As many readers have no doubt noticed, we like bikes here at Gizmag. We particularly like truly unique cycling products, even when they may ultimately be a little too out there to garner much commercial success. With that in mind, here's a look at the ten bicycle-related innovations from the past year, that most made us say “Hmm, now that’s interesting.”

Let there be light

While advances in technology have meant big things for cycling computers, they’ve also resulted in LED bike lights continuously becoming brighter, more efficient, and less expensive. This has led to a “bike light gold rush” of sorts, with both large manufacturers and small start-ups trying to get in on the action.

Of all the new lighting systems to grace our pages in 2012, though, Revolights was perhaps the most distinctive. It consists of two hoop-like assemblies each containing eight LEDs, that clip onto a bicycle's existing wheel rims. Powered by hub-mounted lithium-ion battery packs, the lights blink on and off at a rate set by the speed at which the wheels are turning – this blinking pattern, in turn, results in the front half of the front wheel and the rear half of the rear wheel being illuminated (in white and red, respectively).

The blinking LEDs appear to the human eye as a solid arc, meaning that a bike running Revolights looks rather like a pair of bright parentheses, traveling down the street. The system reportedly makes the bicycle highly visible from the sides, rear and front, and also serves to illuminate the road ahead of the rider.

Price: US$250 (set of two)

Honorable mention: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Magnic Light, a no-contact dynamo light that’s powered by electrical currents generated by the bike’s spinning metallic rims. Also noteworthy were the Blink/Steady tail light, that automatically comes on when it gets dark outside; Magnetic Bike Lights, that automatically power up when attached to a metallic frame; and BLAZE, which warns motorists of an approaching bicycle by laser-projecting an image of a cyclist onto the road.

Giving it the gears

While big-name components manufacturers Shimano and Campagnolo already offer electronic gear-shifting systems, in 2012 we saw smaller Italian firm Tiso announce its own offering. The big thing that sets this system apart is the fact that the bar-mounted shifters communicate with the down tube-mounted control unit wirelessly – Shimano and Campagnolo’s systems, by contrast, are entirely hard-wired.

Pricing has yet to be announced, although Tiso’s system will reportedly “be lower than all the other groups in electronic commerce.”

Honorable mention: Although it isn’t commercially available – yet – a smartphone-controlled automatic transmission for bicycles is being developed by researchers at UK-based Cambridge Consultants. Utilizing a stock Shimano Di2 electronic gear-shifting system, various bike-mounted sensors and a handlebar-mounted iPhone, it automatically shifts gears in order to keep the cyclist pedaling at their preferred cadence.

When the rubber meets the road

Although it adds weight and complexity to the bike, and more thinking to the riding of said bike, we still can’t help but admire the engineering that went into the ADAPTRAC system. Consisting of a network of hoses, switches, gauges, system-specific wheel hubs and a compressed air tank, the system allows mountain bikers to inflate or deflate their tires while riding.

If a rider is approaching a hill or a rooty/rocky section of trail, they can increase their traction by letting some air out of the tires – when they get to a long flat section, rolling resistance can be minimized by pumping the tires up.

Price: $1,470.50 (complete kit)

Honorable mention: Britek Tire and Rubber is developing a mountain bike tire/wheel known as the ERW (Energy Return Wheel) that doesn’t get flats or require air, and that also reportedly converts bumps in the trail into forward momentum. We were also intrigued by the BTPS no-contact electronic tire pressure gauging system.

Have a seat

What, you don’t like road vibrations traveling up into your butt? Well, perhaps the BioFloat carbon fiber seatpost might be for you. Its saddle rail clamp is cradled within a pair of flexible clamshell-style elastomer inserts, isolating it from the rest of the seatpost head. This not only helps soak up some of the bumps, but it also allows the saddle to move with the rider’s butt as they pedal, supposedly minimizing pressure points.

Price: $200 (estimated)

Honorable mention: The BodyFloat seatpost uses two coiled springs – instead of elastomer inserts – to soften the cyclist’s ride. Ergon’s CF3 seatpost is designed to do the same thing, but via two parallel carbon fiber leaf springs.

Thieves, beware

We’ve covered plenty of clever locks in the past, but a sufficiently motivated thief can get past pretty much any lock yet created. If your bike is equipped with Integrated Trackers’ SpyBike system, however, you could still get it back.

At the heart of the system is a GPS tracking device/vibration sensor, that is hidden inside the existing headset. Once activated via an electronic key fob, that device will detect if the bike is moved – as long as it continues to move, the device will upload its coordinates to the cloud every 20 seconds. Users can check on the Integrated Trackers website to get those coordinates, then advise the police accordingly.

Price: $154 and up

Honorable mention: Sometimes, thieves are content to just make off with parts of a bike. The infiniti3D system is intended to keep that from happening, by replacing a bicycle’s existing component fasteners with ones that can only be removed with a tool that’s unique to that bike.

Protectin’ your noggin

You could attach lights to your bike and put on a helmet ... or you could just wear a Torch T1 helmet, which features built-in lights. The T1 has a water-resistant panel of white LEDs on the front and a panel of red ones on the back that can run in either flashing or steady mode. While the current model won’t light up the road ahead of you (much), it will help ensure that you get noticed by drivers.

Price: $120 (pre-order)

Honorable mention: Helmets can be bulky things to carry around. In an attempt to address that problem, Carrera has developed an expandable bike helmet that can be squeezed together like an accordion when not in use.

Them’s the brakes

About two and a half years ago, the International Cycling Union announced that it would start allowing the use of disc brakes on cyclo-cross bikes. This means that while new bikes now may come equipped with such brakes, owners of older bikes are stuck with using cantilevers ... or are they?

Bicycle brake manufacturer TRP’s Parabox system allows these cyclists to use their existing cable-based brake levers with after-market hydraulic disc brakes. Its junction box master cylinder clamps onto the handlebar stem, just beneath the bars. This is linked to the levers via two hose-enclosed cables, which activate the cylinder mechanisms within the box, providing hydraulic braking power.

Price: $470

Honorable mention: Although some mountain bikers have seen hydraulic rim brakes before, they’ve always been quite a rarity in the world of road riding. That changed in 2012, when Magura released its RT8 TT hydraulic rim brake system for lightweight time trial and triathlon bikes.

The right tools for the job

Hand pumps may be easy to bring along on a ride, but floor pumps will put air in your tires a heck of a lot more quickly. BioLogic’s PostPump 2.0, however, combines the portability of the one with the easier pumping of the other. It’s a floor pump that doubles as a seat post, so it simply serves as part of your bike when you’re not using it.

Price: $50

Honorable mention: Your handlebars are hollow, so why not store tools in there? That’s the idea behind the Incog multi-tool. It consists of several commonly-used tools that are linked together like sausages, then fed into the bars.

Don’t forget about the kids!

Training wheels – who needs ‘em? The Gyrobike instead starts out with no pedals, so the wee ones can push themselves along with their feet. Once they get a bit more experienced, the pedals go on, as does a gyroscopically-stabilizing front wheel. Finally, that wheel can be replaced with a regular one.

Price: £229 (US$362)

Honorable mention: Bikes are rather expensive to keep replacing as your child gets bigger. Orbea’s Grow Bikes will save you a few upgrades, however, since their frame can be lengthened – as with regular kids’ bikes, the seatpost and handlebar stem can also be raised.

And just one more ...

While 2012 saw the introduction of some very fancy, lust-worthy bikes, if it’s innovation we’re talking about ... well, that would be the Bicymple. Imagine if you took a unicycle, with its direct-drive wheel-mounted pedals, but then added a short frame, handlebars, and a front wheel. Both wheels are mounted on forks with headsets, so they can both turn. This makes nutty things like “crab-riding” possible. Perhaps this might not be your first choice as a go-everywhere do-everything bike, but it certainly looks like it would be fun.

... and that’s what it’s all about, right?

Price: $800 and up (pre-order)

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