When Motobriiz founder Mike Steele bought his first motorcycle in 2007, he soon discovered something he didn't like: the bike's chain needed to be cleaned and oiled every few hundred miles to avoid damage. This meant hoisting the back wheel and breaking out the rags and lubricant spray – no small chore – almost every other time he rode.
So Steele, a La Plata resident who trained as a mechanical engineer, got to thinking.
There were existing products that keep chains oiled using electricity or the power of the engine, but Steele began to wonder if there was a simpler way.
"It just kept eating at me," Steele said. Eventually, he got an idea: the wind generated by the movement of the bike could be used to push oil onto the chain. That way, the drip of oil would speed up as the motorcycle went faster, and would stop on its own when the motorcycle stopped moving.
So in the summer of 2012, Steele made his first crude prototype out of some tubing and put it on his bike. As he rode, air was pushed into one bit of the tubing, which created pressure in a small chamber filled with water. That pressure pushed the water out through another tube.
Steele's finished product works the same way: the air pressure gently pushes oil out of the reservoir and into an applicator, which applies it directly to the chain. More speed means more air pressure and more oil on the chain.
After a little research and number-crunching, Steele was confident he could sell his device for less than the other products on the market and still turn a profit. That December he applied for a United States patent, which was approved in March 2015.
Steele also pitched his idea as part of Startup Maryland's 2015 "Pitch Across Maryland" bus tour, and won a pitch competition hosted by Southern Maryland Innovation & Technology (SMIT) in May 2016.
As of December, Steele said he's sold about 600 units in 39 countries on six continents (none, so far, to Antarctica). International sales are crucial because chain-driven motorcycles are more common in other parts of the world than in the U.S., Steele said. His international patent applications are awaiting approval.
A program manager in the defense industry by day, Steele says he's still assembling each Motobriiz order himself, and has been working to get his product sold in motorcycle dealerships in Maryland. In the future, he'd like to explore partnering with a manufacturer to have the product built-in to new motorcycles.
"It's pretty exciting," Steele said. "I haven't made a lot of money yet, but it's really satisfying when you get an order from across the world from somebody who thinks your idea is a good idea. It puts a little spring in your step."