The story of loopwheels is one of determination, and a streak of madness. They were invented and developed by Sam Pearce, in his home in Nottinghamshire, England. By training and profession, Sam is a mechanical engineer and industrial designer. By nature, he is some one who loves making things: designing, building, doing. He loves the way things fit together, the way things work, and the way things are made. He loves simplicity, and products that work well. He hates unnecessary gimmicks, products that are complex to use, a lack of honesty. Sam is practical and hands-on. He is stubborn and doesn’t give up easily. When he believes in a product idea, he really believes in it. If it doesn’t work the first time, he keeps at it, and keeps at it, until trial and error gets the result. All useful traits when you find you’ve set out on a journey to reinvent the wheel...
Sam first had the idea of a wheel with integral suspension in 2007. He made his first basic prototype in 2009, but it took four years of development and testing to create the loopwheel you see today.
In 2007 my idea of a wheel with tangential suspension was born when I was sitting at Eindhoven airport waiting for a flight. I saw a mother pushing her child in a buggy. The front wheels hit a slight kerb and the child jolted forward because of the impact. I asked myself why a wheel couldn’t have suspension inside it, so it would soften an impact from any direction. I sketched the idea in my notebook, got on my flight, and didn’t think much more about it for a couple of years.
Sam’s first notebook sketch of a wheel with suspension, 2007
In 2009 I was doing a lot of mountain biking. I remembered my idea of a wheel with suspension and thought it would be awesome to have that kind of cushioning in a bicycle wheel. One Sunday afternoon I made a small model. That proved the concept, so I made some prototypes. They worked OK, but those early prototypes didn’t really perform better than a spoked wheel. I knew that to be worth doing, this wheel has to be better than what’s already available. It took many more attempts, and many more prototype wheels, to get to that point”.
Others before Sam have tried to invent similar “resilient wheels” and there are patents on various inventions from the early 20th century onwards. But unlike the loopwheel, none of these earlier inventions actually worked.
I wondered why, if people had had the idea of a wheel with suspension at the turn of the twentieth century, there weren’t any to be seen in use. I realised that whilst some of the early designs were right in theory, the inventors hadn’t been able to make them successfully because the materials they had in the early twentieth century didn’t have the right properties. I needed to make my springs from a material that was stiff yet flexible. Steel springs were no good. At the end of my street is an archery shop – I live in the area that was once Sherwood Forest, the home of Robin Hood. One day I had the idea that carbon composite archery bows probably went through similar kinds of stresses as the springs in my wheels.”
It was when Sam started to use modern carbon composite materials to make the springs that he began to get the levels of high performance he wanted for his bicycle wheel.
Sam believes passionately in craftsmanship and in the skills and knowledge that come from practical experience. He worked with a small local company, KG Archery, on the development of the springs for loopwheels. There is a long tradition of master bowmanry in the UK, and indeed in Nottinghamshire, but today KG Archery is one of only two UK companies who remain in this same tradition of expert craftsmanship. Master Bowyer Keith Gascoigne began his apprenticeship in 1962, and in 1991 developed the world’s first all carbon bow handle, the Paragon. His team at KG Archery are proud to be celebrating over 50 years in bowmanry and taking their expertise into new territory with Loopwheels.
North Nottinghamshire was once the home of the infamous outlaw Robin Hood. A little of the ancient greenwood remains today, and a little remains too of the old mass occupations of coal mining, textiles, engineering and bicycle-making. We believe in taking pride in making things by our own hands, which is of course the literal meaning of manufacturing. So we make loopwheels ourselves, by hand, in Nottinghamshire. We can’t claim that every component of a loopwheel is local or British, though perhaps we’ll get there one day. But we are proud that the springs are made just a few miles from where the loopwheel was invented, and that we assemble our wheels in Nottinghamshire too. We care about nurturing creativity, our engineering skills, and manufacturing. We are not nostalgic or sentimental about it: we just believe in making and doing, and making and doing it well.