are willing to pay more for it, or it's a waste of your time and money. Right now, every company in the bike industry seems to be patenting every possible option of “bayonet” style forks. Are they really meaningfully different?
Look was the first to commercialize the bayonet forks for tri and track bikes on the KG196 in 1990 (US5429381) although Louis Maurice Ramond of France seems to be the earliest one to conceive the idea around 1974, complete with an integrated brake! (FR74.11908 & US4008903) Since then there have been a slew of different ideas patented in this space including Felt, Cervelo, BMC, Trek, etc. One lesson from this slew of designs is that people are smart. They can usually find a way around a patent, and the consumer generally doesn’t see any difference. If there is no meaningful difference to the consumer, they aren't going to pay anything more for your solution. That means it's better for the manufacturer to spend their design time and money elsewhere.
[ figure of Look KG196]
So why is everyone developing their own new designs? Is it to have something meaningfully unique so that customers will pay more for it? Or is it to block competitors? Or is it just because they want something different? Or because they don't want to admit that their competitor had a good idea? Or that they couldn't possibly work with their competitors as collaborators to develop a new standard?
In the case of bayonet forks, I don't see any significant performance difference between the various designs. Certainly nothing that anyone is willing to pay for. I think what we have is corporate arrogance that won’t allow companies to collaborate for the overall good of the industry.
So what can we do about it?
We were working on a new bike and we had to sort through all of the patent issues. There are a lot of them. In the end, I think we’ve found a solution. But we also found that none of the options offered any real advantage over any other. Including ours. So we figured we‘d tell everyone about it and let them use it if they wanted to save themselves the time and effort of developing their own.
What we wanted:
We felt we needed to have an integrated aero bar that was super aero and easily adjustable.
It needed to accommodate a conventional handlebar as well.
It should easily accommodate control cables internally.
It must be simple: use a minimal number of parts and ideally they should already be used in the bike industry.
It must be easy to live with: easy to install, fit, travel, adjust, and repair. And use a single size hex key.
Oh yeah, and it had to be stiff, light, and strong.
There are a variety of interesting and potentially relevant patents out there including those by John Schmider (US7891687 & US7000936), and several BMC patents (WO2015180756 and WO2017144105), among others. The Felt designs (US7571920 & US20170334510A1) are well done and have good field experience. The Matthews/Cervelo patent US8684386 is interesting in that it has no steerer so it is wide open for cable routing. If we could route cables through the headset with a steerer that would accomplish the same thing, and it could potentially be stronger. Shimano patent US6983949 (and the corresponding Japanese one) has a cable groove in the spacer so we can work around that by routing the cable obliquely through the bolt or headset assembly.
And this is what we came up with:
[figure of ¾ view CAD dwg of HT with camouflaged trailing edges and cables added in.]
[note: Add aerobar]
[figure of ¾ view cad drawing of conventional bar on aero DH style posts.]
Basically, it’s the Cervelo design with Felt bearings and a steerer bolt to retain the bearings and add a redundant load path. The cables go through the custom bolt washer/spacer at an oblique angle. You can use a regular spacer if you don't need the cables. The top cap is attached to the bayonet front piece with 4x M8 bolts for strength. The top cap accommodates a Nick Salazar/TriRig designed adjustable aerobar pylon. The top can be replaced with extensions of your choice (Speedmax, ____ etc.). If you run a drop bar or other bar you can use the aero DH-style stem to attach them.
Did we accomplish all of our objectives?
Overall we are pleased with the design. Everything is adjustable or replaceable from the top with a 4mm (?) hex key. There are no threads into carbon parts that are difficult to replace. The bonded joints are all loaded principally in shear. And the interface is simple and easy for anyone to implement their own bar and/or stem. On the downside, it does not directly accommodate a regular stem although we could accommodate one using an adapter like the Element Pro. But that design is not very aero and we figured the DH-style pylons are a cheaper, cleaner, more aero solution, although they are custom.
So, what do you think? We’re open to feedback and happy to incorporate improvements.
Thanks for your help!
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Phil & Nic.