News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 17, 2014

Inventor hopes Bike Zeppelin takes off

By Boris Ladwig Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG – A local civil engineer has created a Zeppelin-shaped apparatus that allows bicyclists to ride in the rain without getting wet.

Greensburg resident Jim Gorman remembers the day that inspiration struck: Nov. 22, 2011. It rained all day, and Gorman, who commutes to work by bicycle, thought about a way to make riding in the rain comfortable and safe.

He started jotting down ideas on a green sheet of paper, which he has kept to this day. It contains both writing and, in the lower right corner, an initial sketch of what he has named the Land Zeppelin.

Named after the airship of the late 20th Century, the Land Zeppelin is a plastic, see-through cover, roughly the shape of a football — though much larger — that encloses the cyclist and bike and protects him from the rain. The current prototype still has a fiberglass frame, but in the next version, which Gorman hopes to test this spring, the Zeppelin shape will be made of sturdy plastic only, except for the front and rear portions that connect to the bike frame.

Gorman recently navigated the Land Zeppelin down Monfort Street in Greensburg, near the garage in which he developed the device. Previous prototypes were based on the shape of an egg, but they caused Gorman lots of consternation. A version with a Styrofoam frame proved too weak, and another one made primarily with fiberglass was too heavy, especially with side wind.

In November 2012, about a year after which he had begun the project, he nearly gave up.

“It was obvious it wasn’t going to work,” he said. “I was depressed.”

But then he thought about shapes that people were using about a century ago, and he stumbled upon the Zepplin. The new prototypes work well, so long as wind speeds remain below 15 mph, Gorman said.

“One ride will convince you,” he said.

When he rides the Land Zeppelin in the rain, Gorman said it feels as though he is cheating the weather.

When the drops rattle on the plastic, Gorman said, it gives him “that cozy feeling of being in a tent.”

“Rain is a blast,” he said.

The device can be removed from any bike within about two minutes, Gorman said, to return the bike near its original state.

Cycling enthusiast Matthew Battin, who co-owns The Bicycle Station in Columbus, said the device might help cyclists who normally would have to skip riding when it rains.

“I think it would serve a good purpose,” Battin said, though he said he will probably continue to wear just rain gear.

Battin rode an early prototype.

“It was pretty cool,” he said.

Mark Keillor, Gorman’s business partner on the Land Zeppelin, said that many cities across the U.S. are encouraging residents to commute by bike, to ease traffic congestion and for the health benefits.

Keillor, a semi-retired social scientist and tinkerer, said he got involved in the project late last summer, shortly after Gorman had filed for the provisional patent.

While material costs to create the Land Zeppelin are only in the hundreds of dollars, Gorman and Keillor estimate that they have put more than $40,000 worth of their time into the project. Gorman left his job at Goodwill for a while to focus all his efforts on his creation — though he has since returned to Goodwill.

The Land Zepplin is projected to cost about $650, and the inventor envisions a kit that can be assembled by the cyclists at home. And bike shops probably will assemble some of them and sell them as sets with the bike.

Gorman said that worldwide, 130 million bikes are sold every year, and about 10 percent are serious bikers and/or commuters. He figures that he can generate significant revenues if he can sell the Land Zeppelin to just 1 percent of serious cyclists.

Gorman said next steps will include finding more investors and making 10 Land Zeppelins to display them at trade shows and to allow beta-testing, which will include giving the devices to cycling enthusiasts to have them test it in real-world applications and to seek their input.

And, he said, he also plans to market the device in the growing market of electric bikes.

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com