UK Researcher Wins Award for New MTB Suspension using Electrotechnology


dr_david_batterbee University of Sheffield magnetorheological fluids  ERA, Electrical Research Association, Foundation Entrepreneurs Award

Dr. David Batterbee, a research associate at the University of Sheffield in the UK, has won an award for his research and design of a new mountain bike suspension system. A design that engages and disengages the rear suspension to maximize rider efficiency. When the article was sent to me it had this tag: “Hello? Specialized BRAIN Shock?”.Green electronic board

But here’s where it gets interesting… he was awarded the ERA, Electrical Research Association, Foundation Entrepreneurs Award (wait, what? ELECTRICAL research?). And given about $56,000 in prize money which he plans to use towards start up costs required to make the first products available.

I did my best to figure out how the Specialized Brain shock worked and how Batterbee’s research is different. Some of the articles I found chastised Batterbee for electrical innovation, fearing technology and computers will soon take over the world (clearly they have seen Terminator too many times).

Here’s what I found…

specialized_brain_shock_bike University of Sheffield magnetorheological fluids  ERA, Electrical Research Association, Foundation Entrepreneurs Award

The Specialized Brain shock has been the center of attention for almost 6 years. It’s design (it’s BRAIN) uses an oil flow operated inertia valve that reacts to stimulus from the ground up -a bump in the road, root or pothole for example- and immediately transitions from being firm to active, allowing the suspension to respond. Force from the rider down on the pedals transfered through the frame to the ground doesn’t affect the valve, leaving the suspension firm and resulting in no loss of rider effort due to suspension. Batterbee’s suspension claims to accomplish the same thing.

specialized_brain_image_Dr. David Batterbee University of Sheffield ERA  Foundation Entrepreneurs Award

The technical inner workings for the Brain shock aren’t readily discussed many places other than on Specialized’s site. The image above is a screen shot of the computer diagram and animation found there. Batterbee’s design isn’t discussed anywhere on line yet, but some of his research is.

He has been working on the design of semi-active suspension systems that use magnetorheological dampers and published 14 papers in the field of magnetorheological fluids. Yes there’s electricity involved but not like I had imagined. These magnetorheological fluids, known as MR fluids, are a suspension of micrometer-sized magnetic particles in a carrier fluid, usually a type of oil. When in contact with a magnetic field the particles align basically turning the liquid into a solid. Maybe this will help explain:

Dr. David Batterbee University of Sheffield magnetorheological fluids  ERA, Electrical Research Association, Foundation Entrepreneurs Award

Where τ = shear stress; τy = yield stress; H = Magnetic field intensity η = Newtonian viscosity; dv/dz is the velocity gradient in the z-direction.

Yeah, it made no sense to me either. But there’s a lot of neat information available online for magnetorheological fluids, and we’ll keep you posted when more information about Batterbee’s suspension as soon as we can. It’s also interesting to know that this technology is also being researched for applications in aircraft landing gear, industrial vibration dampening, and my favorite- liquid body armor (there’s a short video).

Hello? Batman’s already there guys! Sorry I can’t find a video clip, but you know what I’m talking about: The new suit cape that can transition from flexible fabric to rigid body armor. A great example of how reality inspires imagination. Or, for the exact opposite, I’ll leave you Batman fans with THIS.


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