According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there were more than 4,200 bike-related patents issued between 1996 and 2000-do the math, and you're talking more than 800 patents per year and more than two bike patents per day. According to Bicycling magazine senior editor Garrett Lai, bikes have always been a product category with plenty of patent action. "Bikes are accessible, people can see all the parts and how they work, and they can create a new bike innovation in their garage," he says.
It's true-inventors come up with new bike inventions all the time. During our interview, Lai reeled off a quick list that included Paul Turner, creator of RockShox, the first commercially viable front suspension system, and Rolf Dietrich, inventor of Rolf Wheels, which are now featured on Trek bikes. Both inventors started on their own, like so many others before them, before eventually selling off their businesses to big companies.
But there's another reason so many bike inventors are successful: The market tends to favor inventor introductions. It's a product category where consumers and bike shop owners can easily see that your product is different-and maybe even better-than competitors'. Not to mention, in the bike market, you have a network of distributors ready and willing to sell your product. Few, if any, product categories make it this easy on inventors.