The Two-Wheel Drive Bicycle Essay, Research Paper
About two years ago, I was looking into buying a new bicycle. My current bicycle was a beat up beach cruiser, and I really wanted a new mountain bike. So, I went down to the bookstore and bought an issue of a mountain biking magazine. In it, I found an article about Billie Joe Becoat and his new invention, the “two wheel drive” bicycle. They touted it as the first major bike innovation in 70 years. After reading that piece, I thought it was a great idea (I also wondered why I hadn’t thought of it!). Unfortunately, I have not heard anything about Becoat’s creation since I read that article. However, as I was researching, trying to find out a good topic for this paper, I happened to run into an article out of Ebony Magazine that describes Becoat’s invention, how he developed it, and the struggles that came along the way. My problem of finding a topic was solved, and I had a lot of fun learning more about how to make a bicycle a ‘two by two’.
Bill Becoat, an African-American, is now 58 years old, and lives in Alton, Illinois. He grew up in Centralia, Illinois, the youngest of six children. As he was growing up, he was encouraged by his parents to read and stay in school. He took a liking to many professions once he graduated form high school. In 1959, he moved to Saint Louis, Missouri and worked as an apprentice mechanic at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, where he worked for only two years before moving to Alton to go to college at Southern Illinois University. In college, he became a Blues singer, and released an album that got on the Billboard charts. Once he graduated, he got married and settled down. Becoat started a successful home improvement store in Alton, and had three children. All this time, he enjoyed tinkering with things and fooling around with ideas that he came up with . (Bicycle Inventor Has Last Laugh)
One day Becoat’s son told his dad that the chain on his bike kept on falling off all the time. So, Becoat, who enjoyed fixing things anyway, went out to the garage, and started repairing some links in the chain to tighten it up a bit. As Becoat was doing this, he recalls wondering about gears, sprockets and cable drives. As he was fixing the bike, he recalls “getting lost” in the idea of transferring power from the bike’s back wheel to the front wheel. After this point, he was off and running on the concept of a two wheel drive bicycle. (Bicycle Inventor Has Last Laugh)
Becoat went to the library at the Southern Illinois University, his alma mater, and began doing some research on his novel idea. First, he studied patent records to see if his concept had been patented yet. He discovered that nobody put a patent on a design for a two wheel drive bicycle like his up to this point. So, he decided to keep on tinkering with his bike and come up with a design worthy of a patent. He went back to the Southern Illinois library and studied technical journals for hours. He may have had a good idea, but he wanted to make sure that the final product would not be too big or too heavy to be acceptable in the industry. He started researching and making his prototypes in 1986. By 1990, four years and 50 prototypes later, he had secured patents in 32 countries.(B.E. Report on Small Business)
Now his design was finalized and patented, and the official prototype for the two wheel drive bicycle was finished. How did this prototype actually work? How did he get the power to the front wheel? For the purposes of this paper, his first, and most basic design will be examined. He started with his son’s bike, the same one that first sparked his interest in two wheel drive. It was a basic ‘1 speed’ BMX style bike, with pedals connected to a large gear and a chain going between that gear and a smaller gear on the back wheel. The bike could not change gears, which makes this design simple. In order to power the front wheel, he used a cable drive system. He added an assembly (See Appendix : Figure 1) on the rear wheel that consists of a gear (A), that is connected parallel to the wheel. This gear drives a smaller gear (B), positioned perpendicular to the wheel. The center of gear (B) is connected to a cable. This cable goes up the frame of the bike (See Appendix : Figure 2) and down the fork to the identical assembly connected to the front wheel. As gear (B) in the rear assembly spins, it spins the cable rapidly, and the spinning cable spins gear (B) in the front assembly, which spins gear (A), and , in turn, drives the wheel.
So, now that he can drive both wheels a the same time, why does Becoat think that this design makes his bicycle better any better than any other bike? His design, as with any bicycle, uses the principle of inertia to keep the bike up on two wheels. But, with both wheels driving the bicycle, the bike will not be only ‘pushed’ forward by the rear wheel, it will also be ‘pulled’ forward by the front wheel. This development should make the bicycle stay up on both wheels easier. Because of this, Becoat claims that turning the bike should be safer for the rider. For example, when one is taking a sharp turn with a conventional bicycle, the bike is prone to slide out from underneath the bicyclist. Becoat says that, because both wheels will be powered, the front wheels will not be a prone to slide on sharp turns. Also, because the front wheel now is ‘pulling’ the bike, the bicycle will be able to climb hills with less pedaling from the cyclist. He also claims that the bike will be able to ride through snow and mud because it is being pulled forward by the front wheel in addition to the pushing of the rear wheel. (Bicycle Inventor Has Last Laugh)
The facts sound great. Who wouldn’t want a two wheel drive bicycle? Well, Becoat has had some problems getting his revolutionary design considered seriously by big bicycle manufacturers. Right now, he sells a two wheel drive retrofit kit that mounts onto most traditional bicycles for $119. He also has a license agreement with MacGregor Sports Products, Inc. to sell two wheel drive bicycles for $150 to $300 to discount stores. But, the big bicycle manufacturers, who cater to the more lucrative high end bicycle market, have shunned him in every one of his sales pitched to them. So, now, he and another ‘bicycle engineer’ have a joint venture developing a top of the line two wheel drive road bike called the ‘Deuce’. Becoat fully expects to see this creation compete in the Tour de France, where it would give the rider a distinct advantage. (Bicycle Inventor Has Last Laugh)
So, it seems things are looking up for Bill Becoat. His design is revolutionary and it will probably take a few more years for the big manufacturers to come around to such a major design innovation. When they do, I hope to be one of the first in line to try out Bill Becoat’s creation.
B.E Report on Small Business. Black Enterprise. November, 1993, pg. 68 – 72
Bicycle Inventor Has the Last Laugh. Ebony. June, 1993, pg. 69 – 72