Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gizmag's Top 10 Innovations of 2015

I love Top 10 lists, especially lists like this one from Gizmag: Top 10 Cycling Innovations of 2015. Coming from tech-junkies, you can be assured that most of the "innovations" are things you can probably live without.

The article opens with this quote: "A little over a century ago, the U.S. Patent Office estimated that about two-thirds of all new patents were bicycle-related. While the figure is no longer quite that high, bikes continue to inspire inventors in a way that few other devices do."

Yeah - What is it about bicycles that every tech-happy tinkerer out there thinks they can improve on it? Or improve "the experience" of riding? Is it the inherent simplicity? Well, yes -- something MUST be done about that.

So here are the top innovations, according to Gizmag. You decide if these would improve your riding experience or not.

Variotronic glasses use liquid crystal technology to change the tint of the lenses in less than a second, as controlled by a built-in light sensor. Yes, that can be a good thing if one gets off the bike to go indoors, or perhaps enters a tunnel or something. But at $350 a pair, I should think one can probably find a way to survive with a low-tech solution. Oh yeah, did I mention that they change tint, but don't go fully "clear"? These are available from Uvex and CTRL-Eyewear.

Need a power meter? Actually, no, you probably don't. Not really. And especially not if you're reading this blog. But if you absolutely must have one, and don't want to spend $1000 or more for one built seamlessly into your crank, then you might be interested in the Limits Power Meter. This little guy sells for only $385 and threads into the crank between the arm and the pedal, where it can measure cadence, torque, and power output. What's that awkward sensation when I pedal? Oh yeah - it must have something to do with the fact that one of my pedals is now sticking out about an inch farther than the other. Wonderful.

One of the big benefits of going with one of the latest electronic shifting systems is that it gets rid of cables (and replaces them with electric wires and batteries). Well, now with the latest SRAM Red wireless, one can get rid of the cables AND the wires altogether. OK, that's not quite accurate, as you'll still need cables to work the brakes - or maybe hydraulic lines. Oh hell, who cares? At nearly $3000, the derailleurs and levers shown above cost more than my last couple of complete bikes. And don't think of it as getting rid of cables so much as gaining more battery packs to charge.

According to Gizmag, another benefit over cable-operated shifters is that "cables stretch and snap" but a "wireless system isn't impacted by wear and tear, which potentially offers precise, instant gear changes every single time." Well, until you forget to charge up the batteries. Then the whole system is just a bunch of useless lumps of aluminum and carbon fiber. As far as cables stretching and snapping? Maybe if a person does "zero" maintenance on their bike - but then I don't see that kind of neglect being kind to electronic systems, either.

Just last week I wrote about SussMyBike, which uses sensors and a smartphone app to recommend better suspension settings. Little did I know that they weren't the only ones at that party. ShockWiz does basically the same function, though it works on rear suspension in addition to suspension forks. And just like SussMyBike, this just makes me glad I don't use suspension.

Back in October I wrote about the Lumos helmet with its built-in LED lighting. I thought that the styling was decent, and the inclusion of some auxiliary lighting in a helmet might be a nice touch for someone who does a lot of riding in the dark. On the other hand, features like turn signals (operated by a remote switch on the handlebar) and a brake-light function (controlled by an on-board accelerometer) might be a bit more trouble than they're worth. And at $170, it becomes a pretty danged expensive helmet.

Yet another questionable "must-have" component to mountain bikers today is the "dropper" seatpost -- an idea that really goes back to the '80s with a simple little spring device called the Hite Rite. Today's dropper seatposts are much more involved affairs, often involving cables and bar-mounted controllers. The Vyron eLECT is air-sprung, and controlled remotely by ANT+ wireless signal. Says Gizmag: "Mountain bikes already have quite enough cables running from their bars to various components, so if one can be eliminated, so much the better." As far as I'm concerned, if someone has too many cables running to various components, apart from brakes and derailleurs, then they need to start getting rid of components, not cables. And again, getting rid of cables means adding more batteries to replace or recharge. Cost is about $455.

SpeedForce is a "smart" stem that combines a headlight and computer into one package. It also integrates with a user's smartphone (of course) and can provide navigation cues. Still on Indiegogo, but planned retail price is $179. Can you live without a stem that alerts you when you have an incoming call? If you're one of those people who can't function without fiddling with your smartphone, then maybe not.

I wrote about this little item back in September. It's the ShockStop suspension stem that keeps its elastomers hidden so it has a relatively "normal" look for road bikes. Do you need a suspension stem on a road bike? Maybe if you keep your elbows locked while blithely slamming into every pothole.

The $200 Garmin Varia headlight (the tail light shown is extra) syncs with a Garmin GPS unit to gauge the rider's speed, then adjusts the focus of the beam pattern accordingly. At higher speeds, it shines farther down the road, while giving a wider but less-intense beam at lower speeds. The tail light brightens like a brake light when the GPS senses the rider stopping. From the looks of it, one can attach the Garmin GPS computer directly to the top of the light unit. If they have one, that is. I don't.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about the COBI system that is supposed to turn any bike into a "smart bike." It consists of a lighting package and a smartphone dock, as well as an extra bar-mounted control switch. With the included app, a rider can summon all kinds of ride data, navigation functions, activate a "bell," activate turn signals, get the weather report, and even frighten off thieves (maybe unusually timid thieves) with its "anti-theft alarm." Its makers claim it makes "every ride more rewarding and more fun." My advice was to unplug once in a while and just ride the damn bike.

There you have it, the Top 10 Innovations of 2015. Yes, they're keeping the patent office busy, but I think I'll still enjoy my ride experience without adopting any of this. Will you?


  1. I really enjoyed the contrast with yesterday's Mercian post... can you guess which post made me think 'I want this!!'?

    1. Yep - I'm with you - And I'm right back to retro-grouching.

  2. That power meter thingy that fits on the pedal is going to seriously mess with Q factor. I shake my head in amazement at all of the so called improvements. Time to go ride my 1930's technology analog bike. No batteries to worry about. And yes it does have lights and gears.