Reinventing the wheel: How smart need your pushbike be?

17 Mar 2015

Our mobile-hungry age has seen many a free activity hijacked by countless, needless smart technologies. Cycling may well be the worst of the lot.

No longer can you simply purchase a bike, a lock, a helmet and off you go. Now we need computers, specifically engineered tyres and lycra. Oh, for the lycra.

Then there are the gloves, clip-on shoes, hydration mechanisms, GPS systems and smart technology. We just love smart technology.

But just how smart can your bike be? To what lengths do people go to in order to satisfy their thirst for all things technology? Well here are plenty of ways to add to your bike’s intellect.

Bike computers

One of the precursors to the modern cycling world, bike computers have been around a surprisingly long time. Now they exist at both ends of the shopping spectrum, and they’re apparently key to your riding experience. How fast are you going? How fast did you go last time? How long did that climb take? What gradient is the surface? So many questions that were you not to know the answer to, you would presumably fall on your face.

Even the most basic computers read speeds, times and dates. Some of the better ones use GPS, live maps and alert systems. You can spend big by going for touchscreen Garmins which do more things than you could possibly ever need, or go cheap, picking up €5 versions in Lidl (my choice), but don’t go out cycling without one, you could get lost. Forever.

Smart pedals

A place for your feet to propel your bike, or a smart piece of kit, tracking your every movement? Connected Cycle’s ‘smart’ pedals have built-in GPS trackers that alert you over the phone whenever your bike has been moved from where you left it, and tells you where it is now.

Also, on a daily basis, the pedals automatically record the speed, route, incline, and calories burned on each bike trip. It’s a bit similar to what a good bike computer does …

All about the wristbands

Wristbands are all the rage across any form of exercise activity. There are all kinds of devices, now. There’s Samsung’s Gear Fit, Jawbone’s UP3, the Fitbit Flex, the Pebble, LG’s gear, upcoming Microsoft health bands and of course the Apple Watch.

To varying degrees these can all monitor your heart rate, work out your caloric usage, track you, time you and sync with your smartphone.

Quite similar to the pedals, and computers actually.

Clever headwear

Adding intelligence to your helmet may seem a spurious use of engineering and innovation, but why not improve on something so many cyclists rely on?

LifeBEAM launched a fairly innovative ‘Smart Helmet’ last autumn. This helmet offers “aerospace-grade heart rate and calorie consumption measurements” and can last for 15 hours of continuous use before you need to recharge it. Before you need to recharge your helmet. On your head.

Still, it’s worth waiting around while it charges, as you can download things such as heart rate readings, cadence and calories via Bluetooth.

That’s quite similar to pedals, wristbands and computers …


Helios has made handlebars that, again, allow you to smarten up that bike ride. With a built-in powerful headlight, GPS tracker, rear lights (at the base of the handle, facing behind you) and Bluetooth compatibility.

In fact, the rear-facing lights can even tell you which way to go. When incorporated with your smartphone app, it uses Google Maps’ API. So when you start pedalling, the lights blink to let you know when to turn left or right.

Elsewhere, Vanhawks’ bike takes it to a whole new level. The handlebars in this instance warn you when there’s a car too close to you, alerting you via “haptic” feedback, basically vibrating handlebars.

Strong security

There are endless options to utilise smart technology with bike security. There’s BitLock, “the world’s first keyless bike lock to enable low-cost peer-to-peer bike sharing” which opens when your smartphone is nearby. Lock8 opens in a similar way.

In truth, as far as security goes with regard to bikes, tracking mechanisms are the only realistic aides to cyclists. Having them hidden, therefore, is key.

In that regard, SpyBike is a “covert” tracking device hidden inside the frame of your bike, allowing you to track your bike if it has been stolen.

There are even wheels

The Copenhagen Wheel is perhaps the strangest bike integration on the list. Installed onto your bike, it contains a motor, batteries, sensors, wireless support and “an embedded control system”.

By “learning” your pedal technique, it can add three to 10 times your pedal power “seamlessly”, making “hills feel flat and distances shrink”.

Sensors, clothes and even more information

How about the Smoozi connected cycling clothing? When utilised with the smartphone app, the shorts and top read your heart rate, speed, cadence and body heat, saving all the information on your phone.

Cityzen, the company behind the products, apparently has a partnership in place for the shorts to be used at this year’s Tour de France.

“We have the best integrated technology to embed sensors within textiles. Our architecture lets you leverage the power of textiles as a platform: the right sensors at the right locations.”

Then, after getting the computer, pedals, helmets, locks, clothing, handlebars, wheels and wristwear you can go out and cycle, safe in the knowledge that generations of cyclists before you were sitting on idiots. Your bike is the smart one.

Smart technology on a bike image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic