About two years ago, I was looking into buying a new bicycle. My current bicycle was a beat up beach cruiser, and I really wanted a new mountain bike. So, I went down to the bookstore and bought an issue of a mountain biking magazine. In it, I found an article about Billie Joe Becoat and his new invention, the "two wheel drive" bicycle. They touted it as the first major bike innovation in 70 years. After reading that piece, I thought it was a great idea (I also wondered why I hadn't thought of it!). Unfortunately, I have not heard anything about Becoat's creation since I read that article. However, as I was researching, trying to find out a good topic for this paper, I happened to run into an article out of Ebony Magazine that describes Becoat's invention, how he developed it, and the struggles that came along the way. My problem of finding a topic was solved, and I had a lot of fun learning more about how to make a bicycle a 'two by two'.
Bill Becoat, an African-American, is now 58 years old, and lives in Alton, Illinois. He grew up in Centralia, Illinois, the youngest of six children. As he was growing up, he was encouraged by his parents to read and stay in school. He took a liking to many professions once he graduated form high school. In 1959, he moved to Saint Louis, Missouri and worked as an apprentice mechanic at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, where he worked for only two years before moving to Alton to go to college at Southern Illinois University. In college, he became a Blues singer, and released an album that got on the Billboard charts. Once he graduated, he got married and settled down. Becoat started a successful home improvement store in Alton, and had three children. All this time, he enjoyed tinkering with things and fooling around with ideas that he came up with . (Bicycle Inventor Has Last Laugh)
One day Becoat's son told his dad that the chain on his bike kept on falling off all the time. So, Becoat, who enjoyed fixing things anyway, went out to the garage, and started repairing some links in the chain to tighten it up a bit. As Becoat was doing this, he recalls wondering about gears, sprockets and cable drives. As he was fixing the bike, he recalls "getting lost" in the idea of transferring power from the bike's back wheel to the front wheel. After this point, he was off and running on the concept of a two wheel drive bicycle. (Bicycle Inventor Has Last Laugh)
Becoat went to the library at the Southern Illinois University, his alma mater, and began doing some research on his novel idea. First, he studied patent records to see if his concept had been patented yet. He discovered that nobody put a patent on a design for a two wheel drive bicycle like his up to this point. So, he decided to keep on tinkering with his bike and come up with a design worthy of a patent. He went back to the Southern Illinois library and studied technical journals for hours. He may have had a good idea, but he wanted to make sure that the final product would not be too big or too heavy to be acceptable in the industry. He started researching and making his prototypes in 1986. By 1990, four years and 50 prototypes later, he had secured patents in 32 countries.(B.E. Report on Small Business)
Now his design was finalized and patented, and the official prototype for the two wheel drive bicycle was finished. How did this prototype actually work? How did he get the power to the front wheel? For the purposes of this paper, his first, and most basic design will be examined. He started with his son's bike, the same one that first sparked his interest in two wheel drive. It was a basic '1 speed' BMX style bike, with pedals connected to a large gear and a chain going between that gear and a smaller gear on the back wheel. The bike could not change gears, which makes this design simple. In order to power the front wheel,