Turn indicators should be hand-signal supplement for cyclists
By Hannah Grotte
Jeri Rutherford has a passion for bicycling. An avid rider since her teen years, she has found it to be not only an enjoyable activity and a way of staying in shape, but a mode to saving the environment. This Food Scientist turned inventor/entrepreneur says that her mission is to save the world, “one butt at a time!” According to Jeri, 50% of car trips cover five miles or less. If people rode their bikes for these short trips, fuel consumption in the United States would be cut in half and harmful emissions would be notably reduced. However, most people report that they choose not to ride a bicycle due to the discomfort caused by the seat. Although Jeri has been bicycling for years, it was not until she reached her 40’s that this became a problem for her. It was this problem that led Jeri to embark upon her journey as an inventor.
As Jeri entered her 40’s, the discomfort caused by her bike seat began to become more pronounced. Purchasing the “comfort seats” available on the market provided little relief and by the time she reached her late 40’s, Jeri feared that she might have to give up bicycling all together. Mid-way through a 400 mile bike ride, Jeri finally had to get off her bike and walk because the pain caused by her bike seat became unbearable. Through this experience she realized that the pain of giving up her bike was equally unbearable and decided then and there that something had to be done. Jeri went home from that ride, bought a welder and began to take the first steps to developing a real “comfort seat.”
The road to her perfect seat was fraught with challenges, but Jeri faced them head on. When she started, Jeri had no idea how to build a bike seat, nor did she have the necessary skills needed to begin any type of fabrication. This did not stop Jeri. She taught herself to weld and scoured the internet to learn about weight distribution and the mechanics of various elements needed to create a comfortable seat. Once she determined that the key elements needed for her seat were strength and flexibility, she began to examine other items with these properties. She researched things like skis, golf clubs and ice skating boots. Through this research she discovered that using carbon fiber for the seat’s platform would provide a dynamic seat, as opposed to the static design of other seats. This ability to flex and move with the rider would provide optimum riding comfort. Jeri also worked painstakingly on the issue of weight distribution. Time spent working with a prosthetics lab helped her to understand the need for a weight baring tool to fit the body closely in order to maximize comfort. In her research, Jeri went so far as to sit in wet plaster, protected by plastic of course, to understand the distribution of body weight on the pelvic floor. She worked for seven years and created 50 prototypes before the ultimate design was realized.
Jeri relied heavily on the help of others with varying expertise to bring her seat to completion. Many people, from close friends to strangers that she sought out, lent their knowledge to the project. One friend, Larry Hill, offered invaluable advice on mold making, which he had learned about while repairing kayaks. The information that Jeri gained working with a prosthetics lab, as well as the bio-engineering departments of two universities, was invaluable to the seats creation and comfort. Jeri found that complete strangers were willing to lend their knowledge for free when asked. Bicycle professionals proved especially helpful by offering not only expertise but encouragement. This encouragement helped Jeri to push through the difficulties and continue to work on her seat against the odds facing inventors. Without the aid and encouragement of the numerous people that she relied upon through the process, Jeri would not have been successful in bringing her desire to reality.
After seven years of work, most of it after hours and on weekends as Jeri was still employed full time, she completed her final prototype. Jeri says, rather tongue in cheek, that the first seat, that finalized prototype, is the equivalent to a three bedroom, two bathroom house in regard to the time, energy and money that she put into it. Upon completion of the prototype, Jeri began the process of applying for a patent. This took two years, but she was finally granted her patent for the comfort bike seat. The next challenge was taking her seat to production. This proved incredibly difficult and frustrating. Jeri spent time and money flying all over the United States trying to meet with American manufactures. The companies often blew her off and were rude time and time again. Finally, after two years, a bike professional helped Jeri secure a meeting with the woman who owns and runs the largest bicycle seat manufacturing factory in the world. The woman was in the USA on business and was happy to meet with Jeri. During their meeting, the woman told Jeri that she makes 2.5 million bike seats in a month, which is about 80% of world wide bike seat production. She took Jeri’s hand sewn prototype, into which had been poured years of work and Jeri’s retirement, looked it over and said simply, “Smart. I make.” And with that, Jeri was in business. The company flew her to Taiwan, where she spent two weeks working closely with two company employees on how her seat should be made. Jeri’s comfort seat has been in production since 2010 and is sold across the US and around the world. Jeri feels confident that her business is a success, as 75% of small businesses fail within their first 18 months.
Jeri now teaches seminars for entrepreneurs and small business hopefuls. She has many pieces of advice for success that she readily shares. Jeri encourages people to do as much of the work as they can, but to be mindful of where their own skills lack. It is valuable to assess where others can be most helpful in invest money in those areas. She made expensive mistakes herself and found that those who offer to help for a price are not worth the money. In fact, very often these individuals are seeking to take advantage of their “customers.” More can be accomplished through the help of friends and others who are willing to help free of charge. The same is true for advertising. Paid advertising does not pay. Jeri feels that the best type of advertising is guerilla marketing, just getting your product out there. For her comfort seat, for example, the most valuable advertising is to get bicycle magazine editors to try her seat. She has found that once someone tries her seat on their bicycle, they do not want to take it off. She admits it is hard and takes time to be successful in this type of advertising, but in the long run, it is the best way to get the word out.
Another good piece of advice from Jeri is to consider the reality of the overall cost of carrying an invention through into a business. According to Jeri, an inventor will spend 1/3 of their money on the creation of their product, 1/3 on the production of their product, and 1/3 on marketing/advertising for their product. This long term investment must be considered when beginning. Being smart about the money it takes to establish an invention as a business is crucial. Jeri also mentions that an inventor must think about the down sides, the failures, of their product before finalizing their design. It is very important to make sure that all the bugs are worked out and that there is a demand for the product, before a large inventory is established. Failure to do this can result in a fatal blow to any new business. Most importantly, Jeri believes that in order for an inventor/entrepreneur to be “successful,” they must have a deeper motive than money. She would not have pursued her seat and poured her retirement into it for the sole purpose of making money. She fought through the difficult years and bore the financial burden, because she has a passion for improving not only bike riding comfort, but the future of the world we live in. Passion has to be the driving force as the obstacles before inventors are many. Jeri strongly agrees that this is true, especially for women. She feels that there are so few women inventors because women do not like to ‘get our hands dirty.’ Jeri’s advice is to just “go do it and make it yourself.” As a strong and determined woman, she taught herself to weld, learned what she needed to know and pushed through the obstacles to make her comfort seat a reality.
For more information, please visit: rideouttech.com.