Woman seeks, invents, new design for bike seats

Woman seeks, invents, new design for bike seats

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — According to Jeri Rutherford, necessity literally is the mother of invention. Seven years ago, on the fourth day of a 400-plus mile bicycle trip from Boise to the West Coast, her backside "was so sore I could hardly stand it," Rutherford said. "I swore then I would invent a better bicycle seat."

So she did.

Not that it was easy. First she had to figure out what was wrong with conventional bike saddles.

"I'm terribly dyslexic. Did you know that 60 percent of inventors are severely dyslexic?" she said. "I can't spell or balance a checkbook, but I can visualize really well. So it wasn't hard to figure out what I needed to create, a seat that would flex and move under the rider."

After coming up with her new-and-improved almost T-shaped design, she had to get a patent, figure out materials, find someone to manufacture the saddle and bring it to market.

All that took until last December, and so far this year her company, RideOut Technologies, has moved 1,800 of her Carbon Comfort Saddles. Customers range "from gearheads to grandmas," Rutherford said, "from people in their 70s to young guys in their 30s."

That's because many standard bicycle seats don't discriminate — they make biking life equally uncomfortable for just about everyone, she said.

Rutherford is an avid, lifelong bicyclist. She is a Eugene native, born on Hilliard Lane off River Road. She grew up on the banks of Fern Ridge Lake and graduated from Junction City High School. Now at 53, she still rides 60 miles a week, down from her younger days when a 50-mile day wasn't unusual on a weekend.

She started her seat project by contacting a person who builds boots for Olympic skaters.

"Those shoes flex, and that's what I realized needs to happen with a bike saddle, too," she said. That led to injecting carbon fibers into a mold, to give just a bit of movement to the baseplate of the seat.

Then came the underpinnings.

"On a regular bike seat, the post goes right into the seat, and that can be really miserable in terms of comfort on a long ride," Rutherford said. "On my bike saddles, the post goes into a rail, and underneath the seat there's a crossbow-type suspension — that's what I got a patent on — that absorbs shock and also flexes a bit from left to right. It keeps the blood flow in the seat from getting constricted. That's what causes pain, when the muscles are screaming for more oxygen, and instead, it's getting cut off."

First she went through about 40 prototypes in her garage, which took about five years.

"Many times, I wanted to give up," she admits. But finally she had a rideable product and passed it around to friends to try. "A lot of them said they weren't going to give it back, so I knew I had something," Rutherford said.

Success didn't come cheap. Getting the patent cost $20,000, "and then I spent two years and lost $40,000 trying to get the saddle made in the United States," she said.

"I had the molds and the tooling made, but the best anyone could come up with in this country was a $150 per seat cost. That was too much."

Her lucky break came at a trade show in Las Vegas, where she met a woman from Taiwan "who makes 80 percent of all the bicycle seats sold in the United States," Rutherford said. "She met with me, looked at my seat, looked at me and smiled and said, 'Smart. I make.' She tapped her head with a pencil and said, 'Good.' "

Rutherford traveled to Taiwan where she worked directly with Stella Yu, a dynamo in her early 60s.

"She helped me get an incredibly good-looking, functional product. She assigned an engineer to work with me for an entire week," she said. "That's something a U.S. company wouldn't do."

From then, it was only five months "to get it perfect and to market."

At this point, Rutherford sells her original unisex bike saddle, available in the original black-and-green and a new black-and-pink, for $85.

She's added a slightly different version especially for people, mostly male, who are on their bikes eight hours a day — people such as police officers and campus and airport security officers — "who experience up to 30 percent more erectile dysfunction because of long hours of bicycle use."

She calls that model StormQuest, and it sells for $94.

She's also introduced a clip-on bag of reflective 3M fabric with a built-in super-bright LED light and room for a cellphone, keys and cash, at $25.

"I grew up riding trillions of miles on my bike around Fern Ridge, and bicycling still is my life and a great way to maintain health," said Rutherford, who now lives in Marsing, Idaho. "I'm told about 80 percent of people say the reason they don't ride a bike is because the seat hurts.

"That's really why I'm doing what I'm doing."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.