Revolutionary design takes the wheel for a loop

Published May 08, 2013


The wheel is being taken for a loop.

A British industrial designer has come up with a revolutionary alternative to the traditional spoked bicycle wheel that uses flexible curved springs to support the rim and providing a cushioning effect.

Constructed from carbon composite strips developed in conjunction with an archery bow manufacturer, the springs of the so-called Loopwheels have been engineered to provide the same lateral stiffness as standard spoke wheels while also acting as an in-wheel suspension system.

The first examples of the technology are designed around the 20-inch wheels commonly used on fold-up bicycles. The inventor, Sam Pearce, says he targeted this segment because this type of bike typically isn’t available with a frame-mounted suspension, but a 26-inch version is also in the works.

Pearce tells that the wheels have been tested over 10,000 miles without requiring any balancing or adjustments along the way. Although he’s currently focused on bicycle applications, he says the design has been legally protected for any wheeled device and that he sees motorcycle and automobile applications as exciting prospects down the road.

Several companies have been working on “airless tires” that replace the air filled carcass with a rim suspended by a flexible matrix, like the recently unveiled Polaris ATV Non-Pneumatic Tire, but they are typically fitted to a conventional hub and spoke wheel.

The Loopwheels project has been fully funded through a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its £40,000 ($62,000) goal and production is set to begin soon. The price for a set of two, complete with a three-speed gear and hub brake in the rear, is £490 ($760), and is available for purchase outside of the U.K. They’ve been optimized to work with the Dahon Mu folding bicycle, but Pearce says they are compatible with other bikes that provide enough clearance and use a similar hub size.