Top 10 most innovative cycling products of 2019
One of the great things about bicycles is the number of open-minded inventors they attract, who think, "Maybe it would work better if we did it this way …" The past year saw a bumper crop of the resulting products – here are our picks for the 10 most innovative.
Just to be clear, we're definitely not saying that these are the best cycling products of 2019. In fact, some of the prototypes or Kickstarters on this list may never reach production. All of them are pretty clever, though, and are great examples of outside-of-the-box thinking. They're presented here in no particular order.
Shaft drivetrain gets gear-shifting functionality
The original version of CeramicSpeed's DrivEn pinion-style shaft-drive system made our 2018 list, and with good reason – it was claimed to be the world's most efficient bicycle drivetrain, reportedly creating 49 percent less friction than the high-end Shimano Dura Ace chain-and-derailleur setup. At the time, though, it couldn't shift between gears.
That changed in 2019, as its makers devised a motorized split-pinion master/slave gear-shifting system (pictured above). Putting it very basically, the technology utilizes an actuator inside the shaft to move a laterally-spilt rear pinion forward and backward. Bearings within that pinion engage the teeth of the cassette cogs, and as the pinion moves laterally from cog to cog, it shifts between gears – our full article on the technology goes into more detail on how the setup works.
A better way of tailgating mountain bikes
When it comes to transporting mountain bikes in pickup trucks, many people choose to place the bikes with their front wheels hanging over the tailgate. Many tailgates are now too thick for that purpose, however, plus the bikes jiggle around a lot, and they can't be locked up. That's where the Latchit Rack comes in.
Taking the place of a truck's folded-down tailgate, it has a padded top bar that's narrow enough to hang bikes over, plus up to six bicycles can be held snugly in place using two rack-straps per bike. Additionally, when the truck is left unattended, a steel cable gets pulled out of one end of the top bar, run through all of the bikes' frames, then locked into a receptacle at the other end.
This cargo bike (partially) converts into a stroller
While a lot of folks use cargo bikes to haul their small children from place to place, how do they cart their tykes around upon reaching their destination? Well, in the case of Libelle's Dragonfly 2in1, the kid-carrying cabin simply detaches from the rest of the bike, becoming a stroller. Smart, huh?
The cabin/stroller can be separated via a quick-release mechanism within a claimed 15 seconds. Additionally, a set of small wheels are folded down from its underside, to support its rear end. The bike's handlebars, which stay attached to the stroller, are used to push it around. And for users who want a little help when pedalling, a bottom-bracket motor is available as an optional extra.
Levers instead of a chain
Probably ever since bicycles were first invented, people have been looking for alternatives to the traditional approach of pedalling in circles. Los Angeles-based inventor Rodger Parker utilized one such alternative in his lever-drive NuBike, which he claims is superior to a chain- or belt-drive bike.
In a nutshell, the NuBike's pedals are mounted on levers that are attached to a linkage on the rear hub, with riders simply pushing down on the pedals in order to make the rear wheel turn. According to Parker, this setup allows cyclists to deliver a greater amount of torque, and to more effectively utilize the force of gravity. It's additionally said to be easier on the hips, knees and ankles.
A new-and-improved take on the bottle dynamo
Remember those "bottle"-type dynamos that rubbed against the side of your bike tire in order to power the lights? Well, they received a high-tech makeover, in the form of PedalCell's fork-mounted CadenceX generator – it's intended to replace the batteries currently needed for all bicycle electronics (excluding e-bike motors).
What sets the CadenceX apart from its predecessors is the fact that the electricity generated by its spinning motion is sent via wiring to a capacitor-equipped handlebar-mounted Smart Power Hub. That hub in turn regulates the current, feeding it out stably and consistently (again via wires) regardless of cycling speed. This reportedly means that devices such as lights, cycling computers and actioncams can remain powered up, even when the bike is stopped for brief periods.
Hydraulic brake hoses, hangin' out in bars
In order to keep things streamlined, tidy and protected, many mountain bikes already feature hydraulic brake hoses that are internally routed through the frame. German manufacturer Magura is taking things further, however, with a system that also sticks those hoses inside the handlebar.
Known as the Magura Cockpit Integration (MCi) system, the presently-experimental setup moves each brake's hydraulic cylinder from the front of the system-specific handlebar into its hollow interior, inside the area where the grips are located. A hose runs from the inside end of each cylinder through the bar to a coupler within the stem, with two other hoses proceeding from that coupler to each of the brakes. This arrangement allows the MCi to be temporarily disconnected from the rest of the bike for servicing, without losing any hydraulic fluid.
A low-slung, front gearhub, carbon fiber recumbent
It was back in 2016 that we first heard about the KerVelo, a recumbent bike that replaced the chain with a gearhub transmission built into the front wheel. Well, it's now more of a head-turner than ever, with the new carbon fiber Low Racer model being unveiled in April at Germany's Spezi bike show.
As was the case with the original version, the Low Racer completely gets rid of the long chain commonly associated with recumbents. Instead, it utilizes a direct-drive "Kernel hub" that places both a 12-speed gearbox and the bottom bracket within the middle of the front wheel. According to creator Marc Le Borgne, it offers "better ergonomics to the rider with higher efficiency and stiffness to the transmission."
Making e-bike conversions smaller and simpler
Instead of switching right over to a full-time electric bicycle, many people are now opting to just add an electric-assist setup to their existing bike when needed. The updated version of the Swytch Kit is claimed to be the lightest and smallest such system available.
Like its predecessor, the new Swytch Kit consists of a 250-watt hub-motor-equipped front wheel that stays on the bike full-time, a handlebar-mounted docking station, and a battery/electronics-containing waterproof "power pack" – that pack quickly clicks in and out of the docking station, allowing users to rapidly switch between regular-bike and e-bike modes. As compared to the original model, however, this latest one is reportedly 70 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter.
A handlebar-stowed multi-tool setup
Although cyclists sure do like multi-tools, they don't necessarily like having the things cluttering up their pockets or hydration packs. That's why Wolf Tooth's new EnCase System was created, as it sits inside the bike's handlebars, ready to be pulled out when needed.
The system consists of two aluminum end caps/handlebar plugs, each of which is attached to a cylindrical rubber storage sleeve that extends into the bars' hollow interior. Inside one of those sleeves is tool that combines a chain breaker and a tire plug inserter, along with a storage space for an included sheet of plugging strips. Within the other sleeve is a swivel-head hex bit wrench tool, along with eight interchangeable bits. The whole setup weighs a claimed 132 g (4.7 oz).
Balancing ventilation and aerodynamics, with a shape-shifting helmet
In order to make a helmet really aerodynamic, you don't give it any air vents – unfortunately, though, the wearer quickly gets a hot head. Deakin University research fellow Dr. James Novak set about addressing that problem, with an experimental, automatically-transforming helmet known as the Dynaero.
The current 3D-printed prototype communicates with a custom smartphone app via Bluetooth, utilizing an integrated servo to open or close its vents in response to changes in temperature, speed or other conditions. It is hoped that a final commercial version will also be linked to bike- or rider-mounted sensors. This will allow it to automatically close its vents when aerodynamics are most necessary – such as during fast down-hill descents or finish-line sprints – then open them during slow hill climbs and other times when being aero isn't quite so important.