Friday, April 25, 2014

Weird and Wonderful? or Just Weird?

I spotted this video on BikeRadar today, although it apparently posted months ago (how did I miss it?). Weird & Wonderful Bike Tech. It is a look at the top 5 technical "innovations" displayed at last fall's Eurobike show. I found it amusing, as I don't even think the reporter took much of it very seriously.

Here are some highlights:

Here we have a classic case of the solution looking for a problem: a bike built with no spokes or hubs in the wheels. OooKayyy. Why? No details were given on this one in the video, but if there's a good reason for this, I'd love to know what it is.
Next we have the Haibike Electric Road Bike. Not electric commuter bike, or cargo bike, or even mountain bike. The electric road bike -- as in racer. Can't be used for racing, obviously (Fabian Cancellara jokes aside). "Everyone is successful with this kind of bicycle," says the spokeswoman. Is that justification for this thing's existence not enough? When pressed for an answer as to who needs this bike, she says, "If you're a wife and you want to do a sport with a man" (and you have a spare 6,000 euros kicking around) then this is the bike for you. Awesome.

Then there is the Softwheel suspension wheelset -- with the suspension actually built into the wheel instead of the frame. Now anybody can retrofit suspension onto any bike. I've never been convinced that suspension was necessary for most bikes, excepting perhaps hard-core mountain bikes (mountain bikes actually ridden in extreme off-road conditions, that is -- not the majority that spend most of their time on pavement and bike paths). So, there are at least 6 linkages per wheel, plus the compression tubes themselves (springs? elastomers? what's in those things?), which means lots of stuff to wear out. How much does this thing weigh, I wonder. How does a wheel like that do on lateral loads? I don't expect to see this one catching on.

Another suspension idea came in the form of this leading link suspension fork from Lauf Forks: carbon fiber forks with glass fiber springs. The creator was involved in the prosthetic industry, making carbon and glass fiber "feet" (perhaps similar to those prosthetic running blades used by Oscar Pistorius?). Leading link suspension is nothing new, having been used on some motorcycles for decades (notably on older BMWs), and even some bicycles. But the glass fiber springs are a different approach. Looks pretty fragile to me, though, so I don't really see the benefit.

For those who want their nighttime bike rides to resemble a night at the disco, there is the Monkey Light LED wheel system. Programmable to display all kinds of images and messages -- even animations -- this thing consists of a battery pack and a band of LED lights that one attaches to the spokes of the wheel. Be safe AND send a message! Also seen on Kickstarter last year where it met its fundraising goal. I wonder if drivers would become so mesmerized or entranced trying to decipher the messages flashing on a cyclist's wheels that they'd end up plowing right into him? 

From the very beginning, bicycles have garnered the attention of tinkerers and inventors -- for better or for worse. Yet despite that, bikes still haven't changed dramatically over the decades. "Innovations" for bicycles keep on coming, but genuine "improvements" are hard to come by. Enjoy the video.

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