Endless revolutions: a whistlestop tour of innovation in cycling

Innovation in cycling is a wonderful thing. It is also a very paradoxical thing. On the one hand, cycling is strongly associated with innovation, both in the competitive cycling world and in urban cycling contexts. On the other hand, bicycle technology has remained remarkably fixed over time: a bicycle bought today is likely to have much in common with a bicycle bought over a hundred years ago.

cycling Innovation

Left: 1902 bicycle (Image: "bicycle" by paukrus is licensed under CC BY 2.0) and Right: 2015 bicycle (Image: from Cafe du Cycliste promotional shoot)

Here at Always Riding we’re keen to keep on top of the latest innovations in the cycling world and share them with our community of riders from across the globe. Read on for a quick spin around the theme of innovation in cycling, taking in the particular sights of the latest urban cycle parking solution to land in the UK, the innovative (and increasingly global) grassroots urban cycle organisation Cyclehack, and a Kickstarter-funded (and Always Riding supported) invention which could revolutionise urban cycle navigation.

Cycling Infrastructure

Beeline - this pocket-sized device could start a revolution in urban cycle navigation (Image: Beeline)

In competitive cycling, innovation has always been a key means to gain an advantage over opponents. Where these innovations are technological, they then typically ‘filter down’ for use by (and the benefit of) non-professional cyclists, enabling us mortals to enhance our performance or ride experience with tech designed for the pros. A good example of where this has happened recently is electronic gear shifting, which is now available to anyone with a few hundred quid burning a hole in their pocket.

Cycling Infrastructure

Ultegra Di2 rear derailleur (Image: "Di2" by Bob Ryskamp is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

But innovation in a non-technological sense has also had a significant impact on the competitive cycling world in recent years. Dave Brailsford’s approach to improving Team Sky’s and British Cycling’s performance is well known and, one could argue, has played an instrumental role in reviving interest in cycling in the UK as a result of the two team’s successes in the Tour de France and Olympics respectively. By focusing on the smallest details which could impact on performance (from training on hand washing to minimise the likelihood of riders getting ill to ensuring riders used the same pillow when travelling around for better quality shut-eye), the team was able to make several small marginal gains which cumulatively had a significant impact (it is worth noting that the successful execution of Brailsford’s innovative marginal gains approach was also highly dependent on the application of technology).

Cycling Technology

Marginal gains from small changes in behaviour (including hand washing) contributed to Team Sky and British Cycling success (Image: "clean hands" by Arlington County is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

There is also an environment of healthy competition in the context of innovation in urban utility cycling, with Denmark and the Netherlands probably the most prolific countries in this respect. Recent examples include the Cykelslangen, an elevated cycle lane in Copenhagen which offers a safer, more convenient crossing of the harbour for cyclists (and also happens to look amazing!), the Hovenring, an innovative suspended cycle roundabout in the Netherlands which allows cyclists to cross a major junction safely and without delay, and innovative uses of traffic signals to benefit cyclists, such as the ‘Green Wave’ in Copenhagen (whereby cyclists get a green light at every junction the whole way into the city if they maintain a certain speed) and rain sensitive traffic lights which give priority to cyclists in bad weather (as used in parts of the Netherlands).

Cycling Infrastructure

The Hovenring, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (Image: "Larger-Aerial-of-Hovenring---Image-Courtesy---ipv-Delft" by Federation European Cyclists' is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A bit of innovative cycle infrastructure which we can now get excited about in the UK is automated cycle parking. Automated cycle parking has been around for some years in other countries (particularly Japan) and offers users greater convenience and security compared with more traditional cycle parking - you simply ‘park’ your bike at ground floor level and the system magically whisks the bike to super-secure storage, either in an above-ground ‘tower’ or underground storage area (no bulky locks necessary) - it really has to be seen to be believed.

Cycling Infrastructure

The future of cycle parking? The above-ground Eco Cycle automated secure cycle parking (Image: Eco Cycle)

Eco Cycle has just brought the first demonstrator model of its automated cycle parking system to the UK (next to Southwark tube station to be exact). As well as offering a high quality experience for users, the system is also expected to be attractive to those tasked with providing adequate cycle parking for growing cycling numbers in urban areas, including local authorities and developers. One big advantage of the system is that it offers significant space savings at ground floor level, where demand for space is at a premium. We look forward to seeing the first non-demonstrator example of this technology in the UK.

Cycling Infrastructure

The underground configuration of the Eco Cycle automated secure cycle parking system - the system can store 204 bikes within a very small footprint (Image: Eco Cycle)

Another really exciting (but very different) innovation for urban cyclists is an organisation called Cyclehack. Traditionally, provision for cyclists in urban areas has been provided in a ‘top-down’ manner - cycle routes are planned and implemented by the local authority and bikes and accessories are designed and produced by manufacturers from within the bike industry. Cyclehack takes a different approach, encouraging and enabling users (i.e. urban cyclists) to come together and think up solutions to particular issues affecting their ability to cycle. These solutions could be based on providing new, innovative technology (physical or digital), changing policy to improve conditions for cycling or organising events or campaigns to enable positive changes to be made for cycling.

Cycling Infrastructure

A design for a cycle route through a pedestrian zone which encourages separation of pedestrian and cycle movement by having the cycle route at a slight incline (Image: "Kodazur: Bike Promenade" by Cyclehack)

Founded by friends Jo Holtan, Sarah Drummond and Matt Lowell after a conversation over coffee (aren’t all the best ideas formed in this way?), Cyclehack has grown from being a small, Glasgow-based organisation to being a large network of cyclists from several countries around the world who share ideas which solve problems related to everyday cycling. Based on events bringing people together to think up solutions to problems, the organisation has developed an open catalogue of ‘Cyclehacks’ which is free for anyone to view or add to. The Cyclehacks typically offer a simple (but often ingenious) solution to a well-defined problem: using a penny and elastic band to secure a skirt whilst riding, a ‘blind spot wrap’ which can be wrapped around the outside of vehicles to make it really obvious where the driver’s ‘blind spots’ are and an ‘anti-theft stink bomb’ (still at the development stage). If you haven’t come across Cyclehack yet we would definitely recommend checking out their website and maybe even considering putting on your own event next year if you’re really keen!

Cycling Tech

The Whatever Weather Campaign aims to change perceptions that the weather is a barrier to cycling, celebrate 'Wet Weather Warriors' and encourage fair weather cyclists to "be a badass on a bike" (Image: "Whatever Weather Campaign" by Cyclehack)

One of the great things about the day and age we live in is how feasible it is for individuals with a great idea to bring it to fruition through crowdfunding. A cycling innovation which we have been particularly excited by recently is the BeeLine, a handlebar mounted navigation device which lets you know the general direction you need to head in (like your own personal compass) without directing you along a specific route. We love the idea of being able to enjoy our surroundings and choose our route flexibly, picking streets which look attractive to cycle along and avoiding others which don’t, whilst knowing that we are headed in the right general direction, rather than either getting hopelessly lost relying on our internal compass/the sun/local landmarks or needing to meticulously stick to a route which may be hard to follow if you are unfamiliar with it. The BeeLine is a Kickstarter-funded project which we have proudly supported, and the BeeLine is expected to be available in August 2016 - we can’t wait!

Cycle Infrastructure

BeeLine - the smart navigation device for cyclists (Image: Beeline)

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About the Rider: Anne
Domestique-in-training, Anne’s unique selling points are her super-strong thumbs (a hangover from her days as a beefy bike mechanic) and her enthusiasm for cake (both baking and eating). When she isn’t sorting out returns or writing for the website she can be found working to make the transport system better for cycling (in her non-Always Riding role as a transport planner), fixing up friends’ bikes or enjoying the ride.
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