Top 10 cycling innovations of 2013
By Ben Coxworth
December 3, 2013
You like bikes? Yep, so do we. And while we certainly pay attention to the big announcements from the Shimanos and Campagnolos of the world, oftentimes it's the quirkier, more creative inventions from smaller manufacturers that really catch our interest. Keeping that in mind, here's a quick look at 10 of the products that we covered over the past 12 months, that most made us realize how much room for innovation is still left in the world of cycling.
Giving bikes a boostAs with last year's list, we once again decided not to include purpose-built electric bikes in this rundown. We don't have anything against them, we're just trying to narrow our focus a bit. That said, we'd be remiss in ignoring the various devices that can be added to existing "manual" bikes, to give them a shot of power when wanted.
Of all such gadgets, the Rubbee is probably one of the most clever. It mounts on the bike's seatpost, and incorporates a powered polyurethane roller that can be lowered down to make contact with the top of the rear tire. You just flip it down for a boost, flip it back up when you're content to pedal, and detach it when you don't want it along for the ride at all.
Honorable mention: Although the prototype was first unveiled in 2009, commercial availability of the MIT-designed Copenhagen Wheel was announced just this week. The smartphone-controlled wheel contains a battery and a hub motor, and simply takes the place of a bike's existing rear wheel. Also unveiled this year was the remarkably similar FlyKly wheel.
Lighting the way
Worried about your bike headlight being stolen, or don't like the way that it clutters up your handlebars? Helios bars have an unobtrusive 500-lumen headlight built right into them. They also incorporate two back-facing multi-color LEDs that can serve as signal lights, tail lights, navigation aids, or even as a speedometer. Additionally, the bars' GPS chip lets users track the whereabouts of their bike if it gets stolen.
Honorable mention: Thieves also won't like the Aviator headlight and Afterburner tail light, which are fastened to the bike using a custom security screw that requires a dedicated screwdriver to remove. The aluminum-bodied lights themselves are waterproof and shockproof, and put out 150 and 30 lumens, respectively (although more powerful versions are planned).
Keeping a lid on it
If you're a competitive cyclist who wants to monitor your heart rate without wearing a chest strap, then LifeBEAM's SMART helmet is probably up your alley. It features an optical sensor that monitors your pulse via your forehead, along with a Bluetooth transmitter which sends that data to your smartphone, fitness watch or cycling computer, where it's displayed in real time.
Honorable mention: We may have seen foldable helmets before, but the Morpher actually folds flat, making it extra-easy to stow in a backpack or briefcase.
Taking the hits up front
Both K2 and Cannondale have made computer-controlled suspension forks before, but the one is now out of production and the other was just a prototype. Magura's microprocessor-equipped eLECT module is available now, however, plus it allows existing Magura forks to be converted to computer control. Taking the place of the fork's regular adjustment cap/knob, it uses an integrated accelerometer to detect hits, then instantaneously adjusts the damping accordingly. The module can also tell if the bike is climbing, descending, or is in freefall.
Price: €649 ($882)
Honorable mention: Should you just find suspension forks in general a little too complex, the Lauf fork contains no moving parts. Instead of stanchions that slide in and out cylinders, it utilizes a flexing leaf-type suspension.
Locking it up
Instead of using a key, the frame-mounted Lock8 is wirelessly locked and unlocked using an app on the user's smartphone. It will also detect if the bike is moved while locked, or if the integrated locking cable is cut – if either happens, a piercing audio alarm will sound, plus the user will be notified on their phone. As with the Helios bars, if the bike is stolen, the Lock8's GPS chip allows it to be tracked.
Price: £69 ($112)
Honorable mention: Don't like carrying a lock in your backpack, or mounting it on your frame? InterLock is a keyed cable lock that stuffs down inside an included seat post when not in use.
Let's get moving
Putting your feet on the pedals is an OK enough method of propelling your bike, but the Varibike adds hand cranks to the mix. As a result, it's said to increase your total power output, along with providing a more complete workout. It's not the first leg- and arm-powered bike we've seen, but it is probably the nicest, most serious-looking one.
Price: €3,999 ($5,430) and up
Honorable mention: Even if you stick with using just your legs to power your bike, you still like might to work some different muscle groups. That's where biXe Gear comes in. It's a crank axle that lets you move the bike forward by pedaling forwards or backwards.
Things like suspension seatposts may help keep riders from feeling every little pothole, but they can only do so much. Loopwheels take things further. Instead of spokes, each wheel incorporates three looped carbon composite springs, running between the hub and the rim. Whenever the wheel hits a bump in the road, the energy is absorbed by those springs.
Price: £720 ($1,180) - pair
Honorable mention: Riders will sometimes squirt some of their drinking water in their face in order to cool down, but the handlebar-mounted Spruzza mister offers a more civilized, less wasteful alternative.
Gettin' tooled up
Many multitools consist of a relatively short body, with even shorter bits that fold out. This is a handy setup, but doesn't offer much in the way of leverage. Fix It Sticks, however, pack slim yet offer lots of torque. They consist of two separate aluminum "sticks" (each with with a bit attached to either end), that can be joined together perpendicularly to temporarily form a T wrench.
Honorable mention: Usually, cyclists carry a multitool and a tire lever. The stainless steel Nutter makes things simpler, by combining both tools in one device.
Electronics for the road
When most cyclists use a navigation system, they stick their smartphone in a handlebar-mounted case and glance down at its onscreen map every now and then. By contrast, the Hammerhead works like a head-up display – it's a bar-mounted device that guides the rider using LEDs that are constantly visible in the bottom of their peripheral vision, telling them where and when to turn, and how close they're getting to their destination.
Honorable mention: While it's good to know where you're going, it's also essential that motorists know what you're up to. The SEIL is a backpack with a built-in LED array that displays turn-indicating arrows, a brake light, a tail light, and various other features that are controlled wirelessly via a handlebar-mounted module. Unfortunately, it fell short of its Kickstarter fund-raising goal.
And one complete bike
We've seen plenty of wooden-framed bikes before, although they generally have the same silhouette as their metal- or carbon-framed brethren. The Sandwichbike, on the other hand, really looks like it's made out of pieces of wood. It's the bike Ikea would make, if the furniture-maker were ever so inclined. Also, as is the case with Ikea goods, it has to be assembled by the buyer – although we're told it can easily be done, within 45 minutes.
If nothing else, it'll definitely get you noticed.
Price: €799 ($1,085)