Bicycle chains can be a pain. They require maintenance, catch shoelaces, break when you least need it and, no matter how hard we try, always end up making everything they touch dirty. The Chainless aims to solve all that by, as it’s name implies, ditching the chain.
Finding a more efficient, cleaner mechanism than the humble bike chain to transfer power from our leg muscles to the tar isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean plenty of inventive folk haven’t tried. Over the years we’ve been introduced to a number of shaft-driven and belt-driven bikes. Another creative solution pumps hydraulic fluid in a never-ending loop to turn the rear wheel. Then there’s a convoluted wire rope and pulley drive design. I doubt you’ve ever heard much, if anything about any of them. That’s because the good-old-fashioned bicycle chain – invented by Englishman J. K. Starley back in 1885 – for all its foibles, still works best. As a result, all these interesting forays into improving bicycle design ended up on the trash heap of unwanted tech history. And we still live with our oily, dirt-magnet chains.
However, just because past attempts at cleaning up the bicycle’s act have failed, doesn’t mean new, fresher minds can’t revisit the topic and give it another try. American inventor Sean Chan is a case in point. He first got the urge to obliterate the bike chain in 2014 while still studying for his IT degree at the University of South Florida. Chan elaborates, “I was sick of bicycle chain maintenance and wanted to develop a chain-less bicycle. After several years of prototypes and engineering help from my father the Chainless was born and ready to be shown to the world.”
Chan’s innovative “Chainless” design dumps the conventional bike chain in favour of a few tungsten gears tucked inside the bike frame near the rear hub. And, in a further break from tradition, he mounted the pedals directly onto the rear wheel – completely eliminating the complex drive mechanism found on standard bikes. As a consequence, it requires a rather different riding position than we’re all familiar with, in which the cyclist doesn’t sit in the middle of the bike, but is instead perched over its back wheel.
The rear wheel can also be manually disengaged from the rest of the frame on the fly – allowing one to turn it independently with hip movements to perform seemingly impossible tight turns, not to mention some cool tricks – in what Chan calls his Rapid Turning System. The bike is available in both regular and folding versions, weighs just over 11 kg, and can be fitted with either 20, 24 or 26-inch sized wheels.
According to Chan, his strange-looking single-speed bike has a number of advantages over conventional commuter designs. First up, the tungsten steel gears, tucked neatly out of sight, will never snag or dirty any clothing. They’re also more resilient than titanium, completely rust resistant and eliminate all those distracting chain skipping sounds to gives us a much quieter ride. The tri-spoked wheels, made out of high-density magnesium alloy, are not only strong and durable, but also lighter than conventional wheels. And, in keeping with the rest of the quality build, the light-weight frame is made out of tough 6061 aircraft-grade aluminium alloy. The folding version, the Chainless S1F, can also be conveniently assembled or disassembled in around 15 seconds – giving riders a full-sized bike that can either fit into the boot of a small hatchback without having to lower the rear seat, or be carried up stairs and stashed in a cupboard.
At first glance (see video below), the riding posture required to keep the Chainless moving seems distinctly odd. However, Chan assures us that it requires much less effort to pedal than what we’re used to. That’s because, with the pedals placed more towards the back, riding the Chainless closely emulates walking – decreasing muscle soreness and fatigue, and giving us a more comfortable ride.
Will Chan’s newfangled design ever take off and gain acceptance in the greater cycling community? Who knows, only time will tell. That said, I can see young urban riders really having a blast with his innovative Rapid Turning System. – (c) 2017 NavWorld