Dearborn, Michigan - The chance of getting a puncture has always been a headache for cyclists. But now the problem could be about to become a whole lot more serious, as boffins have invented a blow-up bike.
Engineers at Ford have designed the inflatable frame to make it easier to stow bicycles in a car boot. Their bike has a traditional rigid steering column but the other parts of the frame –i ncluding the top tube, down tube and seat tube – are made from inflatable segments. The seat, pedals, chain and wheels are the same as for any other bikes and are not inflatable
These segments consist of seven rubber tubes arranged in a petal shape, enclosed by a larger tube made from Kevlar, which becomes rigid when the inner tubes are inflated. Engineers insist that the Kevlar sheath – the same material used in bulletproof vests – would be tough enough to stop the inflatable sections from being punctured. And as the frame does not touch the ground, they say, it would be less likely to come into contact with sharp objects anyway.
Each section of inflatable tubing would be connected to the others by valves that allow air to pass between them so that, when deflated, the bike can be folded and stored in a drawer in the car boot.
Engineer Johannes Huennekens, part of Ford’s research team at its global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, said: "When inflated, the inflatable segment is sufficiently rigid to support the weight of the cyclist.
"The inflatable segment that extends between the seat and rear wheel may also be inflated to a lower pressure to tune the suspension characteristics of the frame."
This, he said, would give a more comfortable ride.
A built-in pump in the car can be used to inflate the frame until it's rigid, and a hand-pump or pressurised canisters of carbon dioxide could also be used to top up the bike should it need it while in use.
The plans, which have been filed as a patent, also suggest an electric motor could be fitted to help take some of the work out of pedalling.
In recent years, Ford has been trying to develop alternative modes of transport that can help people travel ‘the last mile’ where cars cannot take them. In 2015, it revealed designs for a collapsible bike made from parts of a car, including head rests, the spare wheel and the car jack. The latest idea, however, avoids the need for car owners to cannibalise their vehicle if they fancy going for a ride.
Ford’s Walter Pijls said finding alternatives for people who live in cities was a major area of research for the company.
"Our vision for the 'city of tomorrow' includes solutions that put people first, saving time, money and making our cities easier to live in."