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January 17, 2014

Inventor hopes Bike Zeppelin takes off

GREENSBURG – A local civil engineer has created a Zeppelin-shaped apparatus that allows bicyclists to ride in the rain without getting wet.

Greensburg resident Jim Gorman remembers the day that inspiration struck: Nov. 22, 2011. It rained all day, and Gorman, who commutes to work by bicycle, thought about a way to make riding in the rain comfortable and safe.

He started jotting down ideas on a green sheet of paper, which he has kept to this day. It contains both writing and, in the lower right corner, an initial sketch of what he has named the Land Zeppelin.

Named after the airship of the late 20th Century, the Land Zeppelin is a plastic, see-through cover, roughly the shape of a football — though much larger — that encloses the cyclist and bike and protects him from the rain. The current prototype still has a fiberglass frame, but in the next version, which Gorman hopes to test this spring, the Zeppelin shape will be made of sturdy plastic only, except for the front and rear portions that connect to the bike frame.

Gorman recently navigated the Land Zeppelin down Monfort Street in Greensburg, near the garage in which he developed the device. Previous prototypes were based on the shape of an egg, but they caused Gorman lots of consternation. A version with a Styrofoam frame proved too weak, and another one made primarily with fiberglass was too heavy, especially with side wind.

In November 2012, about a year after which he had begun the project, he nearly gave up.

“It was obvious it wasn’t going to work,” he said. “I was depressed.”

But then he thought about shapes that people were using about a century ago, and he stumbled upon the Zepplin. The new prototypes work well, so long as wind speeds remain below 15 mph, Gorman said.

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