Woman seeks, invents a new bike-seat design

EUGENE — According to Jeri Rutherford, necessity literally is the mother of invention. Seven years ago, on the fourth day of a 400-plus mile bicycle trip from Boise to the West Coast, her backside "was so sore I could hardly stand it," Rutherford said. "I swore then I would invent a better bicycle seat."

So she did.

Not that it was easy. First she had to figure out what was wrong with conventional bike saddles. "I'm terribly dyslexic. Did you know that 60 percent of inventors are severely dyslexic?" she said. "I can't spell or balance a checkbook, but I can visualize really well. So it wasn't hard to figure out what I needed to create, a seat that would flex and move under the rider."

After coming up with her new-and-improved almost T-shaped design, she had to get a patent, figure out materials, find someone to manufacture the saddle and bring it to market.

All that took until December, and so far this year her company, RideOut Technologies, has moved 1,800 of her Carbon Comfort Saddles.

Customers range "from gearheads to grandmas," Rutherford said, "from people in their 70s to young guys in their 30s."

That's because many standard bicycle seats don't discriminate — they make biking life equally uncomfortable for just about everyone, she said.

Rutherford is an avid, lifelong bicyclist. She is a Eugene native, born on Hilliard Lane off River Road. She grew up on the banks of Fern Ridge Lake and graduated from Junction City High School. Now at 53, she still rides 60 miles a week, down from her younger days when a 50-mile day wasn't unusual on a weekend.

She started her seat project by contacting a person who builds boots for Olympic skaters. "Those shoes flex, and that's what I realized needs to happen with a bike saddle, too," she said. That led to injecting carbon fibers into a mold, to give just a bit of movement to the baseplate of the seat.

Then came the underpinnings. "On a regular bike seat, the post goes right into the seat, and that can be really miserable in terms of comfort on a long ride," Rutherford said. "On my bike saddles, the post goes into a rail, and underneath the seat there's a crossbow-type suspension — that's what I got a patent on — that absorbs shock and also flexes a bit from left to right. It keeps the blood flow in the seat from getting constricted. That's what causes pain, when the muscles are screaming for more oxygen, and instead, it's getting cut off."

First she went through about 40 prototypes in her garage, which took about five years.

"Many times, I wanted to give up," she admits. But finally she had a rideable product and passed it around to friends to try. "A lot of them said they weren't going to give it back, so I knew I had something," Rutherford said.

Success didn't come cheap. Getting the patent cost $20,000, "and then I spent two years and lost $40,000 trying to get the saddle made in the United States," she said.

Her lucky break came at a trade show in Las Vegas, where she met a woman from Taiwan "who makes 80 percent of all the bicycle seats sold in the United States," Rutherford said. "She met with me, looked at my seat, looked at me and smiled and said, 'Smart. I make.' She tapped her head with a pencil and said, 'Good.' "

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