Cycle: Five Futuristic Innovations That Could Change the Future of Bicycling

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The bicycle is one of the great, pure designs. Two wheels joined by a rigid frame strong enough to carry at least one person and perhaps some cargo, propelled by the strength of that person through a basic linkage of gearing.

There's not a lot of room for improvement, which is why the bike is one of those machines that has seen little enhancement since its modern inception in the mid-1800s. Sure, there are constant changes to materials and gearing, but the basic design has essentially remained the same.

That does not mean grand invention is not constantly attempted when it comes to our two-wheeled rigs and some of the accessories that accompany them. Here are five new innovations to the bike and bike use that are turning some heads.

5. Portable Bike Lane

One of cycling's never ending debates is about how truly safe it is to ride amongst traffic on city streets. Marked bike lanes help to show drivers where bikes can safely ride, and lights illuminate the cyclist when daylight gets thin and a little extra visibility could help. Designers at Altitude, Inc. have combined these two concepts to create Light Lane, a prototype laser-emitted bike lane that clips to the seat post so that drivers will always see the lane around the cyclist, further encouraging the already established three foot rule. The design was awarded the Gold International Design Excellence Award in 2009.

4. Hubless Wheels

Since the beginning, a bike's drivetrain was always based around the idea of some mechanism at the wheel's hub turning the wheel to create propulsion. But why not move that mechanism from the center to the rim? It typically looks great in concept design but is it pragmatic? British designer Luke Douglas thinks so and has actually created Lunartic, a working belt driven hubless rear-wheeled bike that he claims will make a bike more compact without reducing performance. It looks like a reversed Penny Farthing, but at normal size and early report say that keeping the drive system at the wheel makes the bike more stable.

3. Mind Shifting

Electronic gear shifting for bikes has been in the works for a couple of decades now, but really has only taken hold over the past three years with component sets hitting the market from Shimano and Campagnolo. Gears were typically changed by a manual push of a lever that pulled or released a cable moving the chain up or down the rear cluster of gear sprockets. Now that a single button push can make that move, the minds at Toyota's Prius Division and Parlee Custom Bikes are collaborating on a concept bike that shifts by mental thought, kind of like that crazy Soviet plane Clint Eastwood stole in "Firefox". Using a neuro-headset, Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting system, and a proprietary iPhone app, they have developed a new touchless shifting system that allows the gears to be changed by thinking "up" or "down."

2. Invisible Bike Helmet

For reasons still unbeknownst to us, there are still some folks out there who just refuse to wear a bike helmet. Whatever the reason, a couple of Swedish designers have created Hovding, an "invisible bike helmet" for those who don't want to don the dome protector and show off some helmet hair. For the record, the Cycle Style Council (of one) thinks helmet hair is very cool. This instrument snaps on around the neck like a thick scarf, activates electronically, and when it senses either sudden impact inconsistent with the natural momentum or a fast change in balance, an airbag-like helmet activate and inflates around the head. Each helmet, which includes a "black box" that the inventors ask be sent back to then in case of an accident so they can study the impact, needs to be replaced after it has been inflated and is available in a pattern or black model for around $600, but only in Europe for now.

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

5. Hoverbike

Make no mistake, the one thing that makes a bicycle a bicycle (you know, besides the two wheel part) is the fact that it is powered by a human. The propulsion comes from muscle, not gas, oil, battery or stored kinetic energy. As soon as the power comes from something other than muscle, it becomes motorized. So this last item doesn't truly count under that definition, but it eeks in because of how it is ridden. Propelled by two opposite rotating fans to make it float, the bike is steered by the natural leaning of the rider, mimicking the movement, balance and direction of cyclists. Created by engineers at Aerofex Corporation in Manhattan Beach, CA, the hoverbike is intended to study flight for drone aircraft, but its first successful test in the California desert makes it look like an actual consumer model may be not far off.

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