Impossible-Looking Pedals Push Your Bike Up Hills

Illustration for article titled Impossible-Looking Pedals Push Your Bike Up Hills

An English inventor has come up with an cheap, lightweight power-assist system for bicycles. It is built into a pair of modified pedals and requires no extra hardware. It also seems to be impossible.

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I need your help, here, Gadget Lab readers. First, I'll tell you what I know. The kit is called "Fast Forward" and, from the pictures, looks to be a pair of regular pedals with rechargeable batteries and motors inside. Fast Forward was designed by inventor Stephen Britt, and he is currently a finalist in the Barclays "Take One Small Step" contest. If it wins, Stephen will receive business funding.

To use them, you just swap them in for the pedals you already have. Here's Stephen's pitch:

These replace your standard pedals and provide you with assistance to get you up hills, or carry heavy loads. Each pedal incorporates a motor, gearbox, Li-po batteries and a control board. As you pedal the sensors detect your effort and provide assistance.

To pedal without assistance, simply flip the pedals over. They unclip and slot into a charger for charging, much like with a power tool. When fully developed they will provide a range of 10 miles and peak power of 200W. They will retail for around £200.

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There's no doubt that Stephen could build these pedals, but my question is, would they work? Surely the pedals, without toe-straps, would just spin under your feet. Even if you were to firmly cinch your feet in place, would a spinning pedal provide any assistance? It seems to me that the pedal would just try to twist your toes upwards and annoy you, and generally act like a tail wagging a dog.

But although I did just spend ten minutes with my foot in a spare pedal waving my leg around, I'm no no mechanic, let alone a physicist. So help me, readers. Could this possibly work? Answers, as always, in the comments.

Fast Forward Cycle Pedals [Barclays via Bicycle Design]

Illustration for article titled Impossible-Looking Pedals Push Your Bike Up Hills
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DISCUSSION

The motor need not actuate the pedal arms directly. That is a very small moment of force. What it needs is arms to ensconce the arms on either side; the motor twists those arms which contact the pedal arm. Then, a gear system that forces the pedals to be parallel to the ground would force torque into the arms instead of the pedal and would prevent spinning.

I drew up a paint diagram of what I'm talking about here (since putting images up on here is broke). You can see the crudely drawn pedal arm (in black) and the front gears and chain. The pedal is in light blue, and the arms that are on either side of the pedal are the light blue lines. It's simple to construct a gearset that forces the pedal to remain parallel to the ground; the torque generated would be transmitted against this gearset and the arms.

At least, that's how my non-fully-college-educated ass sees it. I might be out of my mind.