After breaking his pelvis six years ago, Israeli farmer Gilad Wolf invented a new suspension system for wheelchairs that incorporates shock absorbers into the wheels. He's now a board member of SoftWheel, a Tel Aviv-based company that refined his creation into a product known as the Acrobat wheel. Although the Acrobat was unveiled in 2012, this year SoftWheel announced something new – a bicycle wheel that uses the same technology, known as the Fluent wheel.
Both the Acrobat and Fluent work in exactly the same fashion.
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Three cylindrical shock absorbers radiate out from the hub to the rim, taking the place of spokes. They remain rigid when going over smooth surfaces, but compress when the wheel takes particularly big hits. This means that the hub temporarily moves downward within the wheel, that movement absorbing the energy that would otherwise be transmitted through to the rider.
Both wheels also differ from many regular suspension systems in that they react not only to obstacles that are passing directly beneath the bike, but also to those that it's meeting head-on, such as curbs.
According to a report in Wired, SoftWheel plans to start selling the Acrobat wheel in the fourth quarter of this year, priced at approximately US$2,000 a pair. There's currently no word on availability of the Fluent, although the company states that it will be compatible with a wide variety of existing bikes. It can be seen in use in the video below.
Many readers will no doubt be reminded of Loopwheels, a similar product that uses three looped carbon composite springs instead of cylinder-and-stanchion-type shocks. All you mechanical engineers out there, please weigh in with your thoughts – which system ought to work better?