Marketplace: Slide on, click in place and go play
August 31, 2010
Like every great invention, Tom Vollbrecht came up with his after getting fed up and thinking, "There’s got to be a better way."
He was vacationing with family in Colorado and had just reconfigured his ski rack to hold bicycles. The family was eating at a restaurant, and his mind was preoccupied with how he had spent the majority of the afternoon reaching up to the top of his car to change the attachments.
He got an idea: Put the attachments on the crossbar.
He started a company, Wasatch Powder Monkeys, and developed a product, SmartCrossbars. About 80 percent of the final design was originated in that restaurant in Colorado, he said.
The end result is very Utah, he said. Working from his Park City office, Vollbrecht got a technology commercialization grant from the USTAR initiative earlier this year. He partnered with Ron Carter at the Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation & Design at Weber State University. Metropolis Design in North Salt Lake made the prototypes, and Futura Industries in Clearfield is the manufacturer.
The way it works is simple. SmartCrossbars will fit any existing feet with round or square towers. The crossbars have a series of notches. Attachments that are permanently screwed onto bike trays, ski racks or storage boxes slide tightly into the notches and are then locked in place.
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Upon returning home, the rack, tray or box can be slid off the mount and then hung on "SmartStorage" racks specialized metal hooks that can be mounted to a garage wall.
It takes seconds to slide a bike or kayak onto the car, and seconds to slide it off, he said. There’s no fiddling with sandwich clasps with freezing hands. There are no Allen wrenches, bolts, nuts and other loose pieces to slide around and re-secure when the seasons change. The SmartCrossbars are quick and easy for any kind of equipment 365 days a year, he said.
It’s also harder to steal. Sandwich clasps are easily snapped with bolt cutters. As long as items are secured to the SmartCrossbars, it would take welding equipment to remove them.
And his product pays for itself, Vollbrecht said. His collaborators at Weber State designed the crossbars to be aerodynamic like airplane wings. He said they move through the air with 25 times the efficiency of a square and 10 times the efficiency of a circle.
Regular racks create so much wind resistance the impact on gas mileage is significant. These have so little resistance that the savings on fuel will pay for the SmartCrossbars after a year or so, he said.
Vollbrecht is calling his product an evolution in outdoor recreation because it’s changing the ratio of preparation and travel time versus actual play time. Now that his manufacturing and design partnerships are established, he believes SmartCrossbars are only the beginning.
"We want to develop a community with outdoor enthusiasts to create a dialogue, listen carefully, and build products people want," he said. "We’re not here to tell people what they need, but to listen to what they want our corporate mission is to make it easier to get outside and to have more fun once you’re there."
Vollbrecht’s background is in strategic finance. He’s worked frequently with technology- and web-based businesses and said he has all the knowledge needed to build his company.
SmartCrossbars by Wasatch Powder Monkeys
See a demo at youtube.com/wasatchpowdermonkeys