Patrick Perugini knew that he couldn’t reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes, but he is hopeful that he can make bike chains obsolete. The chainless bicycle is nothing new – drive shafts for bikes were introduced about a century ago – but Perugini is peddling a more advanced technology that uses a modern sealed drive shaft instead of a sprocket and chain.
Perugini, founder of Dynamic Bicycles, based in Bristol, R.I., got the inspiration to try chainless bikes while hang gliding in Colorado almost 10 years ago. While being buffeted about in the air, dependent on the winds, he started wondering if alternative propulsion systems existed. But while researching a pedal-drive propeller, his attention was diverted to shaft drive gear systems for bikes. With an enclosed aluminum box containing gears that the pedals spin to rotate a shaft, a bike would have no messy chain or derailleur.
“This makes the bike easier to operate, maintain and ride, without any greasy external parts and there’s no need for constant tune ups and adjustments,” said Perugini, who was so inspired by the idea of chainless bikes that he left the high tech industry to launch his own bike company.
Perugini, who rides a chainless bike to work everyday down the East Bay bike path, said a surprising number of people don’t even notice anything different about his bike, even when he points it out.
“It’s hard to change people’s perceptions of the way things should be,” said Perugini, who said many riders have a difficult time understanding the mechanics, like the man who kept asking, “How did you fit the chain inside that little tube?” not comprehending that the chain was replaced by a rotating shaft and gears that powered the bike. “Gradually you start to see the light bulbs go on,” said Perugini, who ads that the next question is usually, “Can you pedal backwards?” (The answer is yes.)
Q: Your factory in Taiwan, Sussex Enterprises, makes these chainless bikes. What’s it like running this factory?
A: The factory does a lot of assembly, not hard core manufacturing. If you walk in, you won’t see a lot of machines, drilling, pressing or cutting. In Taiwan, industries specialize in niche areas, so if a company makes spokes or tires, that’s all that they do. This economy of scale makes each business profitable. So in our factory, we specialize in shaft drives. We buy parts from about 30 different companies, and it’s not like we are also welding frames or painting.
Q: Are your typical customers gearheads with a zillion different bikes?
A: We definitely get the techie types who are fascinated with the technology, as well as the commuter bike market, usually men ages 25-55. We only sell online, so our bikes resonate with those who are tired of the grease and grunge of chain bikes and looking for a solution. But we don’t expect everyone to have a chainless bikes since they’re not made for speed or competition.
Q: You have kids; what do they think about your job?
A: My twin boys, age 10, have one of the few chainless kid bikes in the world. They take a lot of pride in that. And now they understand what dad does for a living. When I worked in high tech, it was hard to explain what I did to their friends, but now they get it. Dad makes bikes with no chains.
Q: Some riders say a chainless bike is too quiet, and they miss the whirring of a well-aligned chain drive. What would you say to that?
A: Turn up your hearing aid. If you want something noisy, ride in a car. There are nice noisy ways of getting around. Myself, I prefer the quiet.