The Bowboard invention comes out of Clearwater and uses new, patented technology to propel the rider forward without any pedals, chains, motor, batteries or sprockets.
CLEARWATER – The idea came in a dream after two friends had talked about products and inventions that would be cool to make. Soon it became the real-life dream of the other friend, Chris Miller of Clearwater. It’s been life.
Now, seven years later, Miller’s dream and invention is at last in the final stages before the world can start buying the Bowboard. His baby.
The Bowboard looks a lot like a kick-and-go scooter, but the platform on which the rider stands is curved upwards – or bowed. A rider can choose to ride it like a traditional scooter or use the brand-new, patented technology called a spiral drive that uses the rider’s body weight and a bouncing motion to propel the Bowboard and rider forward.
“Gravity gets such a bad rap,” said Brian Gallagher, CEO, of Belleair. Everybody hates gravity because everyone starts sagging because of gravity. Joints get worn out because of gravity. But we’ve taken gravity and harnessed its greatest benefit. The Bowboard harnesses gravity for optimum mobility.”
The bouncing motion to make the Bowboard go without touching the ground is similar to bouncing on a trampoline – an exercise called rebounding – except it takes the vertical motion and translates it into forward momentum.
The Bowboard can go much faster than a traditional scooter, yet it does so without using any pedals, chains, motor, batteries, sprockets or engine.
“The invention is uniquely cool because it possesses a couple qualities that there is not another device on the planet that do them,” Gallagher said.
Most products improve upon an existing product, Gallagher said, but the Bowboard is a completely new product.
“It’s not a scooter, it’s not a longboard, it’s not a skateboard, and it’s not a bike,” Gallagher said. “It’s a Bowboard. And the performance of a Bowboard is distinctly different from the rest of those products. With a Bowboard, you can carve and cut and have fun in that way, you can cruise, you can go with one foot up, one foot down, you can bow ride with both feet up.”
Kids love it because of how fast they can go – up to 10 to 15 miles per hour, compared with 5 to 6 miles per hour on a traditional kick-and-go scooter, Gallagher said. Parents love it because of all the health benefits, he added.
Gallagher has worked as a physical therapist for the last 21 years, so when he learned about all of the health benefits from rebounding – the type of motion associated with the Bowboard – then he was hooked.
“When I saw that, I thought, ‘This is really amazing,’” Gallagher said. “I’ve worked with children my whole career, and even though this isn’t specifically made for it, when I work in reahab and you are trying to get children to improve their strength and balance and stability, it’s hard to find an activity that they want to do.”
Miller said that before the Bowboard, the only major ways to get rebounding exercise is on a pogo stick or a trampoline, whether it’s a full-sized or miniature one. And none of them allowed for travel.
“There’s a long list of health benefits (with rebounding) that you can’t get anywhere else,” Miller said. “It stimulates the endocrine system, it increases blood flow, it works the core muscles, your thighs and all sorts of things. … This is the first device that you can really use for mobility that uses rebounding. So there’s a huge health benefit.”
Studies show that there are at least 33 health benefits from this kind of exercise, including the following: strengthening the musculoskeletal system, protects joints from chronic fatigue and impact from exercising on hard surfaces, helps manage muscle-to-fat ratio, circulates more oxygen to the tissues, establishes a better equilibrium between oxygen required and oxygen available, increases respiration capacity, improves blood pressure, helps rehabilitate existing heart problems among many others. Regular rebounding can also reduce body fat, and strengthen and firm up arms, legs, hips, and the abdomen as well as improving balance.
The initial – and probably biggest – target market for the Bowboard are kids and teens, but the mobility and health benefits expands the circle to everyone from college students to urban commuters to Boomers and retirees who want a fun way to exercise and be active in the beautiful Florida weather, Gallagher said.
“If you’re a 20-something in college and are getting around on campus, why not?” Gallagher said. “Tighten up your abs. Tighten up your butt. Your leg muscles. Tone up a little bit. So it has that benefit if you want it. If you don’t and just want to cruise around and have fun, that’s fine too. Those 14-year-olds, they’re going to be racing with these. Kids are going to like it for the fun and the speed and the racing. Commuters are going to like it for its ease of use. Its portability.”
There have been numerous versions of the Bowboard as it evolved from dream to reality. The first started with the mechanism that everyone else uses on similar devices: ratchets and sprockets. The second version also included a ball that sat in a kind of cup under the board’s deck, so when the board would press down, the ball would bounce you back up, Gallagher said. All of those models failed, he said. It wasn’t until model 3 and the initial crude invention of Miller’s spiral drive that things really started coming together.
The initial spiral drive was just blocked out as a test. It and the Bowboard were far too heavy, Gallagher said, but now they had something to work with. From there, they made the spiral out of aluminum, which was far lighter, although it was too soft and ended up getting warped upon continued use.
“So now we have a steel spiral that’s going to be bolted on a carbon fiber backing,” Gallagher said. “Now we’ve progressed from aluminum to steel, but the carbon fiber backing will keep it light yet we’ll have the strength.”
Miller first showed Gallagher his plans for the Bowboard between five and six years ago while the two were sitting on a plane. Gallagher had just sold one of his businesses, and Miller asked if he was interested in investing in the Bowboard. Gallagher immediately was interested, but it was still just in the drawing stage. He wanted more.
“I said, ‘You know what? Make it real. Bring it to life,’” Gallagher said. “Because a lot of people have good ideas. But not everyone can make it real. So then in 2011 he calls me up and says, ‘I did it. I spent all this time, the last five years, developing the product.’ He has patents here in the U.S. and in seven other countries. And I was impressed.”
As a final test before getting totally on board, Gallagher wanted to see how it would interest kids. They brought the latest model of the Bowboard to a local school football field and had Miller’s daughter ride it down the sidelines.
“By the time it got to me, I had literally counted the heads. Thirty kids,” Gallagher said. “We had 30 kids chasing after it. And they all come rushing up and there’s Sarah standing with it and I’m saying, that’s really cool. All of the kids and parents are rushing me, saying, ‘Is that a real toy?’ That’s one of the direct quotes. ‘Is that a real toy?’ ‘Can I get it now?’ ‘Is it in stores now?’ ‘Can we order now?’ And I just looked at Chris and said, ‘This is the reaction of just driving it in front of people. I’m in. I’m your guy. I’ll help you bring this to market.’”
Since that point, they cut the weight of it in half and made numerous other improvements. The current model is designed for people who weigh 80 to 170 pounds, but they are going to create another version for people who weigh 160 to 250 pounds, Gallagher said. There will also be a mini version, he added. The Bowboard folds up for easy storage and portability, and they are going to make a sling for it so commuters can easily ride it to work all over the world.
“You can sling it over your shoulder and get on the train or bus,” Gallagher said. “When you get off, you’re in downtown, you just lift up the handle and drop it back down, ride it to your office, put it under your cubicle and you’re all set.”
While it’s clear that the kids love the Bowboard, it also has a lot of things for parents to like, Gallagher said. The board has a high-profile brake on the handlebar, and it has three wheels which offers more stability than just two wheels, he said. It is made of sturdy materials, with the only plastic component being the fender, he said.
“I interviewed over 300 parents across the country over these last two and a half years, and I seem to get two major responses,” Gallagher said. “If I’m talking to the dads, they see it and are like, ‘Oh thank god, I don’t have to go out and get gas for the motor, I don’t have to worry about the pollution and I don’t have to worry about the batteries and replacing it and recharging it.’ The dad looks at it from a utility standpoint. Moms – I don’t think I’ve even had a different answer to this. They look at it and say, almost verbatim, “Finally, something my son or daughter is going to want to ride, that’s fun for them to ride and is good for them so I can get them out from behind the computer and playing outside again.”
Bowboard has its final prototype and currently has a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to take it to the manufacturer for the first run of Bowboards. The Kickstarter campaign runs through Sunday, Dec. 22 at 6:36 p.m., and they have set the goal of raising $150,000. There are a few pledge levels that reward the donor with one of the first-run Bowboards at the cheapest price at which one will be able to purchase them, Gallagher said. The first 300 people to donate can get a Bowboard for $299. The next pledge level up is $325, of which there are 750 boards available. After that, pledges of $349 will earn a board.
There is also the Founder’s Special, which, for $449, gets the donor a limited-edition first-run Bowboard as well as the chance to have a Google Hangout chat with Chris Miller – the inventor – and the team. Additionally, Miller will sign the board, and the donor also gets a Bowboard hoodie.
After funds have been raised at the end of the campaign, the final prototype goes to the manufacturer and the first totally machine-made board will be sent to the Bowboard headquarters in Clearwater. There they will take the model out and quality test it, make any necessary adjustments and then have a test run set made up, and then the team will put them together and test them all to make sure that the final adjustments were OK.
“Once that fares well, then we are ready to start delivering,” Gallagher said. “Then we say, ‘OK good, run us of a whole container.’ A container is about 750 Bowboards. And that first container will go to Kickstarter folks.”
Manufacturing is expected to begin in the spring, with test models back in the second or third quarter of 2014. The final products should be able to start showing up in the public’s driveways by the fourth quarter of 2014, Gallagher said.