The idea was born while I was rollerblading in the Cleveland Metroparks. I was also an avid cyclist entering into local races and bike events. I would ride during the week and rollerblade with friends on the weekend. I noticed something different about my legs after each ride and after rollerblading. The soreness associated with each activity was different. When rollerblading, my calf muscles, inner thighs, and glutes were sore from use. After biking, my quads and calf muscles were sore. Hmmm…that’s weird.
This soreness and leg motion began my interest in understanding body mechanics and how to fully utilize my lower body muscles when riding a bike. As an avid cyclist who loved to ride and compete, I wanted to find a better way to apply and transfer the power of my body into the bike. Realizing the similarities between skating and cycling began the theory for the idea. The hypothesis was if a person can use a broader range of muscles to propel a bike, then they should realize higher performance or need less effort to ride with the added muscles. Think of a car that has run out of out of gas and you need to push it. One person will be challenged; it’s much easier with two people; and even easier with three. More people pushing the car requires less effort from each.
While not a classically trained engineer, I’m a self-declared street engineer. I was the kid who would take apart watches, clocks, and bikes just to see how they work. My father was also incredibly resourceful and self-taught in many fields like electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and a variety of others which I embraced. The vision of this new motion on the bike was derived from using twisty ties from bread loaves. Twisting and turning these twisty ties in many different direction was the first step in development. Once I landed on what I thought was the new motion, figuring out how to make it happen was next.
Prototype # 1
During the design spec meeting, it was pointed out that the prototype pedal would go under a significant amount of testing so let’s make it durable. The next question I had was how much will the first prototype cost, and how much for a second set in case we break the first ones during testing? The answer was, “the first prototype will be about $3000, and the second prototype will be about $3000”. Keep in mind this was way before 3D printing was as good as it is today. We had to machine the first bike pedals set and built them to a beefy 1.6 lbs. each or 3.2 lbs. for the pair to save on spending another $3k!
The first prototypes were an absolute blast to ride. I could hardly contain myself riding the pedals and seeing the motion. It was truly amazing to see them in action. During the course of next three months and almost daily test rides, I came to realize that I have no idea how to prove this is working. We need data! Finding an institution that tests bike components was not a simple feat, so I began researching how to conduct research. As luck would have it, I started talking with a Cleveland based product development company who had previously worked with a Human Performance Lab associated with Cleveland State University. Ken Sparks PhD heads the lab there and gave us the preliminary validation and proof that the pedals do provide greater power. We have spent a total of six years in clinical studies capturing data and answering questions on the Nikola pedal benefits. I knew that having this data will be the foundation of our company and tenet on developing all our new products.
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Video of first lab test can be found here!