Ken Lay believes that simple is best.
The 20-year Edgartown resident holds 10 patents for inventions revolving around levers and fulcrums, two basic operations of the human body.
His latest and perhaps most ingenuously simple is The Bike Belt, a device that Mr. Lay estimated adds 30 per cent to the pedal power of the most casual bicyclist.
The device, marketed at $29, is composed of a wide belt connected to two short lengths of metal and bungee cord chains that are in turn attached to the bicycle frame. The goal of the device is provide resistance and stability to riders, allowing them to transfer more energy to pedaling rather than diffusing energy trying to remain firmly seated while pedaling, particularly during the most difficult biking maneuvers, going uphill and cornering.
“The bike stays with you and the chain limits slipping [of the biker’s seat from the bicycle seat] and allows the center of energy mass to project maximum force to the pedals, generating at least 25 to 30 per cent more power,” Mr. Lay said. In layman’s terms that means, for example, if you are not slipping forward on the bike seat while climbing uphill, the extra power goes into pedaling. “Uphill climbing becomes a non-issue and you can cruise in the higher gears,” Mr. Lay said on Friday afternoon.
After Mr. Lay demonstrated the pedaling aid on Summer street, a reporter Velcro-ed on the padded fabric Bike Belt apparatus and rode Mr. Lay’s bike to feel the pulling power benefit of his idea. As Mr. Lay predicted, the rider felt mechanically connected to the pedal rather than to the toe clips. Mr. Lay is at work refining the first commercial model and expects a quick chain-release feature to be added to The Bike Belt in the near future. “The better the bike and the gearing, the more the effect is multiplied,” he said.
The bike belt is the second commercial application of a Lay invention. The first, Tiger Clawz, is another lever and fulcrum device in use by patients at Windemere Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and by active working people, such as Mr. Lay, a master plumber by trade.
“I’m using it with our stroke population. The Tiger Clawz keeps their hands open and provides good base of support throughout the arm. It stabilizes the hand and wrist joint (during rehabilitation exercises),” said Todd Lyonnais, a physical therapist and director of rehabilitation at Windermere.
“The unit doesn’t look special but the stability it provides my residents is excellent, like an arch support for the hand,” Mr. Lyonnais said. Mr. Lay sees further application of the semicircular device, such as attaching to crutches and other walking aids.
Mr. Lay shows up as endlessly inquisitive, sounding more like a biomechanical engineer than a plumber. “The energy core of the human body is in the spine. Think of a whip. You have to move the handle first. The more energy you release with your hand movement the greater the speed and the ‘crack’ you hear at the end of the whiplash. The spine is our whip handle,” he said.
“I like to build things that are ergonomically and exercise-based,” around the principle of levers and fulcrums, he said. “Our arms and legs are just sticks. They become levers when a fulcrum is introduced,” he said.
Mr. Lay has spent 30 years intrigued by the dynamics of human movement, a study he came to during the practice of Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial arts discipline. “My master was the Korean national Tae Kwon Do champion, a very high honor in the Korean culture,” Mr. Lay said. “After several years, he came to me and said ‘To master this, you must become the whip and to learn how to move the handle (the spine) first,’” Mr. Lay recalled.
The 30-year application of the lesson has led Mr. Lay to an association with MVTV, for whom he will produce a weekly show for Island inventors this winter, reminiscent of Fore Inventors Only, a program showcasing golf aid inventors recently produced by The Golf Channel.
Mr. Lay’s tinkering with ideas for stable bases has produced an everyday usable idea for people who use ladders in their work. “I found that if I use two ladders, one angled 15 degrees from the other, I had a more stable climbing base to work from. Of course, the higher I go, the more I reduce the angle between the ladders,” he said.
Finally, Mr. Lay answered a question that has perplexed many Island residents. The white van emblazoned Bootie Lifter is his and advertises a product that, well, you get the idea.