The present invention is in the general areas of exercise machines and amusement devices. Specifically, the present invention relates to both what are known as bicycle trainers and bicycle simulators, both stationary and free-standing. More specifically, the present invention concerns bicycle trainers and bicycle simulators that have control of, and feedback from, computers, electronic video games, and/or virtual reality systems. As an amusement device only, a motorcycle-like embodiment of the invention would provide similar electronic feedback. All of these embodiments would benefit from the springed tilting features of the invention.
2. Prior Art:
Conventional bicycle-based exercise apparatus in the prior art fall into two main categories: 1) stationary exercise bicycles and 2), trainers that work with an existing bicycle. Stationary exercise bicycles are generally not bicycles at all but retain some bicycle-like elements such as handle bars, a seat and an axially opposed pedaling system. These elements are fitted to a frame which remains stationary upon a surface or floor. The axially opposed pedaling system is connected to an impedance device that provides a resistive force that produces an exercise or training effect when the user pedals the bicycle. Some of these machines provide either a manual or an automated variable impedance device which changes the force required to crank the pedals, thereby providing an improved exercise or training effect for the user.
The major fault of the stationary bicycle is its immovable frame. The immovable frame of a stationary exercise bicycle provides an unnaturally rigid and uncomfortable exercise or training environment. Also, an immovable frame implementation limits the exercise value to the user because it easily becomes boring, thereby discouraging the user's motivation resulting in less frequent and prolonged use.
Furthermore, the stationary exercise bicycle does not create the sensation of riding a bicycle outdoors. The bicycle and operator cannot move as one in a fluid motion. A stationary bicycle cannot turn and tilt as the operator turns and tilts. There is none of the normal side to side movement and adjustment of the bicycle during the operator's pedaling motions. In addition, no cushioning up and down movement is felt because there is no shock absorption normally felt due to inflated tires or a suspension system. None of the usual enjoyable qualities are felt with the rigid frame implementation of stationary bicycles. As a result, this form of indoor exercise is an uncomfortable and inadequate imitation of riding outdoors.
Additionally, a frame that does not move diminishes the training effect of the stationary bicycle user. The muscles tend to only be worked narrowly at one confining angle which lessens the potential for balanced muscular group development and increases the chance of injury. There is little if any balancing of the exercise bicycle involved so neuromuscular control and coordination is not fostered. Additionally, in comparison to real bicycles, the seats and pedals of most stationary bikes are of a different variety and are situated in a different relative position, producing a dissimilar sensation that does not habituate the user to the riding of mountain and road bicycles and is therefore not a good training method for those activities. Most importantly, the stationary bike is infamous in health and athletic circles for being a boring exercise. The less stimulating and motivating an exercise, the less likely it will be performed.
The second category of bicycle trainers includes trainers that work with an existing bicycle. These can be divided into the two sub-categories of 1) “rollers” and 2), resistance trainers. Generally, roller trainers are based on a stationary horizontal frame that resides on a flat surface or floor. The frame holds a horizontal array of three identically cylindrical and freely rotating rollers having rotational axes that are parallel to each other and the surface or floor. A bicycle is then mounted in an upright fashion upon the trainer with two of the rollers supporting the rear wheel and the remaining roller supporting the front wheel. The operator then balances upon the bicycle and pedals the bicycle rotating the bicycle's rear wheel. The rear wheel in turn rotates the two rollers on the roller trainer with which it contacts. A drive system that makes use of an endless belt or cord transfers motion from at least one of the rear rollers to the front roller so that the bicycle's front wheel can turn in synchrony with the bicycle's rear wheel.
One problem with roller trainers is that they are only designed to train the operator to pedal with constant angular force. They are not designed to provide resistance training. Roller trainers also suffer from being very hard to balance even for the highly skilled. If the operator tilts slightly to either side, the bicycle will fall and injury to the operator can result. Thus, roller trainers essentially have an immovable frame during use creating a limiting and rigid training environment.
On the other hand, a resistance trainer incorporates a stationary frame which rigidly connects with the rear hub/axle of an upright bicycle, thereby suspending the rear wheel of the bicycle above the ground while the front wheel rests on the ground. Connected to the stationary frame is an impedance device which sits in contact with the bicycle tire and provides a resistance force. The operator then sits upon the bicycle and pedals against the resistance force.
Trainers that work with an existing bicycle are an improvement over stationary bicycles in that they are much lighter and can be easily transported. Also, they can take up less space and are easier to store. Moreover, they are less expensive because a large portion of the needed equipment is provided by the existing bicycle and they usually require a smaller impedance mechanism than those employed by stationary exercise bicycles because the rear wheel assembly acts as the flywheel that most stationary exercise bicycles employ.
However, with respect to athletic training, trainers that work with an existing bicycle are only a minor improvement over stationary exercise bicycles. While trainers that work with an existing bicycle are better at habituating the operator to the riding of road bicycles and mountain bikes, they remain problematical in this area and they still have the other aforementioned diminished training effects associated with an immovable frame.
To solve the diminished training effects associated with the immovable frames of conventional bicycle trainers such as stationary bicycles and trainers that work with an existing bicycle, inventors have produced what can be termed “bicycle simulators.”
U.S. Pat. No. 4,082,265 by Berkes discloses a bicycle support system for maintaining a bicycle in a generally upright position on a roller trainer while permitting tilting of the bicycle as an attempt to simulate normal riding conditions. The support system has two elongated legs that fit one on each side of the bicycle. The legs attach the bicycle's frame at the seat post and at their other end to the roller trainer.
While the device disclosed by the '265 patent does have the capability of tilting, this tilting is limited by the device's spatial configuration and is less than that which can be achieved in realistic conditions. Also, the simulator is not designed to have any other movement besides its limited tilting and so therefore cannot fully simulate the vertical and pitching movements of real bicycle riding. Lastly, because the device does not have an impedance capability it cannot train the operator effectively.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,580,983 discloses another roller trainer that has a support system intended to allow limited deviations from vertical. This attempt at a simulator has a roller trainer that has only two rollers. The support system contains a bracket which attaches to both sides of the existing bicycles rear wheel hub. This symmetrical bracket is free only to rotate about its axis of symmetry and slide horizontally in a slideway.
The device disclosed in the '983 patent is ill-conceived because if its support system is stiff then it renders itself non-functional and if its support system is flexible it will not hold the bicycle upon the roller trainer. Even if these problems could be overcome, the device suffers from the same faults as the device disclosed in the '265 patent. Again there is only a small amount of tilting and no vertical or pitching movements such that realistic bicycle riding cannot be simulated. Similarly and lastly, because the device does not have an impedance capability it cannot train the operator effectively.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,958,832 discloses a bicycle simulator that includes a bicycle that rides upon a textured treadmill. In order to keep the bicycle upon the treadmill, the frame of the bicycle is connected to the frame of the treadmill by a mechanical device. This mechanical device allows the bicycle the freedom to move upon the treadmill while not allowing the bicycle enough freedom to move off of the treadmill.
One problem with the bicycle simulator disclosed by the '832 patent is that its securing structure only allows a limited tilting of the bicycle frame. Furthermore, this limited tilting must occur for only a short duration of time. Upon critical examination of the specification it is clear that a second problem of the device is that the bicycle can be driven off of the treadmill under certain conditions, thereby endangering the operator. A third problem is that the vertical movement of the bicycle frame is severely limited because the vertical movement is dependent upon the vertical texture of the treadmill. The vertical texture of the treadmill cannot be so great as to render the treadmill unworkable. Thus, there can be only small vertical movements of the bicycle frame. Lastly, a fourth problem with the simulator is that it does not have an impedance capability and because of this the development of the strength and endurance of the operator is lessened.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,240,217 discloses an arcade-game-style bicycle simulator. This device serves as an imitation bicycle that has somewhat the appearance of a real bicycle except that the pedals do not drive the bicycle's wheel, but instead drive a shaft of a complex mechanism located in the simulator's base. Also, the imitation bicycle's frame is not supported by its wheels but is instead supported by a linking member that is controlled by the complex mechanism. This simulator has very limited or no value as a training or exercise device, the primary design approach and purpose of this invention is to serve as an arcade amusement device, it is not intended for the home game player or for anyone interested in being entertained while they are exercising.
This device and its computer controls then serve only as an input device for custom arcade software. It does not interact with the game in the same fashion as the as an input device/game adapter would for the computer video games commonly found in the home environment such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega and Personal Computers that are widely used and well known. This device has very limited appeal and is designed for the arcade arena. It also lacks the realism of a springed bias tilt function on the bicycle adapter. The operator must throw the device from a right tilt to center to left and back again. The resulting implementation does not leave the operator with the impression that a bicycle simulator with a bias springed resistance would provide.
U.S. Pat. No. 4,512,567 discloses an exercise bicycle that has a movable handlebar. The handlebar movement and the pedaling movement cause a microcomputer to operate a video game. While this device does have some value as an exercise piece of equipment the implementation falls short as a device that will create a sensation for the operator that imitates a natural bicycle ride as would exist in a true bicycle simulator. Again, the natural forces felt as the result of an bicycle operator going into a turn are not duplicated by the technology. Indeed, the sense of realism is not achieved at all since the operator cannot even tilt the bicycle during the course of a normal turn, only the handle bars can turn to a limited degree. The device is essentially the same as other stationary exercise bicycle implementations as it remains rigidly attached to the floor during the course of the ride. Adding the electronic attachments so that the operator can interact with a video game creates a situation where a video game can be played while exercising, but the motivation level experienced by the operator is limited because the bicycle does not simulate the natural environment, the operator would only experience a limited level of involvement while playing the game.
BRIEF SUMMARY AND OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION
The stationary exercising apparatus that is the present invention attaches to either a free-standing bicycle or is part of a stationary exercise bicycle that simulates an environment where the operator experiences three-dimensional motion and pedaling resistance similar to that of riding a real bicycle outdoors.
The operator can initiate a series of bicycle riding movements including simple left and right turning, side to side biased springed tilting, forward and back motion, up and down springing actions as well as complex combinations of these movements. Ideally, this occurs while pedaling against a rolling impedance device that provides resistive force against the operator's pedaling actions. This rolling impedance device interactively simulates the varying resistance levels the operator would experience when encountering such obstacles as pedaling up or down hills or going through water.
The apparatus, with or without the varied impedance mechanism, can act as an interactive electronic controller to provide input to and receive feedback from a video game system or personal computer system with a screen or monitor mounted in front of the operator to provide a near virtual reality exercise experience that is more entertaining and engaging than current exercise bicycle implementations thereby providing a much higher level of exercise motivation.
Without the varied impedance mechanism the apparatus can function well as a motorcycle-like adapter for video games where the operator is still free to move the machine into turning and tilting maneuvers that provide feedback to the video game or system. Although the exercise value of this implementation is diminished by the loss of the pedaling exercise or training effect, the apparatus still does provide some exercise or training value in the form of the effort required to throw the bike into the tilting or turning movements. This embodiment would provide a greatly enhanced entertainment value requiring the player to use one's entire body in order to play the game and adds to the realism of many race type video games currently available.
Additionally, a handlegrip-mounted button assembly can be used in combination with the exercise apparatus to provide switch input compatibility with video and computer games, and/or virtual reality systems.
Generally, the apparatus of the invention comprises at least five main parts. These five main parts are the exercise bicycle, the rear wheel support frame, the impedance mechanism, the front wheel support base, and the interactive electronic componentry.
The exercise bicycle is a generally, but not solely, a driving system that can provide the following: a chassis including a seat upon which the operator can sit, a rear wheel that rotates relative to said chassis, an axially opposed pedaling mechanism that rotates the wheel, and handlebars that the operator can grasp. The preferred embodiments of the exercise bicycle include either an existing bicycle that can be attached to the support frame or an implementation of the upper part of a stationary bicycle exercise trainer that can likewise be mounted on the support frame platform to provide the same effect. Also mentioned earlier is the possibility of an embodiment where a bicycle is employed that does not require a pedaling force from the operator but instead provides an entertainment experience similar to riding a motorcycle.
The support frame can contain support arms, a springed mechanism and a frame base. The support frame is designed such that the rear wheel of the exercise bicycle chassis is held, suspended and free to rotate in space while concurrently the frame is free to move in space.
The impedance mechanism is stably connected to the support frame and applies a force of resistance to the rotation of the wheel.
The support base includes a channel for receiving the front wheel that is mounted on a set of roller bearings that provide a pivoting platform. This platform remains fixed, the support base being in contact with a firm surface while it allows the front tire of the exercise bicycle to turn freely, as controlled by the operator, to the left or to the right.
The interactive electronic componentry can be composed of generally available devices such as wires or wireless transmission devices, mercury sensors, button-controlled switches, a microprocessor, software, video game/personal computer/virtual reality interface and monitor display.
Specifically, in the preferred embodiment of the present invention, the exercise bicycle includes a free-standing exercise bicycle chassis or a stationary exercise bicycle which also supplies a pedaling system and rotating wheels. Another embodiment would be to employ a motorcycle-like frame attachment that provide no driving system, but allows the operator to sit upon the device as a game adapter.
The invention can contain support arms and rocker arms as part of the support frame, torsion springed bars and tension springed bars along with an adjustment device for the springed mechanism, and base blocks with side support rails along with front and back support rails to comprise the frame base.
The impedance mechanism is a variable electromagnetic resistor that is controlled by input from the interactive electronic game or software. The impedance mechanism applies its force to the exercise bicycle wheel. Another preferred embodiment would be to require no pedaling at all, as in the case of riding a motorcycle, to be able to interact with the many games and software in the prior art which imitate riding a motorcycle.
The interactive electronic componentry contains passive speed and position sensors located on the front wheel support base to determine front wheel turning status and position, the rear wheel rocker arm to determine apparatus tilt status and position, and the impedance mechanism to provide motion sensing. Switches requiring the operator to actively press a button located on the handlebar of the bicycle provide full function video game compatibility (weaponry, options etc.) to a variety of prior and future art gaming systems including but not limited to Atari, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega, Sony Playstation, Personal Computer CD ROM systems, and also including more recent virtual reality systems.
The software media includes but is not limited to game cartridges, CD-ROMs, and software code specific to the integrated microprocessor. The video game/personal computer interface includes but is not limited to joy stick ports, parallel ports and other common and proprietary video game interfaces and adapters.
The monitor includes but is not limited to a either a computer display/monitor, a television set, or a virtual reality set of display goggles.
The operator would use the invention in the following manner. First, in the case of mounting a free-standing exercise bicycle onto the invention, the operator positions the rear wheel of the exercise bicycle above the fastening device located at the top of the support frame support arms. The operator then secures the rear axle/hubs by placing the axle/hubs into the fastening device and then tightening the threaded shaft, advancing the threaded shaft to engage and maintain the rear wheel axle in a fixed position. When fastened in this manner the rear wheel of the bicycle would then be held suspended in space, but still connected to the support frame of the invention and also with the rear tire pressed firmly against the roller of the impedance mechanism. The operator would then place the front tire of the bicycle into the tapered channel of the support base, providing a support for the front tire that allows for left and right front wheel turning movements as the operator desires. At this point the operator would connect the interactive electronic componentry to a video game, personal computer, or virtual reality system of choice and set the options switches and settings to correspond to the game or software that the operator has chosen to employ. Before climbing on the invention the operator will adjust the springed mechanism to his/her specific weight, suspension preference and also adjust the maximal tilt setting. The operator would then mount the exercise apparatus and begin pedaling the exercise bicycle. While thus using the invention the impedance device would provide a resistance force against the pedals. The resistance force can be altered in two ways; first the operator can shift the exercise bicycle existing gears and second, the interactive componentry can electronically vary the resistance force. As the operator pedals the bicycle the support frame moves both vertically and forward and back due to the flexing of the tension springs. This mimics the undulations in the road and the natural shock absorption of a bicycles tire. In the case of simulation of a turn the operator initiates the turn by a slight movement of the handle bars which is followed by a shifting of the operators weight that in turn initiates a tilting or tilting of the bicycle. As this happens, the support arms tilt on their rocker arms from the central pivot point flexing the torsion bars (attached to the rocker arms at the pivot points) into an ‘S’ shape, providing an increasing resistance as the tilt deepens until the rocker arms reach the tilt angle stops. As the operator pulls out of the tilting turn the torsion springs straighten and assist the operator as the operator shifts weight to bring the bicycle back to vertical equilibrium. Throughout the entire range of possible motion the support frame and the support base provides a stable platform.
Accordingly, the present invention overcomes the faults of the prior art by providing a bicycle exercise or training simulator that is capable of creating a more realistic and stimulating exercise or training environment.
Specifically, one of the objects of the present invention are to provide realistic three-dimensional movement including 1) a maximal and adjustable springed left and right tilt and turn capability with an increasing springed resistance as the degree of tilt increases, 2) an up and down movement capability and 3) a forward and back movement capability.
Another object to enhance the realistic motion of the riding experience is to provide for turning and/or tilting of the free-standing exercise bicycle, stationary exercise bicycle or motorcycle-like frame.
A further object is to provide a spring adjustment mechanism in order to accommodate operators of different weights and preferences.
An additional object is to provide an impedance mechanism that moves with the frame of the simulator. This impedance mechanism can provide variable levels of resistance force which can also be computer input controlled.
Still another object of this invention is to provide an easy-mounting mechanism upon an existing bicycle's hub/axle that even children can actuate.
Another important object of this invention is to provide a device that delivers an enhanced exercise or training environment with a more complete muscle group workout with greater strength, better endurance, and increased balance and coordination as the result.
Another important object is the practicality of the invention's design. This includes making the invention simple and easy to manufacture, relatively inexpensive, safe, aesthetic and easy to use, store and move.
Yet another object of this invention is to provide a device that, although usable as a stand alone training device, is capable of being employed as an interactive video game input device. This input device will provide system capability with multiple current and future video games, personal computer and virtual reality platforms. Within each of the supported gaming platforms, switched button programmability will allow support of games with varying button functionality. In addition, the device will be capable of providing complex input combining input from multiple sources on the trainer.