Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Pedal Force Simulator as a Project

This is likely my last blog entry for this project.  I wanted to document a few thoughts.  I would really like the cycling community to benefit from this.  It means better training and better results.


Status of project

After creating two working prototypes, I started trying to license this.  I licensed it once (licensee could not uphold its end of the bargain) and almost licensed it a second time.  I demonstrated the prototypes to many and all had high value for it.


What does it feel like

Everyone sells a trainer, and everyone says theirs “feels like riding on the road.”  But if you have ridden their trainer, you know it doesn’t.  I understand why it doesn’t, it was a question that motivated me to develop the Pedal Force Simulator.  But not many people truly understand.   Now if you are the type of rider that knows if your cranks are long or short by how they feel, you will understand what I have to say here.  On my Pedal Force Simulator, you would find that your cadence naturally slows when riding up a simulated hill.  You would notice that you can get out of the saddle and sprint like on a normal road bike, and you would know the feeling of riding down a slight hill with a tailwind.  You would know that the feeling is right.  And it is right because the Pedal Force Simulator implements a theoretically sound model of pedaling.  

If you want to test your trainer to see if it really simulates road conditions correctly, ride uphill, sprint out of the saddle, and ride a slight downhill with a tailwind.  If the feeling is not perfectly obvious, it’s wrong.  Just because a device has an electronically-controlled brake does not mean that it simulates pedaling properly.  Be skeptical.  Test it. 


Patent vs Trade Secret

One potential licensee declined because the Pedal Force Simulator was not patented.  It was my view that there was nothing patentable about this.  It’s a straight forward implementation of an electronically-controlled brake with control based on a mathematical model of forces acting on a rider.  What I found while developing this was that it was technically difficult to implement the concept.  I am very sure that trade secrete protection is much more effective product protector than any patent. 

There are patents that are related.  My patent search did not find a conflict.  My patent attorney was reasonably sure that what I have is patentable.  Given the nature of the US legal system, one should always anticipate legal challenges and budget accordingly.  I started the patent process at the request of a potential licensee; the deal did not complete, and I did not follow through on the patent.


Why is this important?

I wanted to know why a trainer does not feel like the road.  I modeled a trainer as a flywheel with a belt over it with a weight hanging from the belt, a classic freshman physics mechanism.  I compared the instantaneous force at the pedal to that when riding on the road.  I looked at various road configurations of hills and surface and wind.  I compared acceleration at the pedal and found that there was as much as 1000 times difference in acceleration between one and the other.  This is physiologically important.  It says that the muscle fiber recruitment and localized energy production requirements are different. And it’s why it feels different.

There are a lot of wrong ways to pedal a bike.  Pushing at the bottom of the pedal stroke is one.  Pushing too late is another.  So are antagonistic muscles working against each other.  As coordination is lost, these wrong ways begin to manifest.  And then very quickly it all becomes anaerobic.  It’s coordination.  It’s why spending the winter in the weight room won’t make any difference.   I watched a pro rider on the Pedal Force Simulator.  It was all very smooth and “drama free” at 150 cadence and 500 watts.  I watched a well-conditioned but poorly trained rider “thrash” the pedals at 100 cadence and 250 watts.  It’s about coordination.  And one can’t train coordination on existing trainers because the pattern of muscle activation is wrong.  

One can get the position right on any trainer.  One can get the cadence right.  One can get the power right.  One can train one’s anaerobic systems.  But you can’t train the correct pattern of muscle activation on any of today’s trainers.  

Riding outdoors trains the proper muscle activations.  But how does one train for hills when living in Florida?  Need to do intense anaerobic efforts? Good luck finding a place to do them in urban traffic.  Can’t take off work every day to train outdoors?  There is no other way to get better other than riding a Pedal Force Simulator.  This is important:  One can do training on a Pedal Force Simulator that one can’t do any other way.



I used to ride and race.  And I spent a lot of time riding a trainer.  I very much understand the constraints imposed on those that work for a living and live in urban areas.  This is almost everyone that rides.  It’s a big market.  The value-in-use of a Pedal Force Simulator is much higher than a power meter or high-end wheels or electronic shifting or a carbon-fiber frame.


Project cost

The cost of implementing this project for an entity that is currently in the bike industry would be about a $1.5 million.  This would bring 1000 units to market.  Selling these at market price would recover the investment and produce a reasonable profit.

The code for the display device is fully featured and fully developed.  It was developed when Palm devices were popular.  The c-code looks a lot like android coding.  Given the state of current software tools, the port to current common display devices is straight forward.

The prototypes consist of an electronically controlled brake, a current controller, a signal processor for the brake control, and a display device.  All the components can be purchased.  The “trade secret” is in making it all work.