Back in the 20th century, a pogo stick was a cheap pole with a coil that kids tried out on Christmas and then hung in the garage for a few decades. But in this millennium, anything that can be ridden can be extremely ridden, anything that can move can be flipped, and anything that can get airtime provides those so inclined with a chance to break a collarbone.
"Basically, there's an extreme sports spirit that has entered our culture," explains Nick Ryan, who runs X-pogo.com and organizes the annual pogo fest, Pogopalooza. Unbeknownst to each other, scattered across the nation there were once a handful of pogo stick owners who had not consigned their spring-loaded toy to the corner with the Big Wheel. Instead they were doing their best to hop down steps, ricochet off walls, and bounce as long as their legs would hold out. "We picked up pogo sticks in our backyards—very pathetic—and tried to do tricks," says Ryan. "It was fun 10 or 11 years ago."
The advancements in pogo technology allow extreme pogoists the ability to bounce higher and do extreme stunts.
"Pathetic" because the technology was not yet there to put those early extreme "pogo-ers" where their imaginations would have them. Now four new pogo technologies are putting them that high and higher.
Vurtego: A Turbo Booster
"The Vurtego" is a product of the Spencer family. "Immediately I had this feeling in my chest," says X-pogo's Brian Spencer of hearing his cousin's idea for a giant pogo. "All these thoughts started flashing through my head—jumping over stuff, stalling on things, doing a plant on a wall. I thought, 'We're definitely building a big-ass pogo stick.'"
Spencer brought the idea to his father, an ex-aerospace engineer, who had been a lead designer for the F-18 fighter jet. A pneumatic tube, he thought, was the only way to add spring strength without adding weight.
Detail of the Vurtego V3 cyclinder kit.
Soon the family had put together a first prototype in the garage. Then they had to find the right pressure ratio. It turned out that 3:1 gave the bouncer the most control. Spencer patented a series of such ratios, rather than the design of the stick itself.
His latest model, the much sought after V3 (Spencer can't keep them in stock), has a "turbo booster," an external air canister, which, at the push of a button, gives the pogoer an extra jolt of height. The annual Pogopalooza has two contests for highest jump: one for booster-assisted pogoers and one for old-fashioned, boost-free extreme pogoers.
Motostik: Springing into Action
While Spencer and family were cobbling together a prototype, a mere 15 miles away another extreme enthusiast and dirt bike racer, Marc Matson, was drinking a few beers with a friend when the idea came up. "Why don't you make a pogo stick that looks like a dirt bike," asked the friend.
From left to right, The Super Pogo, Flybar Pogo and Motostik Pogo.
Matson pulled a fork off a spare bike and modified a triple clamp—the part that holds the forks to the handlebars. "I'm not an engineer but I had the vision," he says. "I gave it to an engineer friend of mine." Working in CAD, the friend developed a pogo with four springs, rather than the single of a traditional stick. The springs coiled in alternating directions to avoid twist.
Matson decked out his sticks to resemble various brands of Motocross bikes. "If you ride a Yamaha, we have a sticker kit that matches your bike," says Matson.
Though it bounced higher, and quieter, than a traditional pogo, the Motostik's steel spring technology was only a partial improvement. When it hit the streets, the Vurtugeo was soon bouncing hot on its tail. "They came out right behind me," says Matson.
Though the Motostik has its enthusiasts, anyone serious about getting height is soon to move on to another pogo. "I'm comfortable in third place," says Matson of his competitors. "Those guys are shooting for the moon. By the law of chances, out of a thousand bounces you're gonna splat a bunch of times."
Flybar: Stretching the Bands
While the Vurtego and the Motostik were busy being born, an MIT-trained physicist had his own idea for launching the bounce-minded. His Flybar uses up to 12 rubber bands (depending on the weight and needs of the pogoer) capable of stretching 400% before returning to their original shape. He sold the idea to the world's largest pogo manufacturer, SBI. "It took six months and a couple of hundred thousand dollars till we came up with the correct band," says Irwin Arginsky, president of the company.
Part of the difficulty was finding the right way to mold the bands. Their tendency to tear, split, and snap when overstretched made experimentation tedious and dangerous. "You had 12 people trying to stretch this rubber," says Arginsky. "There was a tear in the rubber and someone did get hurt, wound up in the hospital. Fortunately, it was just a severe laceration."
Bowgos: Tinkering with Bows
The Flybar's technology was not the only one that would lead to injury. At Carnegie Melon's Robotics Institute, Ben Brown, a project scientist, had, unawares of the spate of pogo advancements, been tinkering with bows for the same purpose.
"Imagine an archer's bow," Brown explains. "Stand it vertically and push down on one end to compress it. The bowstring goes slack—all the energy is stored in the bending of the bow." Having successfully used such bows for hoppy robots, Brown turned to hoppy humans.
At the 2009 Pogopalooza, Brown lent out a few of his fiberglass-bow-equipped Bowgos, as he called them. The pogoers loved the ease with which they reached greater heights, which turned out to be a bit of a problem. "People were just getting hurt left and right," says Fred Grybowski, considered by many the world's greatest pogoer. "On the Vurtego or Flybar, you have to work to get the height. With the Bowgo, you could easily get six feet in the air with no effort—launch you all over the place."
When one fiberglass bow broke and lodged itself in a test jumper's knee, Brown stopped offering his stick to interested parties.
Each stick has its advantages. The Vurtego is light and easy to maintain, the Flybar has an extra-smooth bounce, the Bowgo puts jumpers high with great ease. And the Motostik looks cool.
Head over to Xpogo.com, though, and you'll quickly find out which stick the pogoing community favors. "Flybars are easier to bounce on, but you pretty much pay for it again with all the replacement bands you're going to have to buy," says one poster. "I don't think it's even a question anymore. Just look at what 99% of pogoers are riding," says another Vurtego enthusiast. And the current record for highest bounce—nine feet, six inches—was made on a Vurtego.
Success won't slow Spencer. "Eventually—this is my real goal—we want to be able to pogo on the surface of the moon. It's a sixth of the gravity. You should be able to go close to 50 feet."
Michael Abrams is an independent writer.
All these thoughts started flashing through my head—jumping over stuff, stalling on things, doing a plant on a wall. I thought 'We're definitely building a big-ass pogo stick.'
Brian Spencer, X-pogo
More on this topic
Materials engineering promises to dramatically change the not-too-distant future. ASME.org charts the top five trends.
Cheap plastic parts are only cheap on a per item basis. To keep that cost low—and low enough for U.S. customers to keep a job in the U.S.—injection ...