The Bike of the Future

Predicting the future is hard. We can’t pick next week’s lottery numbers but we can predict there will be a draw. You can take trends and measurements to make weather forecasts. What about the bike industry? We can spot the trends and extrapolate to imagine the bike of the future.

You’ve probably seen the images of concept cars unveiled at motor shows with futuristic machines that reveal what is coming. Often these are wild ideas do point to the future but they also appear amusing, especially with hindsight, although often the purpose is to catch attention and showcase design ideas. It’s the same with bikes, there are concept models although on a more modest scale.

Two years ago I looked at what the bike of the future might bring. I saw more electric gears, disc brakes, tubeless tyres and a redesign of the frame, although most terms like the dropout width. Where are we now?

Electronic gears are starting to trickle down. Shimano offer Ultegra, Campagnolo have Athena EPS and people say SRAM are recruiting electrical engineers… although maybe to help with suspension management. But the systems still look unrefined with clunky battery packs and CPU units that need cable ties to fix to the stem, unacceptable for €10,000 bike. We should see more integration with wireless technology and a CPU that you can hide away

Disc brakes seem to be coming but slowly. It’s one thing to display a bike with discs at Eurobike, another to produce the finished item. Their use for road racing is not certain. The sharp rotors and the way they soak up heat means they could be dangerous in a mass pile-up, perhaps some enclosure or guard will be required. Disc brakes can’t be seen in isolation but should require frame and fork redesigns to cope with the different braking forces. Will we accept an asymmetric front fork? Rims should be redesigned too because they don’t need a braking track nor cope with the heat.

Tubeless tires might be coming but their adoption slow. People like them in many conditions but there’s still no feather-weight version to rival a premium tubular or clincher. Maybe this is the market at work, because adoption is slow there’s no point producing something for 5% of a still small market?

11 speed is widespread now but we extrapolate the trend towards more and more gears? Maybe 12 speed will arrive but currently you can run 11-25 without any big gaps in gearing and this offers enough range for most. Perhaps we’re now at the point where the extra cost of an even more narrow chain outweighs the benefits of going to 12 speed. Unless we see the rear dropouts widening from 130mm to 135mm… or even 140mm.

UCI approval
The governing body has rules to define what is allowed and these have been quite conservative. Paradoxically the vast majority of bikes are sold for use outside of UCI officialdom but races like the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix are the shop window for bikes. As said before, if the likes of Trek, Cannondale and BMC can’t showcase their best products in these races they’ll take their sponsorship elsewhere.

Which side of the glass do you stand on?

One obvious change is the the 6.8kg minimum weight limit. It was introduced in 1999, at a time when carbon frames were exotic and the use of composite materials had yet to spread to components such as bars, rims and more. In other words the technology has changed substantially since 1999 but the weight limit has not. Bikes in peloton today have to be weighed down with deep section rims, power meters and even chains dropped down the seat tube for compliance. It’s likely this limit is reviewed and reduced.

Late adopter?
To pre-empt curmudgeonly comments of course you can ignore all of this just and ride your bike.

It’s not coming in 2014 but at some point all these things have to be integrated. Perhaps by 2020 we can expect frames and wheels designed for disc brakes and tubeless tires… something mountain bikers have already. But there can be more integration, imagine a some solar cells on the chainstays to trickle-charge the battery or even a frame with a USB port so the bike can be charged and ride data downloaded all in one go?

The New New Thing
For me the consumer electronics angle looks to be the biggest new thing. Instead of carbon, it’s silicon chips and software. No more so than the advent of Google Glass or the Recon Jet with a “heads up display” on your sunglasses. Sure you can look down at computer on the handlebars or maybe you ride to escape a day job spent in front of a screen. But this optical tech is coming and once it’s here and becomes affordable I think we can expect it to spread.

We’ve not exhausted carbon tech or bike design but bikes have incorporated more and more electronics in recent years, from gears to GPS to power along with post-ride analysis.

Two years ago electronic gears looked exotic but they’re the norm in the pro peloton. Now disc brakes might go the same way although this will require rule changes so it’s less certain. Tubeless tires are probably the future too but for now they’re on everything but road bikes. We can see how conservative road bikes are compared to MTBs, although their functions explain this too.

Real change will be when these changes are integrated into a system rather than treated as external components. Imagine built-in batteries and charging ports, frames, forks and rims alike redesigned for discs. That sounds off the radar for now but then so does a heads-up display for your sunglasses only these are coming for 2014 and we might see electronics as the new thing in pro peloton.

57 thoughts on “The Bike of the Future”

  1. I think power based training for the mass market is the next big thing – look at massive reduction in cost of entry now with the Stages meters. Most committed cyclists already have the infrastructure in place to do power training, the ANT+ head unit, the power compatible online service such as Strava or Garmin Connect.

    • Does that mean no more bunch rides, so we all can stay in our individual power ranges? Or is that just another number to look at next to speed, average speed, HR, etc? Some will fully forget that there might be another rider next to them who they could race up the climb. They can drop him or get dropped, who cares how many watts is needed for that?

    • I’m with giobox, now that Stages has power meters at the sub $1k price point I think there will be a big increase in power meter adoption. I got one and I know several cyclists that are now considering getting a power meter now that the price has come down.

  2. SPIEGEL: What do you say to people who call you a reactionary?

    Finkielkraut: It has become impossible to see history as constant progress. I reserve the possibility to compare yesterday and today and ask the question: What do we retain, what do we abandon?

    SPIEGEL: Is that really any more than nostalgia for a lost world?

    Finkielkraut: Like Albert Camus, I am of the opinion that our generation’s task is not to recreate the world, but to prevent its decline. We not only have to conserve nature, but also culture. There you have the reactionary.

    From this week’s Der Spiegel:

    • Almost nobody learns from history and we make the same mistakes over and over and over and again…

      Clinging to the status-quo just means more of the same mistakes – new does not mean bad, some products might not succeed but in general history shows us that tech improvements are generally good for everyone who rides (deraillers, modern clothing, STI, clipless pedals, carbon-fibre to name just a few of the biggest).

    • actually anti-lock. One of the fundamental problems with discs on a bike is very little energy storage as compared to caliper brakes. Since humans don’t have a motor like a car or motorcycle, the energy storage is actually an advantage.

      That does not prevent lots of companies making lots of money from consumers who treat automobile and bicycle technology as a 1:1 transfer.

  3. There has always design and equipment development for bikes. Sometimes rather slow, but compare a road bike from say the 60s with one of today ! Very little has NOT evolved or developed over the intervening fifty three years, and most would agree for the better.
    In the end manufacturers and the market will decide.

  4. There are also some important safety innovations going on out there. A Swedish company whose name I’ve forgotten has a new helmet designed to reduce the risk of concussions, something the current helmet standards out there do not address right now. I recently became aware that Cerevellum, which has been making displays that connect to rear view cameras for a while now, is working to integrate GPS functionality. That will make it competitive with Garmin and similar devices, and I think will eventually lead to rear view cameras becoming available from the other device manufacturers. I’ve never used more than basic speedometer on my bike, but I think I would consider buying one of the more expensive units if it had rear view camera, especially for riding my tandem with one of my kids on the back.

    • I have one of those helmets with the rotational force harness. What I like about it is it is more a helmet and less a cap sitting on top of my head. That’s me though..

      Also not sure about what research there is about cyclists and rotational force injuries. It might do nothing given the crash circumstances.

      IMHO, wait for the patent-free implementation of the harness in 2015. Specialized will be sure to copy/steal it by then!

    • I don’t get the anti-concussion helmets. If we fell off our bikes and hit our heads at relatively low speeds several times a ride, casuing injuries like footballers, then concussion becomes an issue. But we don’t. We hit our heads at high speed a few times in our lives. Current helmets cater for that.

      • RayG,

        There are all kinds of crashes and some end up being the worst kind with a sudden stop. You just never know.

        Not saying the rotational force feature is better. I really don’t know and hopefully I never have to test it to find out.

  5. Although, no question riding my all carbon fiber bike with light wheels and a newer Dura-Ace group
    is a pure pleasure and we are all thankful for the technology break throughs which bring us some expensive and efficient cycling tools.

    Yet, I do appreciate and love the days sweating and straining up the local hills looking down while riding at the magnificent craftsmanship of my vintage steel frames.

    Just call me a steel romantic.

  6. What about things like automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes? To the extent that the components of the bike are becoming electronic, it seems that connecting their controls to an iphone or like device is not far down the road. (Brakes are not curently electronic, but with the move to hydraulics, it’s not difficult to get there)

    I’ve been wondering why there are no heads-up displays for a while. It’s amazing to me that a TT guy who has spent months in a wind tunnel perfecting position and helmet design looks down for 2-3 seconds, leaving the tail of the helmet pointing upward directly into the wind.

    Another that is probably further down the road is adaptive materials for frames – ie. those that can change their physical characteristics (stiffness, compliance, etc.) based on electrical current input. Would allow you to either build a ‘generic’ frame and tailor the properties to a specific rider or else change the handling/suspension characteristics of the bike during a ride based on road conditions.

    • Can’t see automatic transmission becoming a thing in race bikes.

      A lot of the time, you change gears in anticipation of what you’re about to do (climb, sprint) rather than what you’re currently doing.

      About the only plausible fully automatic gearing system for racing bicycles is a CVT, but the NuVinci is heavy as hell and almost certainly less efficient than a well-maintained derailleur drivetrain.

      ABS maybe, though, again, they’re likely to be least useful for racers and there may also be calls to ban them on the basis that they take the skill out of braking (as has happened in most motor racing categories).

    • connecting controls to an iPhone? ooerr.. I wouldn’t fancy the chances of being hacked – hey actually, maybe the DS can sit in the team car and release Wiggins/Pinot’s brakes on the descents!

  7. We tend to fixate on high-end bikes when talking about innovation but perhaps there will be change at the lower end too. Current composite frame production is too labour-intensive for cheap utilitarian bikes even at far east prices, but this potential market is so large that it could see the introduction of capital-intensive, labour saving technologies such as automated fiber emplacement and high pressure resin injection. High-end glass fibers and tough plastics would do for this and cost much less than HM carbon. Inexpensive and comparatively light parts produced in this way could make city bikes more attractive. Perhaps people would actually even want to ride them.

  8. Weight limits were put in place to ensure the ultimate supremacy of human over machine. Where do you draw the line at the lightness of a bike? The idea of capped (floored?) lower limits of weight keeps this sport real – everything else is concept racing and is best served on showroom floors and niche markets. I don’t care if the winner of a race is 10 seconds faster on a 7 kg bike than if s/he finished 10 seconds faster on a 5 kg bike; that 100% effort is just as rewarding for the athlete and entertaining for the fan (let’s not forget that bike racing is entertainment, to quote Dan Martin, Garmin-Sharp 2013). Sure, there was a time when upping the tech made sense (more than one gear, derailleurs, integrated shifters) but to a point. Like everything, there’s a limit, a plateau, a place of diminished returns. You want to watch a race where the bikes don’t have wheels anymore because the darn thing hovers? Not sure what the point of the athlete will be when we’ve reached this level of madness…

    Too much high(er) tech leaves that much more to be desired, and break. It might be worth having an economist step in and study/plot/graph at what point it becomes superfluous, nay, counteroductive, to keep upping stuff. I say an economist because they have the strangest assessments of the strangest studies revealing more often than not counterintuitive assessments; everything from the falacy of adding more lanes to improve traffic flow to accurately pinpointing when any city will fail. Heady stuff, but I bet we’re just about as far as we want to go with bikes before it all becomes….stupid…

    Cycling was never meant to be a niche (elitest) sport. Expense drives many away from, say, hockey nowadays; this shouldn’t happen to cycling. I am absolutely behind LBS support, but cycling is more than the machine. I fear the time when we can no longer service our rides at any level. So much for hanging out with our fellow cyclists/family/friends in our own workspace and grow as human, repairing our souls while repairing our rides. Might as well rent the super duper über düper bike instead of paying a minimum $10,000 and hand it back at the end of the ride, every time…and then go hang out…somewhere… What do I do now when I break down on the road having lost all manner of self-sufficiency? Oh, that’s right, the good ‘ol shop is just a call away – via touchy tappy voice activated brainwave modulated HUD supermaglasses – and will dispatch that sag wagon….just for you….for a fee on top of the other running fees. This all assumes you have the latest version of software in all those contraptions to allow that call to be made in the first place.

    I’m not defeatest, but the common factor in all of this is us. Let’s keep it that way.

    • It doesn’t really matter all that much what the rules say or where the equipment boundaries are drawn, there will be those that invest large sums to deliver marginal equipment gains within those boundaries and such product will still not be financially attainable by mere mortals.

      Manufacturers are looking for marketing collateral/perception of leadership/innovation to sell their brand and drive profitability and at the other end of the (non) profit oriented spectrum, just look at the “consumer” pricing of British Cycling’s track bikes.

      What cycling was or was not meant to be isn’t really all that relevant any more. It’s a professional sport driven by money, as are manufacturers. Even the sport’s rules now make it financially impossible for a small local frame manufacturer/craftsman to have their product raced on.

      Technology and innovation moves on in all walks of life, and cycling is no different. Too many rose coloured retro-scopes I think. Or do you want to go back to those itchy old jerseys and ride on a crummy old style chamois.

      Still, no one is forcing you to keep up with the Jones. 🙂

    • I remember an article about weight limits about two years ago! There was agreement between UCI and a manufacturer (rare!) that too light is a safety risk, considering cross winds! Also it would be fine for climbing to have a super light frame, but a heavier frame would be quicker in the descent! As a result, there seems to be agreement of a happy balance with the current weight limit. My own road bike weighs roughly 7.2kg and once while riding into a 40-50 km ph headwind had my front wheel lifting in the air and had to put my face over the handlebars in order to keep the wheel on the ground! In fact, there is not a single racer I know who is looking for more lightness, just more power!

    • Also the wording seems unusual

      “3 National Championships, 17 Tour De Frances”

      Even if we ignore the grammatical error of “Frances”. The way this is written indicates he won 3 National Champs and 17 Tour De France.

      • I am as disappointed as anyone else regarding Hincapie’s (and Zabriski’s) admissions, but he was a professional bike racer in a sport of dopers, on a team of dopers. He and everyone else in the sport had two choices: dope or do something else. I think that individual judgement will be about how they confessed. Hincapie, to my knowledge, never considered lying once the jig was up.

          • No offense, Noel, but LA is worth about $125,000,000. So, I don’t believe that anyone can accurately call him an idiot. The majority willing to cheat or break the law, will lie when initially caught. Hincapie and Zabrisky, I believe, both told the truth right from the beginning. Different moral motivation, but both confessed without a fight.

            On the other hand, there is a long list of cyclists that have resisted the truth; LA, the Chicken, Landis, Hamilton, Rico, etc., etc.

            One can compare the whole lot of professional cyclists in demographic groups relating to their stance on doping; caught or not, admission or denial, type of admission and type of denial. Because, the list of professional cyclists that have not ever doped is extremely short (mine contains, with conviction, Obree, Basson and some guy from Finland or Norway who’s name I can never remember).

          • LM I take your point, I was being facetious.
            You do need to be a little careful with your assumptions however. You or I have no idea what LA is worth (it’s probably so complicated even his accountants would struggle to put a number out there although I’m not sure a bloke worth ‘about 125m’ would flog his house on the cheap).
            And we don’t know who has definitively not doped over the years – you may think the list is short but that is pure conjecture – as has been rehashed many times, one of the frustrations of this (particularly for the riders) is that it is impossible to prove a negative. Why are we in this situation? lots of reasons, but one of the bigger ones is LA, and for that I’ll still call him an idiot!

  9. I think Brian is pointing out that whoever’s advertising guff this image comes from is trying to create an image of technological superiority etc, and it’s rather blown away by the fact that they really don’t know their arse from their elbows…

  10. My biggest disappointment with the bike of the future is that it’s form will have a lot less to do with function than the missions of the sales and marketing departments.

  11. Remember that in spite of the carbon, discs, electronic shifting, tubeless tires etc., etc. you still wind up with your old crummy motor, the most important component of all.

    • Of course. But look at cars, there are many motoring purists who want the simple experience but the market is dominated by machines with electric windows, aircon and increasing sophistication of electronics.

  12. If I was wondering what’s behind the increasing interest in bici d’ epoca (think L’Eroica in Tuscany and other events like this) the picture of the two-wheeled contraption at the top of the page explains it. For me the enjoyment of cycling has a lot to do with the fact my speed (or lack thereof) has very little to do with the “technological development” of the bike I’m riding, making a well-made steel frame, aluminum rims laced up with wire spokes more than adequate and enjoyable for the rest of my cycling days.

    • Some 10 years ago my local bike shop built my dream bike for me: similar to your idea, it is an Italian hand-built steel frame with Campag, aluminiumrims/steel spokes. It is a bike I deeply cherish owning and riding, particularly on windier days as I find its weight brings greater stability. In the intervening years I have become the owner of a more modern bike, still Italian but carbon with lighter, faster wheels. As a rider, I am distinctly average; I neither race nor use Strava, yet there remains a clear, and for me conclusive, difference between my two bikes: long days in the saddle take less effort, and are therefore more enjoyable, on my carbon bike, when compared to my steel equivalent.

  13. Love the talk of the Future, I remember Tomorrow’s World on the BBC as a kid and now in 2013 I still rely on petrol to get to work. However, my dream machine of the future will be bespoke steel with Campag and handbuilts. I know my limits and that combo isn’t going to hold me back.

  14. Peloton magazine did a tech survey during the summer where they asked 20 tech questions to the Product Managers and Engineers of almost every brand. One of the questions was related to where do the ‘experts’ see the future in terms of innovation. A key response from the manufacturers was that they have only scratched the surface of what can be achieved with carbon/composite materials. I guess that will continue to be one of the key areas of innovation for years to come!

  15. I feel that including electric components in the drive train of a bicycle is completely wrong – this is meant to be cycling, not MotoGP.

    All the electronic shifting should be banned from racing. Take the point InRng makes about plugging in the frame to charge and download data – the on board computer would then be connected to the shifting. Link GPS, a stored stage profile, current rider wattage and electronic shifting and you have the computer changing the gears for you (or worse still the DS in the following car doing it remotely when he thinks you should be trying harder).

  16. Potentially the biggest gains brought by technology to the recreational cyclist could lie with the automobile industry. Firstly improved collision detection systems and ultimately the a driverless car.

  17. It’s probably always going be a slow process as the majority of bikes will have to wait for the trickle down and new advances are going to take a while to go from the professional peloton to the cafe rider. I agree that the lower price point and variety of options for power meters is probably going to bring it into the realms of possibility for a lot more people.

    But I guess that it will all become clear in time 🙂 maybe in a few years, titanium will be king again?

  18. Tubeless tyres, for me jury is stil out. I’ve been reluctant to put them back on the road bike, not least because it’s incredibly hard work and if you add sealant into the mix, will be incredibly hard and messy work. Wouldn’t lke to try and fix a flat on the roadside in the middle of winter. Also makes for swaping tyres around hard work. Very tempted to give open tubs a try first.

    • I’ve been using tubeless for two years now. The new Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tyres are reasonably grippy & supple and unlike those hutchy Fusion 3s don’t give me thumb blisters during installation.

      “Open tubular” seems to just be a marketing label for clinchers.

  19. Buddy of mine has an electric coat. A “Milwaukee Tool” slim-fit coat that you plug one of their batteries into a pocket & set it for low medium or high.
    Not really a bike, but put a longer tail, rear pockets & slap a Skil Shimano logo on there that might have been handy for some Milan-Sanremo this year.

  20. Are we not in danger of putting the cost of a bike out of the reach of the average rider? Also, we should be seeing some honest testing of these new products – disc brakes in particular – before the big companies start to push them on us. Why doesn’t a cycling magazine employ some experst (and I mean scientifically qualified) to test them? Is the extra power really necessary on a road bike? What are the disadvantages? Proper INDEPENDENT scientific testing now and informing the bike buying public could save a lot of strife in the future.

    • Testing is complicated and being independent harder given publications are dependent on ad revenue. Even the best wine experts can be consistently fooled simply by replacing the label on the bottle. Clearly expert bike reviewers know what they’re doing but they’re human too. The good news is that a lot of bike parts today are excellent, the days of bad design and frequent failures are hopefully vanishing.

  21. Two ideas/questions

    Will we ever see:
    1. Bike weight limit relative to rider weight; and
    2. Batteries for electronics (shifting, etc.) recharged by the drivetrain?

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