April 27, 2006 1:11 PM PDT

Start-up aims to ditch kids' training wheels

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GyroBike wants to eliminate the wipeout.

The company, a spin-off out of Dartmouth College, is coming out later this year or early next year with a gyroscope/flywheel that fits into the front wheel of a kid's bike. When a child begins to go off-balance and fall over, the gyroscope corrects the path of the bike and props it back up. As a result, kids don't need training wheels to learn how to ride.

Cool Products Expo

"It actually makes it easier to learn to ride a bike because this is actually how people ride and recover from falling," said Errik Anderson, a venture capital consultant who is helping the company.

The product will sell for around $39. GyroBike says it is also talking to the six largest manufacturers of kids' bikes.

Training wheels, according to Anderson, are unnatural. They prevent a bike from falling over, but don't teach kids about balance.

By contrast, the GyroBike wheel relies on natural physical forces. When a child leans to one side, the rotating flywheel causes the front wheel of the bike to turn into the direction of the fall. Ultimately, this corrects the imbalance by pushing the bike under the mass of the rider and causes the bike to recover.

The same thing occurs when someone who knows how to ride a bike tries to recover, and the faster the bike is traveling, the easier it is to recover. The difference with the GyroBike wheel is that it moves the handlebars for the rider; a person who knows how to ride a bike will move the handlebars on their own, Anderson said.

One of the main problems with learning how to ride a bike is that turning into the impending wipe out is counterintuitive. The gut reaction instead is to turn the handlebars into the opposite direction of the fall, ensuring a biff.

The idea for the GyroBike--invented by Hannah Murnen, Augusta Niles, Nathan Sigworth and Deborah Sperling--came out of a classroom engineering project. How a gyroscope can correct a fall was well-understood; the challenge was to design a gyroscope that would still compensate for sudden shifts in weight at slow speeds, Anderson said.

Anderson was touting the GyroBike Wednesday at the Cool Products Expo, a showcase of novel products put on by students in the graduate school of business at Stanford University. Other exhibitors included the Dyson vacuum cleaner people, who plan to branch out into other areas; Captain Avalanche, which makes a sled for consumers that can go 50 mph; Oliso, maker of an iron that props itself up on little legs to prevent clothes from getting burned; and Cirrus Aircraft, a plane that can deploy its own parachute in the event of an accident.

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