From advanced cycling computers that monitor nearly everything to smart helmets, wearable lights, and GPS trackers that help recover stolen bikes, technology is everywhere in the cycling world. So much so, in fact, that it can be hard to narrow down just what is a must-have and what’s extraneous fluff.
“With technology and cycling, you’re going to find things you like and don’t like,” says Dylan Carrico, a service mechanic at Bike Gallery in downtown Portland, Ore. “There’s always answers for all of those things — there’s just more answers now.”
For some of the best tech cycling answers out there, check out these 10 ways that technology is transforming cycling. Whether cars see you better or you just find a more enjoyable way to pedal to work, you’ll be glad you did.
Apps for all that – Strava, Weather Underground, Dark Sky, and St. John Ambulance
Like every sport or activity these days, there’s no shortage of apps that can make cycling that much more enjoyable, practical, and fun. The list of good ones is a long one, but start with Strava (iOS, Android) to easily plot, track, and share all your rides. No cyclist is set without a good weather app either, so try Weather Underground (Android, iOS) or Dark Sky (Android, iOS). Accidents can happen anywhere, so it’s wise to have a first aid app on hand, such as St. John Ambulance (Android, iOS, Blackberry), and if your rig gives you grief, try Bike Doctor (iOS), an easy-to-use guide for most bike maladies.
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Would-be commuters turned off by the prospect of arriving to work sweaty and spent are among those who have begun to see the light of pedal assists. Essentially a small electric drive system that engages when you pedal to help give you an extra boost, pedal assist kits or bikes have become more prolific as their technology has improved. Carrico likes models from Bosch best, but says Shimano and other manufacturers aren’t far behind. “We’re seeing a lot more of these all the time,” he says. Read our full review here.
Light the way – Revolights ($199) and Garmin Varia ($200)
You’d think that a bike light is a bike light, but you’d be wrong. In this day and age, options for how you illuminate not only your route but yourself are as varied and advanced as they come. “It’s not about those little store-bought lights that take 10 AA batteries anymore,” Carrico says. Revolights are a new take on lighting up your bike, offering a unique forward light and a functioning brake light that blinks when you change your speed. Bright LED lights from companies like Blackburn or Axiom have also taken illumination to a new level, and Garmin’s Varia Smart Bike Light automatically adjusts based on speed and surrounding light conditions. What’s more, most new lights are rechargeable via a standard USB charger. Read our Garmin Varia review here.
It almost seems quaint, the idea that people in an urban area could walk up to a bike rack, unlock a bike for a small fee, ride across town, and then drop the bike off again. But that’s just how modern-day bike share programs work. In Portland, Ore., for example, the recently-launched Biketown placed 1,000 bright orange bikes at 100 stations throughout the inner urban core. Users download the Biketown app (iOS and Android), and, for $2.50 for 30 minutes, grab a bike from a rack and pedal away. They’re able to return the bikes, which feature solar-powered LCD displays, to racks all over the service area. And New York City has a similar service, Citibike ($12 – $155), subsidized by the banking giant.
Be heard – Hornit dB140 ($32) and Loud Bicycle ($149)
Ever wish you could be not only seen but heard while you’re pedaling through downtown? There is technology out there to help with the latter in a big, bold way. Loud cycling horns are becoming more and more mainstream with the advent of devices from companies like Hornit (“The world’s loudest cycle horn”!) and Loud Bicycle. Though Loud Bicycle’s horn, which claims to be as loud as a car horn, will only be available for preorder in August 2016, its volume seems like it would be pretty impressive and effective. The same goes for Hornit’s horns, which are available for order from the UK now.
Lock and load – Skylock ($179)
It’s a shame we even have to worry about bike locks, but we do. Luckily these days, they’ve gotten better than ever. Skylock, which should finally be available in October 2016, utilizes some of the latest technology to keep your bike safe. The lock connects to your phone, which eliminates the need for a key, gives you the heads-up if someone is trying to make off with your bike, and even notifies your contacts if you’re in a crash. Even better? The built-in solar panel charges the battery. Read more here.
Even the best bike locks can have weaknesses. Should a thief find a way around yours, modern GPS technology offers a way to help get your bike back. Companies like Spybike make covert GPS tracking devices that clip on your seatpost or act as a light. Bluetooth-enabled, the trackers will detect unauthorized movement of the bike, shoot you an SMS alert, and start tracking your bike so the authorities can help you find it safely.
Don’t let all the energy you create when riding go to waste. The Atom, by Siva Cycle, is a tidy little power generator that attaches to your bike and captures the power in a battery pack that can be used to charge up any USB-compatible devices.
Techno threads – LifeBEAM Smart Helmet ($200) and Zackees Turn Signal gloves ($75)
Wearable technology is becoming all the rage, and that includes in the world of cycling. Plenty of heart monitors and other activity trackers are available on the market. One of the latest is the LifeBEAM smart helmet, which not only protects your noggin, but also monitors your heart rate, calories, and overall performance. Californian company Zackees makes rechargeable turn signal gloves for cyclists, and Swedish company Hövding makes a low-profile bike helmet that’s more like an airbag for your head. Read our full Zackees review here.
Low tech – Donkey Products 6PACK (40 euros)
OK, so these last few may not be setting the tech world on fire, but there’s something to be said about innovation in cycling. For those who like to bike to barbecues, tailgates, or other social gatherings, companies like Donkey Products make stylish six-pack and wine bottle holders for your bike, while reams of high-design cupholders make it easy to bring coffee, soda, or any old libation along for the ride. Now that’s smart innovation.