Bike technology: More than the Ordinary

Albert Pope introduced chainless bikes in 1897, but they were expensive and had other issues. Now they're back.


In my last column I asked “is bike innovation chasing its tail?” Probably so, but that doesn’t mean engineers have given up trying to make improvements. New materials and technologies will continue to be discovered and benefit cycling.

Here’s my technology wish list, and some that were invented, then abandoned.

Flat-free tires. OK, they’re already here (also tubeless) but the rub is reduced performance. I’m not sacrificing rolling resistance for flat-free riding, at least not on my performance bike. I once met an elderly fellow retracing the route of Thomas Stevens and he had his tires filled with expanding foam. No flats, but a bumpy ride.

36-spoke rims. Wait, didn’t we used to have these? And weren’t they so reliable that if you broke a spoke it was no big deal? And didn’t Mavic make the reliable MA2? (a rim that I still ride and has 100,000 miles). Leave those 16-spoke wheels for the pros.

Direct drive. Chains are a filthy nuisance. We have the elegant direct drive today, popular for a short time in the 1890s. Belt drive is another option, from Trek. These technologies have their issues, but they work reasonably well for around-town riding.

Biometric handlebars. I’m thinking of monitoring heart rate, oxygen uptake, etc. I’d also like to see speed, distance, grade, etc., built into the handlebar.

Safe cranks. They break all too often at the pedal eye. A tapered pedal opening (like car lug nuts) will fix this.

Light, strong frame. Of course I want my frame to be supple, as strong as steel, and to weigh two pounds. That would be unobtanium. Carbon fiber comes close but doesn’t last.

We all want our bikes to work flawlessly and without maintenance. It’s a pipe dream, like unobtanium, so enjoy your rides with what’s available now.

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