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So it’s back to the drawing board, then?

Published: 01 February 2000

FOR every brilliant new invention to reach bike showrooms, there are hundreds which never go into production and are destined instead to remain unfathomable drawings filed away at the patent office for ever. Because, frankly, they’re a bit daft.

In the minds of their inventors, it’s only a matter of time before some wealthy entrepreneur sees the awesome potential of their scribblings and offers them obscene amounts of cash to turn their half-baked ideas into reality, guaranteeing them unlimited wealth and esteem for all eternity.

But the truth is, the only time their plans see the light of day is when staff at the patent office needed cheering up. Until now.

We’ve trawled the files to bring you some of the most loony biking ideas ever committed to paper. We’re not making them up. Even our illustrations are based very closely on the original schematics put together by the inventors. Just be grateful these people aren’t in charge at Honda or Triumph.

THE PULSED AIR ZONE DEVICE

IT’S reassuring to know that while we Brits may be regarded as eccentric inventors, those foreign johnnies have the edge when it comes to the truly ridiculous. Take this one patented by Frenchman Paul Yvonneau in 1985.

The idea is, a fan above your head is incorporated into a hood with the aerodynamic qualities of grand piano. This blows air downwards with enough force to deflect any adverse weather conditions, including rain, snow, wind and even microbes.

Unfortunately for the inventor, though, there’s already something that is widely available, has been around for years and which offers a far more straightforward and effective way of deflecting adverse weather conditions away from you. It’s called a car.

THE BIKE WITH FOLDING WHEELS

WHEN you lean your bike over to take a corner, it’s kind of reassuring to know the wheels will lean too. Frenchman Ed Bernard thinks differently, at least he did in 1985 when he patented a bike with wheels mounted on hinges.

The idea is that you crank the frame over while the wheels remain bolt-upright. Gulp! How does Bernard think the bike is going to make it round a corner?

HELMET-MOUNTED MIRRORS

HANS KALUSCHE may have become obsessed with all that periscope action in German submarine thriller Das Boot. How else can you explain the fact that he patented an awkward assembly of mirrors to mount to your helmet just two years after the film was made, in 1983?

It is intended to enable the user to see what’s behind him. But we reckon the image would end up upside-down by the time it reaches you. And anyway, what’s wrong with your bar-mounted mirrors?

THE WINDSHIELD-WIPER SLEEVE

WHAT could be more convenient than wiping the rain from your visor with a concave rubber strip attached to your sleeve? Well, it means you have to obscure your view with your entire arm rather than just flicking away the rain with a finger. Arms move slower than fingers, too.

We have Adalbert Hayduk, from Germany, to thank for the sleeve-mounted visor. Like Kalusche’s mirrors, it was patented in 1983 – obviously a fine year for German thinking.

HELMET WITH BUILT IN NECK-PROTECTOR

THE things which look like comedy spaniel’s ears in our illustration are actually inflatable and intended to keep the user’s neck cushioned from impacts. The strange rivets in the helmet itself are an optional extra which seem to have no safety application. The fact that you can’t look over your shoulder once it’s on doesn’t seem to have troubled German inventors Hilbert Seeger and Albert Reiter. They must be Volvo drivers.

THE INFLATABLE CRASH HELMET

HOW would you feel about trading in your trusty BS certified solid crash helmet for a blow-up one? Lorenzo Martinez, from Spain, came up with the idea in 1991.

The odd thing protruding from the left-hand side is a pump, for inflating it, while the equally bizarre protrusion on the right-hand side is a valve for deflation. Two internal chambers are separated by a one-way valve, so that one will remain inflated if the other is accidentally deflated. Partitions in each chamber pierced with small holes ensure that deflation will be slow if the thing starts leaking.

And the point? According to the inventor, it’s to reduce the space occupied by the helmet when it’s being carted about, while " maintaining a high safety level. " We’re not sure what air pressure you’d need for this to be the slightest bit of use in a crash, but we’re damn sure that a hand-pump wouldn’t provide it.

THE BIKE IN A CAGE

SPAIN’S Sintes Fernandez has plans for a bike with a maze of crash bars, a safety belt and a seat designed to absorb some of the force of a head-on collision by sliding forwards in the event of an accident.

It does this via a shock absorber which dissipates the energy of the impact by deforming itself. It all sounds protective, but the plans seem to do without space for an engine...

THE AIR-CUTTER

THANKFULLY, legal constraints will prevent this one ever hitting the road. The inventor describes an " axe cutting edge " mounted on the front of your bike to allow for better penetration through the air. But what Frenchman Jean De Vaivre overlooked when he invented it in 1990 was that it also allows for considerably improved penetration through pedestrians. And Governments don’t like that kind of thing mounted to moving vehicles.

THE WATERPROOF SUIT FOR TWO

OH, how cute. Patented by Bin Li Ming, from Taiwan, in 1991, it’s a canvas raincoat big enough for two, which can be rolled up and tucked away into a specially designed top box. It has zips through which each person can poke their head and sleeves to let the rider reach the handlebars.

It may provide rain protection but, since there’s no way for users to extend their feet to the ground, it’s recommended the rider doesn’t ever stop while using it. Or fart.

HELMET-MOUNTED LIGHTS AND ALARM

MOST consider a single red light at the rear of a bike enough of a warning that you’re slowing down.

Not German Gerd Erbert. His 1985 concept has not one but several lights all around the helmet which flash when the bike slows or if the rider falls off. And in case the driver behind you is blind, the ’70s disco lights are accompanied by an audio alarm. How long before that drives you mad?

THE HELMET REMINDER

IT could happen to anyone – you’re halfway through your ride when you realise you’ve clean forgotten to put your helmet on.

No? Fair enough, it happens to no-one. This fact hasn’t deterred Frenchwoman Jocelyn Belfroy. Her 1992 idea connects bike and the helmet, senses when the lid is missing – and immobilises the bike. If you’re daft enough to ride without a lid you probably shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, let alone on a bike.

INFLATABLE SUIT

WHAT’S unique about this inflatable invention is that it is blown up via one tube which extends from the wearer’s groin and another which extends from his backside. Try explaining that.

Should the user become separated from the motorcycle, compressed gas is pumped into the suit, abruptly inflating it to cushion his body.

Even if you weren’t embarrassed by wearing something which looks suited to the pages of an S&M magazine, you certainly would be the first time you forgot to disengage the inflating device before climbing off the bike.

THE HEAD IMPACT FORCE DIVERSION SYSTEM

THE plan is that this odd-looking contraption (see page 21) diverts impact forces away from your head and neck to your less vulnerable torso area. The crash helmet attaches to a supporting vest through a rigid arm. According to Americans Rudolph Cartwright and John Lowe, who invented the device in 1992, it permits the usual range of motion of the head and neck during normal activities.

We guess that depends on what your interpretation of the usual range of motion is. Rudolph and John are presumably not familiar with nodding or looking up or down.

THE HELMET CARRYING BELT

WORN on the head, a crash helmet is an extremely effective means of preventing injury in a crash. However, worn around the waist it’s not so clever, turning what might otherwise be a harmless slide down the road into major back trauma.

Silvio Nuvola, from Italy, designed his belt to carry a spare lid in 1992. So he’s had plenty of time to reflect on it since.

THE BIKE WITH CRUMPLE ZONES

FOR crumple zones to be of any use, it’s fundamental that the vehicle user is positioned inside, rather than on, the vehicle in which they are employed.

But Peter Bothwell, from Stratford-on-Avon, overlooked this when he drew up his invention in 1987. His idea is a fairing consisting of a hard shell, surrounding layers of deformable materials ensuring that in a head-on collision damage to the bike is minimised... while your flight through the air will be unhindered.

Bothwell, a retired motorcycle accident researcher, claims he hardly remembers coming up with the idea. It’s funny how we like to forget the bad things, isn’t it?

LEGSFOR ENCLOSED BIKES

SOMEof Bothwell’s inventions have made it into production, he claims. But little legs to support a completely enclosed bike aren’t one of them.

His 1993 invention incorporates a system intended to allow the rider to support the bike when it’s stationary via two retractable hollow pillars. When the rider pushes his feet downwards, they lower to the ground. When he lifts his feet back on to the pegs, they spring back into the body of the bike. So how does he get out without lifting both feet off the pillars and promptly dropping the entire contraption on its side?

Bothwell says he had a later rethink and added a locking device.

THE BIKE IN A BUBBLE

INVENTED by American Robert Kelley, in 1975, this is simply a transparent cover mounted to the front of the bike via a hinge, so that it can be tipped forward when the rider needs to mount and dismount.

A locking device at the back of the bike secures the cover in position when it is over the bike, and the rider benefits from all-weather protection. Some kind of cushioning device - presumably a strip of rubber - on the front of the cover prevents it from getting scratched by the road surface when it is tipped fully forward. So you’ll need twice the parking space of a bike.

And struggling to pull it into place while you are sat on the bike seems to be a recipe for dropped-bike disaster.

Presumably you are meant to persuade a passing pedestrian to help you out. It’ll be fun when you fill your tank, too.