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Innovative bikes: two-wheeled transport is enjoying a disruptive design revolution

Ever since the invention of the boneshaker and the extraordinary penny farthing, people have been trying to create the perfect bicycle. Today, says Ben Webb, a new wave of designers may be close to turning that dream into a reality...

Home road Innovative bikes: two-wheeled transport is enjoying a disruptive design revolution
Innovative bikes: two-wheeled transport is enjoying a disruptive design revolution

Reinventing the wheel is notoriously difficult and so – traditionally – is reinventing the bicycle, which for centuries has included a seat, a frame and two wheels driven by pedals and a chain. Now, however, amazing advances in technology – both digital and material – are being used to create the innovative bike designs of the future.

Innovative bikes: two-wheeled transport is enjoying a disruptive design revolution

Today’s green, eco-conscious bike fans – from the stylish city commuter to the diehard road racer to the fun-loving Sunday cyclist – are demanding ever more from their steeds. With a remit to let their creativity flow, designers are coming up with striking products, cutting weight and introducing more efficient electric motors, removing spokes and external brakes while adding connectivity and plenty besides. Indeed, the 3DOM bike by Italian company AGM Design doesn’t even have handlebars.

Going electric
Cycling can be hard work. That’s good news if you want to get fit, but if you want to get to a business meeting without ending up too hot and bothered, a little added pedal power is much appreciated. Welcome to the electric bike – which is now firmly in fashion – and the next generation of rechargeable batteries helping to take the strain.

Early models of e-bike lacked the aesthetic appeal of normal bikes. Today, however, the motors are neater or hidden away in the frame. Take the American Yukon Trails Xplorer seven-speed hybrid bike, a good all-rounder perfect for local journeys. Powered by a removable lithium-ion battery pack, it can travel for 31 miles at 15mph on one single full charge. It weighs a hefty 60lbs, but is just the thing if you want to do some shopping or visit friends but don’t fancy the hassle of jumping into a motor vehicle or simply don’t want to drive.

If style and speed are what you are after, then the hi-tech all-carbon Project Y road bike by German company Focus is so sleek it looks like a classic racer – and at only 26lb it’s light, too. Ideal for long rides, the battery and motor, which deliver an impressive 400 watts of additional power, are housed in a casing that drops out of the frame when the release button is depressed. With the unit removed, the bike can be ridden like a normal machine. Here’s the clever part. The boost only kicks in when you really need it – from when you leave home and start to pedal in the street to hitting big mountain slopes. 

Critics have warned that switching to electric bikes can be dangerous, with e-bike deaths rising in the Netherlands, for example, where 90 per cent of those killed while in the e-saddle were aged 60 or above. A consortium led by engineers at the country’s University of Twente has devised a solution. The Smart Assistive Bicycle – or SOFIE – changes shape to suit the speed of travel to make it safer for the older generation. At slower speeds the seat drops, so it’s easier to turn and put your feet on the ground.

Transport you can carry
A folding bike is a boon for people who need to use the train or car as part of their journey. You can stow it in the boot or carry it on to the train, then unfold it at your destination and head off. A classic example is the American Schwinn Loop 20-inch folding bike, which is lightweight – at 33lbs – and sturdy enough to navigate potholes carrying a rider weighing up to 230lbs. At the end of the ride, it folds easily into a 16in x 32.5in x 26in package – small enough to pop into the bespoke carry-case.

Many foldable bikes rely on complicated engineering that requires patience to operate. The Gi FlyBike doesn’t. It can be unfolded in one second. Simple! New Yorker Lucas Toledo – one of its three inventors – came up with the idea in Córdoba, Argentina, during a public transportation strike. Commuters, the trio realised, needed to “regain their independence” and “the bicycle was the most efficient means of transportation throughout the world”.

Not only is the Gi FlyBike foldable in a trice, but it is also electric, has punctureless tyres and connects to a smartphone, which it can charge by means of an integrated USB port. Made from aircraft-grade aluminium alloy, it can be ridden like a normal bike, but also has an “electric flight assistance” feature that allows the rider to tap the bike’s electric motor to travel at 15mph for 40 miles on a single charge. The dedicated FlyBike app features new levels of functionality, including an anti-theft system that kicks in when the smartphone is more than five metres from the folded bike.

Getting connected
Increasingly the trend with high concept bikes is to incorporate electric power units, connectivity and a range of other technological innovations, gadgets and accessories. The Cyclotron, for example, which was designed in France, claims to be the world’s first spokeless smart bicycle, with airless tyres, chainless transmission and electronic gears – and it’s controlled by a bespoke Cyclo-App. It looks amazing – the type of machine that Batman would choose to ride – but is aimed at all the family, not just techies.

Inside the front and back wheels there are utility slots where you can stow shopping – great for short urban trips. All the lights – and there is an exciting array of them, including LEDs inside the rim – are toggled by an automatic light sensor that switches them on and off according to the light conditions. So it’s safe, too. Gears are changed with fingertip-controlled levers and there is a smartphone mount on the handlebars that delivers real-time data on every ride. It’s a valuable resource for cyclists who love to keep statistics about each ride, the distance they travel and how fast they go.

The Cyclotron may not be available to buy in your local bike shop – although you can pre-order it online for the price of $1,400 – but this amazing project gives tomorrow’s customers an insight into the international cycling culture of the future. It may have taken a century or two to transform the traditional bike, but the pace of change is growing faster all the time. 

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