Smart bikes are big news in bike design today. With the digitalisation of our society, every part of our life can apparently be improved or enhanced with an app. The humble two-wheeled bicycle isn’t going to disappear soon but it is getting more than its fair share of attention from innovators and entrepreneurs who see the potential of bicycling claiming a far bigger role in transportation in progressive cities and towns.
The ebike is leading the race in development of smart tech. Sales are booming international for electrified commuter bikes, touring bikes and mountain bikes (eMTBs). When a motor and battery is added to a bike, it opens up bike riding to a much larger audience, cycling becomes far more accessible. But a basic ebike is only a little smart, real intelligence is being delivered with sequential improvements of ebike technology and by integrating of other technology which helps the bike better cater to the riders needs… and wants.
The race for a better ebike motor has the brands trying to create a lighter and more compact motor unit while battery manufactures seek to create more efficient and longer lasting batteries. Eventually the powerful motors will shrink and become almost invisible while the ‘on and off’ boost effect prevalent with all of the ebike motor brands will be improved so that power-assisted pedalling becomes seamless.
Alongside ebike motor development, assistive technology is making great strides. Spanning from integrated technology such as electronic shifting and motor controls through to independent software and hardware solutions which connect such as indoor trainers, cyclists are being bombarded with options.
An exciting example of assistive technology was launched this year by Continental. They can be classed as a newcomer to ebike but are raising the bar with their 48er revolution. This is an ebike motor with integrated gearing within the motor unit. It doesn’t stop there, they are licensing the Nuvinci planetary gear system which is stepless so provides a large range of gears without the predefined gearing available in classic derailleur gears or an internal geared hub.
Continental 48V revolution with motor and stepless gear
Example of the Nuvinci planetary gear (no motor)
The real magic happens when the system is set to change gears by itself, the principle is that a rider naturally chooses a pedalling pace (cadence) and irrespective of whether they are then riding up hill, on flat terrain or downhill, the gears will naturally adjust so that the bike rider can maintain the same cadence. By understanding the cycling environment (based on rider-input), bikes are becoming intelligent and thus free the rider who simply can simple ride.
Assistive technology also happens beyond the motor, for example it is already common practice to use the onboard battery to power bike lighting. But because of the onboard power – this is increasingly opening connectability to accommodate other electronics and devices such as smart phones. COBI is a young startup based in Frankfurt with an electronic solution they call “The first connected biking system”. It plugs into the ebike battery and becomes a dock for the smart-phone – The mounting unit includes a front light while the phone can take over functions from navigation through to a bike security while their smart-phone app is open to allow developers to connect up their own useful tools. COBI is not alone but on the back of a positive market reception are extending their integration with ebike systems and offering a ‘convenient’ smart bike solution.
ABS – Coming to a Bike Near You!
ABS is another technological advancement for bikes which relies on the available power and is pushed as a solution to increase rider safety. At the world’s biggest bike show, the Eurobike trade show in southern Germany, three companies presented ABS braking solutions; Bosch, Continental and Brake Force One (BFO).
Bosch has already established itself internationally as the leading brand of ebike motors (Shimano Steps is regarded as the nearest competitor). As a massive supplier to industry and consumers across different industries, Bosch so can tap internal expertise and technology to push smart bike development. At Eurobike, Bosch presented their first generation ABS, Anti-Lock Braking solution for ebikes.
Bosch double rotor for brakes and sensor
The prominent control unit for the Bosch ABS braking system
The ABS unit comprises of a relatively large control unit mounted in front of the headset on the bike. This junction houses the connection between the hydraulic brake levers and disc brakes and from inside the control unit, braking can be regulated to prevent the wheels from locking and thus, improve safety and handing.
Fouad Bennini is the Asia Pacific manager for Bosch ebike systems
The Bosch ABS system utilises a disc brake with two rotors; a braking rotor coupled with a second, smaller rotor which is used to sense the wheel speed. When a different wheel speed is detected between the front and back wheels, the ABS kicks-in and regulates braking. ABS also takes control under is heavy front braking to avoid the rear wheel from lifting.
Bosch ABS double rotor with Magura brakes
The robust brakes on the Bosch ABS system are from Magura who are a well regarded brand for brakes in Mountain Biking and have been increasing focussed on high performance brakes for commuting and ebikes. It is worth noting that ABS braking for bikes have a lot of similarities wth ABS brakes for motorcyclists, Bosch are drawing on two decades experience in motorcycle ABS braking.
Continental are in prototype-phase in developing their own ABS system which is similar in concept to the Bosch solution with a prominent control box and double-rotors. Like Bosch, Continental have also been involved in developing ABS braking systems for motorbikes which gives both of these brands a head-start over their competition.
Continental ABS concept – control box
Double rotor on the Continental ABS system
These two technological giants are however not alone, (yet) another Germany company is bringing an ABS solution to the market. Brake Force One, known as BFO, have created a complete smart bike solution which they sell directly to brands (OEM). The BFO Anti-Lock Braking system differs, firstly it features a compact control unit which is mounted on the front fork. Secondly, the BFO solution doesn’t require the ‘double’ rotor, instead they incorporate a speed sensor mounted on the disc brake calipers.
BFO smart bike concepts available for other bike brands
ABS controller from BFO, nicely packaged on the suspension fork
The first generation of buyers are likely to be silver-haired bay-boomers after recreational and touring ebikes and ample cash for all of the bells and whistles. Don’t expect to see ABS on a (production) road bike or mountain bike hit the shelves soon, but if you think ahead, it is easy to imagine mountain bikers becoming interested in this technology, it promises to stop the brakes from locking and regulates braking to prevent slipping on loose terrain.
Powering Sports Cyclists
If you haven’t heard about the global popularity of eMTBs you must be sleeping under a rock. In Europe, electric Mountain Bikes continue to be a massive growth market whilein Australia, eMTBs is still a young market. All of the big brands and many of the smaller ones have eMTBs in their catalogues. The legal 250 watt motors are proving to be sufficient, helping riders up the hills even though the battery and motor in both size and weight costs power.
BMC Trailfox AMP eMTB
Ebike motors and batteries are already getting smaller and lighter but how long will it be until they are invisible? If you think about ‘mechanical doping’ the technology is more advanced that you may presume; from the conspiracy theory surrounding professional road cyclists Fabian Cancellara in 2010 (with the Gruber-Assist) to UCI testing for ‘technological fraud’ and even the detection of a Vivax-Assist motor in 2016 in the bike of a Belgium CycloCross rider who was subsequently banned for 6 years.
The average road cyclist cringes at the thought of fellow riders using an electric motor. But it won’t be long until road bikes with concealed motors can hit the mainstream. But it is not about competing and using motors to cheat rather they provide access to recreation cyclists who would otherwise be left behind. An unassuming motor can, for example, allow a senior rider to keep up with a group or make it easier for riders with different levels of strength to enjoy riding together.
Maserati e-powered road bike (cooperation with Diavelo)
Fazua is a young brand entering the market by launcheing their own bottom bracket integrated motor, it is a conscious move away from the large motor units which are synonymous with ebikes and towards a far smaller and lighter motor unit that fits better into standard bike geometry. Instead of delivering raw power, the Fazua is subtle and wants to attract cyclists with it’s seamless integration, both with the compact motor and also with a more gentle pedal assistance. Though the end-result is still an ebike, sports bikes such as road bikes benefit by being able to retain the optimal frame geometry while and ride-handling.
Philipp Kalläne, R&D with Fazua
Fazua powered Impuls concept bike
Train Harder, Train Smarter
Since the Australian launch in 2015, Zwift is continuing their evolution of indoor cycling training. The premise is virtual training and racing, as you cycling on your indoor trainer you are connected with other riders. Through a computer (and TV) you are part of a 3D world where you can participate in group rides or competitive events. The otherwise boring or monotonous indoor training sessions are suddenly more exciting and stimulating. As indoor trainers get smarter and can record more data, Zwift takes on this data to make the experience as realistic as possible. In fact, brands who manufacturer indoor cycle trainers are keenly observing the interest in immersive ‘style’ training to ensure they remain on the cusp of this rapidly developing market.
The Zwift indoor training is booming
Tacx are taking the indoor cycling experience a step further with their ‘Magnum’, a treadmill for cyclists with a twist. When a rider accelerates fast enough, the treadmill raises to simulate an incline. The unit includes a large screen, it records all manner of data and can also connect with a host of popular training apps. Competitor Wahoo is also innovating and their Kickr indoor trainer now comes with an optional accessory which lifts the front wheel to simulate an incline. How long will it be until we see cornering or varying road surfaces available in the repertoire of training environments? Just wait until they build in a coffee machine, you will never need to head out on the roads again.
Tacx Magnum elevates 15% adding a real incline during indoor training
Beyond the Bike
Smart phones and incessant desire to tap, check, swipe, share, like, snap and tweet means that these devices are the obvious tool to control everything that is digital. Beyond the bike, the bike accessories are trying to find ways to hand over control to your iPhone, Samsung, Google, Nokia or whatever brand you use. Security brand Master Lock offers a bluetooth enabled locks simply unlock via your smart phone and get notifications if there is unauthorised tampering. It provides the ability to manage multiple locks via app and to share access to the lock with friends.
Master Lock app controlled bluetooth lock
Strava has already stablished itself a a ‘Garmin Replacement’ so Garmin are racing to stock up the features of their premium cycle computers. The latest Garmin Edge 1030 can be expanded with a power-pack to dramatically increase the battery life and also expands the training programs and features for ‘data-nerds’.
Garmin Edge 1030 with powerpack to extend range
Premium bicycle pump brand Silca are soon releasing the Tattico mini-pimp ($120 USD) which allows you to observe the exact tyre pressure through their iGuage smartphone app. Rather than relying a mini-pump as a backup to simply get you home after a puncture, the additional digital information (and quality of the pump) provides certainty and repeatability. With up to 120psi, the Silca Tattico out-performs the Airace bluetooth mini-pump which costs less than half, but can only reach 80psi.
Josh Poertner has revitalised the traditional Italian brand Silca
A lot of ‘classic’ brands know that they will be left behind if they don’t innovate and digitalise, Rohloff is a well-loved brand of internal geared hubs and they have added electronic shifting to their Speedhub 500/14. The E-14 (currently) relies on the Bosch mid-motor drives for power and also connects into the system for automatic gear changes.
Rohloff goes digital with the E-14 for digital gear changes
Australian cycling accessory brand knog has released a new light and accessory system called PWR. Initially it was pinned as an outdoor range of interchangeable gadgets which, however didn’t gather the reception that they hoped. The range has been refined and is centred around a series of bike lights with interchangeable power-packs and light-heads. It allows riders to choose the light ‘brightness’ and power capacity to suit their ride. The batteries also double as external power sources to load other electronic devices plus, the bike lights have an app (of course) to let you adjust the lighting sequences.
Knog PWR lights mix-and-match to suit the rider
Backup power source from the knog PWR range
A smart bike and its accessories don’t necessarily need to be the result of digital or electronic advances. Mechanical and material improvements however are much slower and a rarely considered to be features which are intelligent, even when you have a better bike and a better cycling experience. But if a smart bike is functional, the increasing availability of folding bikes, cargo bikes and other utilitarian bikes and accessories are contributing towards a culture of smarter cycling. In the up-coming articles on Bicycles Network Australia we will take a closer look at these trends.
Title Photo: Nils Niederheide with the €75,000 Bugatti Bicycle