Innovations: 'No-break' brakes

No bells and whistles in this life-saving invention, just pure physics.

bicycle innov 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
bicycle innov 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
After a neighbor in Kfar Korazim was killed when his bike brakes locked, throwing him head-on into a truck that ran a stop sign, Zalman Peles decided to dredge up an old invention. "I was working on a lot of things at the time, but when this accident occurred, I put it at the top of the list and swore to myself that it would never happen again," he says emphatically. "I had this idea to create an antiskid, antilock brake for bicycles many years ago, but I never did anything with it until recently," says Peles, who always dreamed of being a cowboy, not an inventor. "The innovative thing about this braking system is that it is simple and inexpensive because it uses the bike's own momentum to pump the brakes and prevent them from locking." The system, which costs about NIS 144 in a bicycle shop, affixes to the wheel and does not make use of any computers or sensors. "It's pure physics." Born in Jerusalem in 1942 and educated in an elite private school until the eighth grade, Peles says he was thrown out of school at an early age because he wasn't suited for the normal acquisition of knowledge. "I am dyslexic and my mind works differently than other people. I see the world in graphic images rather than words," he explains. After completing his army service in a combat unit, he took correspondence courses from Cornell University in animal husbandry and in chemistry from the University of Sweden. Then, determined to fulfill his cowboy dreams, he went to Florida to learn how to operate a cattle ranch from a foreman who, despite having no formal education, knew how to rope cattle. At 28, he returned and started his own 6,000-dunam (1,500-acre) cattle ranch in the northern Jordan Valley. "For 20 years, I worked with the animals. I never had an extra penny, but I never had creditors at my door either." In 1984, Peles started an Arabian horse breeding program that included a horseback riding operation in the village of Kfar Korazim. That same year, after having worked his way through five years of bureaucratic red tape, he was given permission to start a new type of private settlement that the government neither owned nor planned. "I built the first home in Kfar Korazim with my own hands out of local stone, wood and red bricks," says Peles proudly. "It was the first private settlers' cooperative in Israel, after Rothschild's moshavot, founded entirely without government help other than some basic infrastructure, like roads. It paved the way for the moshava-like villages that came later." He says that today there are 100 families living in Kfar Korazim, which is called "the Savyon of Galilee" by jealous neighbors. "I love animals and nature. I once lived in a Beduin tent," says Peles, whose intense blue eyes, short silver hair, strong hands and tanned skin make him look more like an outdoorsman than an inventor. But in 1990, after a bad fall from a jeep that broke his spine, he was forced to use his skills as an inventor to make a living. "I stopped working in my hobby and started working in my fourth career, the field I had always known I could work in but never wanted to," he explains. Today, he has four international patents registered and more than 20 pending. "I hang my patents in my office next to the deaf certificate I was given by the government after a bullet grazed my skull in retaliations against Syria," says Peles, who never accepted compensation from the army because he didn't want to be declared formally disabled and stop his career as an officer in the paratroopers' reserve. "After breaking my spine and having two back operations, I taught myself to walk again. I refused to be a cripple." Perhaps because of his own experiences, Peles' first entrepreneurial venture researches and develops his patented artificial muscle and ortho-dynamic robotic machine, which is designed to aid rehabilitation of the disabled. With grants from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry as well as its Chief Scientist's Office, he says he hopes the medical robot will soon be used for more than just research in leading American institutes. His third patent is a safety device for handguns and rifles that prevents children from shooting with them. "In the United States, you can't prevent people from buying firearms and you can't force them to lock them in cabinets separate from the ammunition, so this was the only solution to the problem I saw," Peles says. The antiskid, antilock brake system for bicycles is his fourth patent, and he hopes that it too will save lives. "The first prototype was tested a few months ago at an international bike show in Germany. I watched Hans Ray, an international cycling champion, take them for a hard ride, mashing the front brakes hard and not tipping over. It's like the expression 'hahevdel bein tzalash letarash,' an old paratroopers proverb which means: to dare taking the risk in front of your enemy's face - if you lose you are demoted, if you win you are promoted." The brakes use the torque of the wheel to manipulate them at the time of locking and split the power they generate, allowing the brake leverages to move slightly aside on their axis. This provides very efficient retardation of the bike speed but prevents them from locking up the wheel and propelling riders forward. In a video demonstration Peles created, a rider on a bike without the brakes shows a lift of the back wheel into the air; with the brakes on, the same rider traveling the same speed on the same street comes to a smooth stop. "It's like Linus told Lucy," says Peles with a smile as he closes his laptop. "You don't argue with the straight-A students. The proof is in the pudding."