Patent application title: HITCH-MOUNTABLE BICYCLE CARRIER
Chris Sautter (Portland, OR, US)
Richard Jeli (Milwaukie, OR, US)
Richard Jeli (Milwaukie, OR, US)
Andrew Austin (Sherwood, OR, US)
Mike Kemery (Portland, OR, US)
Mike Kemery (Portland, OR, US)
Zac Elder (Portland, OR, US)
Yakima Products, Inc.
IPC8 Class: AB60R910FI
Class name: Material or article handling process
Publication date: 2013-01-24
Patent application number: 20130022440
A bicycle rack for carrying bicycles behind a vehicle includes a tongue
configured for connection to a vehicle hitch. A base portion includes
wheel trays for supporting the wheels of a bicycle in cooperation with a
slidable hook for contacting the top tube of a bicycle.
20. A carrier for a bicycle, comprising: a tongue portion having a proximal end portion and a distal end portion, the proximal end portion being configured for connection to a vehicle hitch; a base portion connected to the tongue portion and configured to receive and support both wheels of a bicycle; and a mast structure mounted to the base portion and equipped with a bicycle-securing member having a hook for engaging a top tube of a bicycle supported by the base portion, the securing member being slidably connected to the mast structure to permit movement of the hook up and down the mast structure, the hook being pivotably connected to the mast structure such that the hook can pivot between a bicycle-securing orientation and a bicycle-loading/unloading orientation.
21. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the base portion is pivotably connected to the tongue portion.
22. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the mast structure is pivotable between an upright use position and an at least generally horizontal storage position.
23. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the securing member forms part of a ratchet mechanism that restricts upward motion of the hook while permitting downward motion of the hook along the mast structure.
24. The carrier of claim 23, wherein the ratchet mechanism restricts upward motion of the hook in an engaged configuration, and wherein the ratchet mechanism has a released configuration that permits upward and downward motion of the hook along the mast structure.
25. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the hook has a first position in which the hook is pivotable from the bicycle-securing orientation to the bicycle-loading/unloading orientation and a second position in which the hook is not pivotable from the bicycle-securing orientation.
26. The carrier of claim 25, wherein the securing member includes a mounting portion that supports the hook, and wherein the hook is movable from the first position to the second position without moving the mounting portion.
27. The carrier of claim 26, wherein the hook is spring-biased toward the first position.
28. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the mast structure defines a long axis, and wherein the hook is pivotable about an axis that is at least generally parallel to the long axis.
29. The carrier of claim 28, wherein the mast structure includes an elongate bar on which the securing device is slidably mounted, and wherein the hook is pivotable about an axis that is offset from a long axis defined by the elongate bar.
30. The carrier of claim 20, wherein a bicycle supported by the base portion in an upright configuration defines a first plane, wherein the hook defines a second plane, and wherein the second plane is at least generally orthogonal to the first plane when the hook is disposed in the bicycle-securing orientation, and wherein the second plane is at least generally parallel to the first plane when the hook is disposed in the bicycle-loading/unloading orientation.
31. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the mast structure includes a pair of bars, and wherein a distinct securing member is slidably mounted on each bar.
32. The carrier of claim 20, wherein the mast structure includes a bar along which the securing member slides, and wherein the securing member includes a mounting portion that supports the hook and connects the hook to the bar.
33. The carrier of claim 32, wherein the hook is pivotable independently of the mounting portion.
34. A method of carrying a bicycle with a carrier mounted to a vehicle, the carrier including a base portion and a mast structure mounted to the base portion and equipped with a securing member having a hook pivotably connected to the mast structure, the method comprising: pivoting the hook from a bicycle-loading/unloading orientation to a bicycle-securing orientation, or vice versa; disposing both wheels of a bicycle on the base portion of the carrier; and engaging a top tube of the bicycle with the hook such that the bicycle is secured to the carrier.
35. The method of claim 34, further comprising a step of moving the hook out of engagement with the top tube, wherein the step of pivoting is performed after the step of moving and disposes the hook in the bicycle-loading/unloading configuration.
36. The method of claim 35, wherein the bicycle defines a plane, and wherein the step of pivoting reorients the hook from at least generally orthogonal to the plane to at least generally parallel to the plane.
37. The method of claim 34, wherein the step of engaging includes a step of urging the securing member downward until the bicycle is clamped between the hook and the base portion.
38. The method of claim 34, further comprising a step of securing at least one of the wheels of the bicycle to the base portion.
39. The method of claim 34, further comprising a step of adjusting the hook member from a non-pivotable configuration to a pivotable configuration before the step of pivoting.
40. A carrier for a bicycle, comprising: a tongue portion having a proximal end portion and a distal end portion, the proximal end portion being configured for connection to a vehicle hitch; a base portion connected to the tongue portion and configured to receive and support both wheels of a bicycle; and a mast structure mounted to the base portion and equipped with a bicycle-securing member having a hook for engaging a top tube of a bicycle supported by the base portion, the securing member having a securing configuration in which the securing member is slidable down but not up the mast structure and a released configuration in which the securing member is slidable both up and down the mast structure.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 This is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/217,768 filed Jul. 7, 2008 which application claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/958,520 filed on Jul. 6, 2007 and is entitled "Hitch Mounted Bicycle Racks for Vehicles." The complete disclosures of which are hereby incorporated by reference for all purposes in their entireties.
 This application incorporates by reference in their entirety for all purposes the following U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,857,545, 6,761,297, 6,523,731, 6,439,397, 6,053,336, 6,019,266, 5,833,074, 5,692,659, 5,169,042, 5,029,740, 4,875,608, 4,823,997, 4,702,401, 4,524,893, 4,437,597, 4,403,716, 4,213,729, 4,171,077, 3,744,689, 1,179,823, 623,807, 614,264, 607,024, 586,681, 576,351, 556,789, 529,827 and 488,395.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 This invention relates to racks for carrying bicycles, particularly racks configured for mounting in the hitch of a vehicle.
 There are many different types of bicycle racks for securing bicycles to a variety of different vehicles. For example, there are racks for carrying bicycles on top of a car, behind a car, in the bed of a pick-up, on the front of a bus, etc. Many currently used bicycle racks are relatively large. They require large storage areas, and may be cumbersome to load and unload. There is a need for lighter, more compact racks that are easy and safe to use.
 A bicycle rack is configured for mounting to a hitch on the rear of a vehicle. An example of a hitch-mounted bicycle rack includes one or more wheel trays or wells mounted on a base, a front wheel hoop, and a frame support arm having an adjustable hook for contacting the top tube of a bicycle. The bicycle rack may be adapted for carrying multiple bicycles. Hooks for securing bicycle top tubes may be mounted on the same support arm and be independently adjustable. Hitch-mountable bicycle racks may be configured for efficient folding into a compact form behind the vehicle when the rack is not being used to carry bicycles.
 FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a bicycle rack configured for hitch mounting on the rear of a vehicle.
 FIGS. 2 and 3 are perspective views of the bicycle rack shown in FIG. 1, connected to the hitch of a vehicle.
 FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the bicycle rack shown in FIGS. 1-3, collapsed and folded up.
 FIG. 5 is a partial cross-sectional view showing the hook release mechanism of the rack shown in FIGS. 1-4.
 FIG. 6 is a partial cross-sectional view of a hook rotation device of the rack shown in FIGS. 1-4.
 FIG. 7 is a perspective view of an alternative hitch-mountable bicycle rack embodiment.
 FIG. 8 is a perspective view of an alternative hitch-mountable bicycle rack embodiment.
 A rack for carrying bicycles behind a vehicle may use a single support which is configured for secure mounting in the hitch of a vehicle, a spine pivotally mounted on the support, and one or more bases mounted on the spine, each base being configured and equipped for carrying a bicycle. As shown in the figures, a base equipped with two short wheel trays on opposing ends of the base, with one tray pivoting or slidable along the base, and the other tray fixed or non-pivoting. A hoop is attached to the front wheel tray and may be foldable onto the tray, or over the tray toward the center of the base when not in use to minimize the collapsed form of the rack. The front wheel of a bicycle contacts the fixed front wheel tray and hoop in at least two points. The bicycle is held down by an indexing frame support arm contacting the top tube of the bicycle frame. A strap holds the rear tire down to the rear wheel tray. The distance between the front and rear wheel trays is less than the bicycle wheel base except for the smallest typical bicycle sizes.
 Bicycle racks described below are collapsible into small package forms for shipping and storage, simply by folding the wheel trays, tongues, spines, of the racks. The clamping hooks rotate to clear the bicycle when loading or removing the bicycle. A button release mechanism on the arm of a hook is easily manipulated for collapsing the rack for storage and shipping. Racks are lightweight for ease of transport, and easy to install and remove. Racks use redundant parts which minimize tooling costs. Use of a pivoting rear wheel tray allows use of a short base to fit a wide range of bicycle sizes. Ratcheting wheel straps may be provided on the rear wheel tray for securely retaining the rear wheel of a bicycle.
 FIG. 1 shows an example of the invention providing a bicycle rack for mounting in a hitch on the rear of a vehicle. Tongue 22 is adapted at a proximal end (not shown) for mounting securely in a vehicle hitch. Spine 24 is pivotally mounted at a distal end of tongue 22. Spine 24 supports and is rigidly connected to base portions 30a and 30b. Base portions 30a and 30b are substantially perpendicular to spine 24, and parallel to each other. The rack's carrying capacity may be increased by increasing the length of spine 24 and the number of base portions connected to spine 24 in parallel.
 The following description regarding base portions 30a and associated equipment, applies also to base portion 30b. Base portion 30a includes fixed wheel tray 34 and pivoting wheel tray 32 connected near opposite ends of base portion 30a. Fixed wheel tray 34 is intended to support the front wheel of a bicycle, while pivoting wheel tray 32 is configured to support the rear wheel of a bicycle. Strap 35 is provided for fastening a rear wheel to wheel tray 32. Hoop member 36 is rotatable between an extended position for carrying the front wheel of a bicycle, and a compact storage position (shown in dashed lines). Hoop 36 has a contour and/or design features which improve versatility and overall performance of rack 20. For example, downward curvature 37 may allow hoop 36 to conform around spine 24 when hoop 36 is folded up. A graduated V-shaped portion 38 of hoop 36 provides secure retention of bicycle tires and wheels of varying width.
 Wheel trays or wells 34 and 32 are angled outward, configured to contact inside portions of front and back bicycle wheels respectively. This configuration allows the basic frame of the rack to be shorter, more compact, efficient, and economical compared to other bicycle racks. For example, a longitudinal axis of each wheel tray may form an angle with the base of approximately 45 degrees.
 U-shaped support arm 40 is pivotally mounted on spine 24 between base portions 30a, 30b. Support arm 40 has two mast portions 50a, 50b. The following description of the equipment for mast portion 50a applies equally to masted portion 50b. Hook 52 is slidably mounted on mast portion 50a via a ratcheting system which permits one way downward movement of hook 52 simply by pushing on the top of hook 52. Hook 52 is movable up and down in the direction of arrow 54 for securing or releasing the top tube of a bicycle. Additionally, hook 52 is rotatable in the direction of arrow 56, as shown with respect to the hook on mast portion 50b. Release button 58 may be manipulated to permit hook 52 to move upward along mast portion 50a.
 FIGS. 2-4 show how rack 20 may be collapsed and folded up toward the rear of vehicle 70. In FIG. 2, hoop 36 is folded inward toward spine 24. In FIG. 3, U-shaped support arm 40 is folded down to a horizontal position. In FIG. 4, spine 24 pivots up to a vertical position in line with the distal portion of tongue 22.
 FIG. 5 shows a cross-sectional view through mast portion 50a illustrating a hook release mechanism activated by pressing button 58 against the force of spring 80. When button 58 is not pressed, spring 80 urges engagement with notches or grooves along mast portion 50a in a configuration which permits downward sliding, while preventing upward sliding without depression of button 58.
 FIG. 6 shows a mechanism used to lock hook 52b in a use position, basically in a plane perpendicular to base portions 30a and 30b. Spring 82 biases mast portion 50b upward relative to housing 84. Peg or pin 86 is provided on mast portion 50b for fitting in slot 88 when hook 52b is in its use position for engaging a top tube of a bicycle. Alternatively, hook 52b may be rotated out of the use position toward or into a plane parallel with base portions 30a, 30b by pressing mast portion 50b downward, for example, about 1/2-inch, allowing peg 86 to escape slot 88 which frees hook 52b to rotate out of the use position. When it is desired to use the hook to engage a top tube of a bicycle, the hook is merely rotated toward the use position. When the hook becomes perpendicular to base portion 30b, then peg 86 moves upward into slot 88, thus locking the orientation of hook 52b in its use position.
 When loading bicycles, the hooks may be rotated sideways to allow the bicycles to be easily loaded into the wheel trays without interference from the hooks. Then the hooks rotate back to hook over the top tube to retain the bicycle. To rotate the hook to loading position, the hook is pushed down, for example, about 1/2-inch and then rotated. Once the bicycle is loaded into the wheel trays, the hook can be rotated back to clamping position, simply by twisting the hook until it pops into an orientation where the hook is in a plane approximately perpendicular to the plane of the bicycle frame. At this point, the hook pops up about 1/2-inch and locks into the clamping orientation. The hook may then be ratcheted down into contact with the top tube of the bicycle simply by pushing the hook down.
 FIG. 7 shows an alternative bicycle rack design similar to the design described above. However, the front wheel of the bicycle is carried by a large taco or wheel tray 102 along with a strap for supporting the front wheel of the bicycle. A roller 104 is provided at the opposite end of base portion 106 along with a strap for supporting the rear wheel of the bicycle. A central ratcheting hook and support arm is similar to the arm described above when engaging the top tube of the bicycle.
 FIG. 8 shows an alternative bicycle rack 120 adapted for mounting in the hitch behind a vehicle. Tongue 122 is configured for connecting the rack to a vehicle hitch. The tongue is curved upward to elevate the level of the rack relative to the hitch. Spine 124 is pivotally mounted on tongue 122. Spring-biased pin 125 is provided to lock and release the position of spine 124 relative to tongue 122, depending on whether the rack is in its use position or storage position. Base members 130a and 130b are rigidly connected to spine 124, perpendicular to spine 124, and parallel to each other. Each of base members 130a, 130b is equipped the same for supporting a bicycle. Base member 130a has front wheel tray 132 and curved hoop 134 for supporting the front wheel of the bicycle. Rear wheel tray 136 is provided near the opposite end of base member 130a along with strap 138 for securing the rear wheel of a bicycle. Rear wheel tray 136 may be slidable along base member 130a for accommodating bicycles of different sizes which typically have different spans between the wheels. U-shaped support arm 150 may be equipped essentially the same as the support arm shown and described with respect to FIGS. 1-6. Mast portions 152a and 152b support sliding hooks 154a and 154b. Hooks 154a may be ratcheted downward into contact with a top tube of a bicycle simply by pushing the hook downward. Button 156 is provided to allow release of the hook from a bicycle top tube by moving the hook upward along mast portion 152a.
 Although the present disclosure has been provided with reference to the foregoing operational principles and embodiments, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that various changes in form and detail may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the disclosure. The present disclosure is intended to embrace all such alternatives, modifications and variances. Where the disclosure recites "a," "a first," or "another" element, or the equivalent thereof, it should be interpreted to include one or more such elements, neither requiring nor excluding two or more such elements. Furthermore, any aspect shown or described with reference to a particular embodiment should be interpreted to be compatible with any other embodiment, alternative, modification, or variance.
Patent applications by Andrew Austin, Sherwood, OR US
Patent applications by Chris Sautter, Portland, OR US
Patent applications by Mike Kemery, Portland, OR US
Patent applications by Richard Jeli, Milwaukie, OR US
Patent applications by Zac Elder, Portland, OR US
Patent applications by Yakima Products, Inc.
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