Top 10 cycling innovations of 2014

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Bygen's Hank Direct Bike features a one-of-a-kind drivetrain along with a telescoping frame, and it was one of our picks for this year's list

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Bicycle historians, take note – it's time once again to look back at 10 of the bike-related products that most caught our attention over the past year! As with our lists from 2012 and 2013, these aren't necessarily things that we think are destined to be big sellers. In fact, it's entirely possible that this might be the last you hear of many of them. We like 'em, though, because they're examples of what happens when people dare to try something different ... and that sort of spirit is the reason why we're not still all riding penny farthings.

Schwalbe Procore tire system

Setting a mountain bike's tire pressure is a bit of a balancing act ... too hard, and the tires won't provide decent traction – too soft, and they're likely to get pinch flats, plus they might not stay seated on the rim. As a result, cyclists usually compromise and keep them at a "somewhere-in-between" air pressure.

The Procore system, however, allows for the best of both extremes. A high-pressure tube within the tire helps protect against flats and keeps everything in place, while an air space between that tube and the inside wall of the tire can be kept at a very low pressure, allowing for excellent traction.

Price: Approx. US$230/pair

Zackees turn-signaling gloves

If you want to let motorists know where you're heading on the road, it definitely helps to use hand signals. Zackees are designed to make sure that those signals get noticed.

The back of each glove contains a waterproof array of high-intensity LEDs arranged to form a blinking directional arrow. The lights are activated by touching a pair of metal contacts together – one on the inside of the glove's thumb, and one on the inside of its index finger.

Price: $75

Calfee Design tandem/single convertible bikes

Some couples like to bring a tandem bike along on their travels, so they can ride together without having to lug around two complete bikes. Should one of those people want to go out on a solo ride, however, they're stuck using that big ol' tandem. That's why Calfee Design started building tandems that can temporarily be converted to singles.

The back end of the carbon fiber frame is simply removed by hand via two couplers, the rear wheel is transferred over, and the bicycle-built-for-two becomes a single-seater. Calfee has only made a couple of the bikes so far – both custom orders for the same client – which was reflected in their cost.

Price: Approx. $25,000

Skylock solar-powered lock

Mechanical key-activated locks are so 2013. The Skylock instead communicates with the user's smartphone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, unlocking either once they press an onscreen button, or even just when their phone gets within close proximity of the lock. Users can additionally grant access to friends who wish to borrow their bike, allowing their smartphones to also unlock the Skylock.

The lock's battery can be charged via USB, although the built-in solar panel reportedly requires just one hour of exposure to sunlight to deliver enough of a charge to provide one week's worth of use. As an added bonus, an integrated accelerometer detects movements associated with both crashes and theft attempts, and responds by contacting the user's phone to check that everything's OK.

Price: $159

Bygen Hank Direct Bike

When it comes to converting pedaling power into wheel revolutions, belt drives are certainly a cleaner, smoother alternative to chains – but they're not the only other way to go. In its Hank Direct Bike, Korean manufacturer Bygen utilizes levers that run from the pedals to the rear hub via an articulated linkage. Although it's a direct-drive system, riders don't need to constantly keep pedaling like they do on a fixie, plus they can switch between three gears.

Another one of the Hank's unique features is its carbon fiber frame, the cockpit length of which can be adjusted by sliding the rear end towards the front. This design also allows the bike to be tipped back and stored vertically.

Price: $5,000

Shimano XTR Di2 electronic shifting

This was the year that Shimano took its existing Di2 electronic shifting system for road bikes and adapted it for use in the company's XTR mountain bike group. As with the road version, this one electronically relays signals from the shifters to motors in the front and rear derailleurs. This means that shifts are consistently quick and smooth, as they aren't affected by the slackening of stretched steel cables or by contaminants within the cable housings.

Additionally, using the Shimano Synchronized Shift function, the system can shift both the front and rear derailleurs at once via a single shifter. Similar functionality is offered by IXOW's Synchrobox.

Price: TBA

patchnride flat-patching tool

Ordinarily, fixing flat tires is quite the hassle ... you have to remove the wheel, unseat the tire, pull out the tube, find and patch the hole, and then put everything back together. With patchnride, however, the wheel and tire can be left in place. You just inject a patch onto the tube, right through the hole in the tire – the whole process reportedly takes less than one minute.

Price: $30

Fluent suspension wheel

Although commuter bikes generally don't have suspension forks or frames, it's still nice if they're able to smooth out the ride a little. Tel Aviv-based manufacturer SoftWheel wants to help them do so, via their wheels. The company's Fluent wheel features three cylindrical shock absorbers that radiate out from the hub to the rim, taking the place of spokes. They remain rigid when going over smooth surfaces, but compress when the wheel takes particularly big hits.

Price: Approx. $2,000/pair

Imprint moldable grips

Handlebar grips probably aren't something that you give a lot of thought to. They're just tubes of rubber that make it easier to hold onto the bar – how much room for improvement could there be? Well, more than you might think.

TMR Designs' Imprint Grips are custom-molded to the shape of the user's hands, ensuring an even contact area with a minimum of uncomfortable pressure points.

We tried them out for ourselves, and can definitely attest to the fact that they do make a difference.

Price: Approx. $40 and up

Nuseti sealed-drivetrain mountain bike

As we mentioned earlier, there's no denying that belt drives are quieter and less grimy than chains. According to Polish mountain biking medalist Gregory Zielinski, however, chains are still a sturdier, more efficient way to go. In order to address their shortcomings, he created the Nuseti – it has a chain, but it's sealed within an oil bath that keeps it continuously lubricated and protected from contaminants.

Additionally, due to the inclusion of a 16-speed planetary gearbox, the chain never has to move sideways between chainrings or cassette sprockets. This greatly lessens the chances of it breaking, as it minimizes the amount of mechanical stress to which the chain is subjected.

Zielinski was raising production funds for the Nuseti on Kickstarter, and unfortunately was unable to meet his project goal. It's still an intriguing concept, however, and one that we may yet see reach the market in one form or another.

Honorable mentions

This was a Top 10 list, but what if it had been a Top 15? Well, we probably would have included things like ...

  • IDSG Engineering and Trading's MC2 bike, that can be set into eight different frame configurations
  • Cycliq's Fly6 tail light, which also continuously shoots and records video that can be used as evidence against hostile drivers
  • Vanhawk's sensor-laden carbon fiber Valour "smart" bike, the navigation system of which guides riders via LED indicators on the handlebars
  • The linear-drive MaynoothBike, that replaces the crankset with pedals that slide up and down the sides of the fork, powering the front wheel
  • Inspired Cycle Engineering's Full Fat trike, modeled after the fat-trike that British adventurer Maria Leijerstam used to cycle to the South Pole
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