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Patently obvious

Bicycles were perfect by the 90s. The 1890s. While refinements such as the quick-release binder bolt and derailleur gears were the work of the early 20th Century, most of the key bicycle innovations had been invented by 1899. (Even plastic lens sports-shades and knobby tyres).

In the ten years before 1900, a third of ALL new patent applications at the US Patent Office were bicycle-related.

Not all of the products described in the patents got made. This was especially the case for suspension products. The bad roads of the day meant some form of suspension would be useful but John Boyd Dunlop’s (re)invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1889 gave cyclists a floating-on-air-feeling that meant suspension gizmos were no longer quite so necessary. And, following lobbying by cyclists, many road surfaces were improved, further relegating the need for suspension products. Nevertheless, there were a few patents for suspension products in the 1920s and beyond but it was only in the 1980s, and the advent of mountain biking, that the frenzy for bicycle patents took off again, especially for suspension designs.

What today’s innovators often don’t realise is that their clever ideas were very likely anticipated in the 1890s.

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