What’s old is new again. Here is a video of a bicycle made in England this year, with spring wheels. More info further down the page.
While we were visiting the WAAAM Museum this summer, the Velo fellows walked past a million things. But this set of wheels caught my eye.
The tag reads: “Very early (circa 1910) Akerman airplane wheels which were found in a barn in Ohio.” I stopped and stared at them, as the decaying neurons in my mind recalled seeing photos of these in some old books…
The quest for a comfortable ride on a motorbike goes back a long way. Moderns have swingarms and telescoping forks, but in the old days there were a multitude of methods devised to get some springs between the rider’s rear and the tarmac. We’ll skip over the 1907 BAT with its sprung subframe of the seat & footboards, or the monoshocks on the 1913 Flying Merkel and NSU, and just look at some sprung wheels. The Triumph Sprung Hub is a common example. With springs between the axle and the tire, some amount of suspension was afforded. But of course there were limits! Just a small amount of travel was possible, and the device was heavy, wasn’t adjustable, etc. But it did work.
An alternative make of sprung hub was this Clamil, from the early 1950’s in England.
But let’s go back further, and see that neat invention of Ackerman’s: The Spring Wheel. If you have built a hot rod or maybe raced a go cart, you’ll be familiar with his name, and the principles a previous Ackerman(n) laid out for proper steering geometry back in 1818. Yep, 1818. Not yet for use in motorcars, but horse buggies and early steam vehicles.
These wheels used spring steel straps in place of the wheel spokes to provide some spring action. They were brought out in 1917, with a few photos and paragraphs in the magazines that fall. From the Floyd Clymer Historical Scrapbook #6, (buy the set of 6 if you can find them all. Cheap and full of good stuff!) Here is the article:
There were two styles, the heavy and light sprung wheels. The light wheels are in the next image, which are similar to those used on the early airplane back at the museum. You’ll see that in addition to the Spring Wheels, this bike has the Indian rear suspension, with leaf springs place between the seat an the rear axle.
One of Ackerman’s patent drawings. This one shows one of the spring elements of the wheel.
Ackerman’s 1897 car.
Now these wheels may seem like a modern idea for 1917 airplane or motorbike or modern even for a 2011 bicycle, but we can go back quite a bit further still. Remember, when anybody claims that something was the FIRST in automotive history, it is always possible that even older technology pre-dates the claimed invention. And so it goes with Spring Wheels. Before Ackerman, there was a 1904 Rex that rode across England with spring wheels and rigid tires. And before them, inventors had laid out Spring Wheels in the 19th century. The oldest known patent for such a wheel goes all the way back to 1810. That is TWO HUNDRED AND ONE YEARS AGO…
Everything old is new again.