Stephen Britt talks to Pedelecs about his electric pedal invention

Pedelecs recently caught up with Stephen Britt and his ‘Fast Forward Electric Pedals’, designed to instantly convert a normal bike into an electric bike. Stephen, always a keen cyclist, was the winner of last year’s Barclays Take One Small Step Competition.

The competition saw him walking (or should that be pedalling) away with a £50,000 prize to further develop his idea.

Pedelecs had a sneak preview of Stephen’s working prototype when he came to Cambridgeshire to show us his invention (ingenious: easy to use, put on and take off is our verdict) and answer a few questions for our readers.

Many of our members will be familiar with Stephen’s story since we covered his entry into the competition at the time, but for those new to the world of pedelecs we asked Stephen to tell us the story so far, as well as what the future holds:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how came up with the idea of electric pedals? Did you have a Eureka! moment?

I was cycle commuting to the University of Brighton from Kingston E. Sussex, a 3 mile journey. When I got married and had a family, I moved to an area 25 miles away. Shortly after that, road works started for 90 weeks. I dreamt of being able to cycle to work again to ease the stress. But a 50 mile round trip is a lot!

I looked at electric bikes; these seemed too expensive and too heavy, most were quoting 25 miles range, but what if they didn’t do 25 miles on a charge? You’d be left to ride a 24Kg bike with no assistance. As I had a bike, I looked at electric kits, but these are all based in a hub motor and at the time you had to get a wheel built, specifying spoke gauge, rim dimensions and lots of other technical aspects.

Even with an engineering background this was off-putting. And if it puts me off, then others will be dissuaded. I decided to see if I could think of another way to solve this problem. A few weeks later I was playing with a set of Pedalites. Pedalites are pedals that have a micro generator built in, they flash LEDs when you pedal. It suddenly struck me that if you could get electricity out for torque in, then the same must be true in reverse, though with the addition of a battery to turn a motor to turn the crank and thus the back wheel.

What did entering the competition involve and how has winning it changed your life?

When I won the Barclays Take One Small Step Award, I had been working as a ICT Technician at the University of Brighton for 9 years. My background is in Electronic Engineering, though I have done some mechanical engineering. I have an HND in electronics and a BSc in Computer Science. I have also worked for Eurotunnel and Cisco Systems.

The entry process for Take One Small Step, was:-

– Write a thorough application – this took about 50 hours; make a video explaining the product and write a business plan.

– There was then the judging from 360 applicants down to 10, and then to the 3 finalists with the winner being based on public votes. That was when I contacted Pedelecs for support.

Without giving away your trade secrets, how does your product work?

Each pedal houses a powerful motor, gearbox, battery and control system. When you pedal, the motor is turned on, on the down stroke and helps you turn the crank. When you pedal a bike, you turn the axel in the pedal one revolution for each pedal sweep, the motor does the same thing, but adds power. A clutch allows for pedalling when no assistance is required. In this case, you flip both pedals over to the non sensor side.

You’ve always been a keen cyclist, so what problems did you foresee your invention solving?

I have been cycling since I was a boy. I love the freedom that a bike gives you. Even if you only have a pound in your pocket, you can cycle a few miles from home, buy some crisps and have an adventure. Brilliant!

The issues that the pedals solve are being able to put power assistance on any bike in minutes, adding only minimal weight, being so light you add range and not limit the rider to an absolute range of the batteries.

They will cost less than the price of a replacement battery for most electric bikes. They are not aimed at someone who wants an electric moped that will do all the work for them, more at the market that wants some assistance to tackle a big hill on the way to work or to
help haul the shopping home. Many commuters don’t want to break a sweat to work as they have no time to change or shower, this will help keep them cool.

Being a crank drive system, you still get to use all of your gears with power, not just one fixed ratio like a hub drive system.

Can you give us a snapshot of your day-to-day life as an inventor?

Every day is really different, some days are spent designing some aspect of the system, making / or getting made some part. Finding new ways of doing things or make something smaller, trying to raise the profile of the product. For instance, Channel 4 turned up the other day, they are doing a feature on inventors. Doing demonstrations, trying to find a route to market, patent and legal aspects, and all the other things that come with running a business. You get a varied workload!

What obstacles have you had to overcome along the way? What’s involved in developing an idea and prototype?

Initially you have to decide if the idea is viable to become a business, then continue to keep quite about it or you can’t file a patent. Then you persuade yourself to spend £2600 on a UK patent – and not buy a newer car instead, as well as learn business skills and raise finance in a period when grants are being cut.

What stage is the product currently at and what will the next few months bring in terms of the product’s development?

Currently the prototype is working well, giving around 100W power assistance and doing 8 miles on a charge. They are too big, but a smaller version is already in the pipeline. Range and power will be improved, as will the look of the product.

Have you had any assistance from other people/organisations along the way people?

As for the current prototype I have done all of the mechanical design, though the turned parts like the drive shaft are made in Hastings. I have also designed the pedal body and all plastics parts and I produce these myself on a 3D printer. That’s not to say that a finished product will be plastic, but it gives me good control of the project and a fast turnaround time.

I have also specified and purchased all mechanical, electromechanical and electronic parts and written the firmware for the micro controller, done all testing and reworking and now I’m at the stage where I’m trailling the current prototype with potential dealers and producers etc..

What feedback have you had so far?

Everyone who has tried the systems loves it. Often people are amazed that it hasn’t been done before. The chances are that when you’ve tried it you’ll like it and want one.

What are your dreams for your Fast Forward pedals and what’s next for ‘Stephen Britt the inventor’?

I can remember how I felt when I got a new bike when I was 8 years old. I’ve given a few bikes as presents since and I always know what the recipient is feeling. I have given two colleagues bikes that were spare. One cycled to work for a few years, the other is still cycling to work after 6 years and has no other vehicles.

I would like to think that my idea can help thousands of people get back
into cycling. Helping them get fitter while enjoying the ride. Ideally within the next few years the product will be on sale throughout Europe and further afield.

As for what next? I have ideas, but I think this will keep me busy for some time yet!