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Thursday, May 26, 2022

9 incredibly innovative cycling brands to watch

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Cycling is big business. Growing from a niche and somewhat left-field pursuit to something far more appealing to the general public, this transformation hasn’t escaped the attention of investors. Ten years ago, who would have imagined seeing adverts for a company with a premise as niche as Zwift plastered over daytime television? Or that the president of the United States would need his Peloton exercise bike modified to prevent it from being used to spy on him? Or that every production decision Brompton made would be picked over in the national newspapers? Not me. Otherwise, I’d have invested my cash more wisely and would be somewhere in the Bahamas rather than sitting in my jogging bottoms writing this for you now.


Either way, what’s increasingly clear is that cycling is attracting serious engagement from people who see its potential for continued growth. Along with this comes a desire to shake up stuffy business models, introduce new technology, or otherwise fundamentally change the way things are done. Looking both at recently successful companies and those seeking to launch new technology in the near future, here’s a rundown of nine cycling brands that are worth your attention.

1. VanMoof: The Model T of e-bikes

Suppose you made a single e-bike in two versions at extreme volume. How cheap could you sell that bike? The answer is much cheaper than all your rivals. This is the essential premise behind VanMoof. Costing £2,148, its e-bikes are now a common sight worldwide.


Sold from dedicated shops which also take care of servicing, they’re very self-contained and low maintenance. With integrated lights, an enclosed chain, automatic two-speed gears, disc brakes, and online GPS tracking, they’re high quality.

Plus, with a comfortable riding position and cool styling, they’re made to appeal to anyone looking for easy urban transport. With VanMoof offering insurance, servicing, and finance packages, the whole experience, from purchasing to ongoing care and riding, feels designed to be as different from the traditional way of doing things as possible.

 


The money involved is different too. So far, VanMoof has raised an enormous $182 million in funding with the aim of selling 10 million more bikes within the next five years. Having made efforts to control almost the entirety of its supply chain, the firm has also proved very Covid resistant. Something its more traditional rivals haven’t managed.


2. Muoverti: A VR tilt bike

Aiming to close the gap between the real and the virtual, Muoverti’s indoor training bike does several clever things. Designed in London, not only can it move from side to side as you pedal to provide a natural ride feel, but you can also lean it over or twist its handlebars to steer yourself through virtual environments.

Providing naturalistic pedalling, it offers realistic feeling virtual gears changes, while its brakes slow you down in-game, something you’ll also feel through the inertia of its resistance unit.

At the moment, many of these features have yet to find a use beyond being cool to play with. However, developments in virtual training apps mean this is unlikely to remain the case for long.

In the meantime, the Muoverti bike still looks very pleasant and provides a great riding experience. However, if it manages to gel with upcoming software, we think it has the potential to become even better.

3. Classified: Gearing reimagined 

Classified is on a mission to kill off the front derailleur. Instead of the mechanically awful solution most of us now settle for, its revolutionary approach uses an electronically actuated two-speed gear contained within the rear hub.

In its first mode, this offers a direct 1:1 ratio, giving you the exact ratio created by the combination of chainring and sprocket. In its second mode, it reduces this by a factor of 0.7. With no loss of power in direct mode, swapping to the easier gear will cost you 1% in efficiency, an amount the brand claims is less than you’ll lose via a traditional system due to the tighter wrapping of the chain around the smaller chainring.

Operated via your existing Di2 shifter or a satellite remote, the system’s weight is the same as that of a standard front derailleur and its attendant bits.

At the same time, shifting is instant and can be achieved even under loads of 1,000 watts. And what about servicing? Classified claims the gearing element of the hub will never need attention. 

So what’s not to like? You’ll need to buy the system prebuilt into a quality carbon wheelset at €2,399 (which I think is a bargain, although others might disagree).

Also, the system only works with proprietary Classified cassettes. Having had a very short test ride, I can’t recall ever using a bike component that felt such an improvement on the system it replaces, and I’m a person that still thinks electronic gears are a frivolous waste of money. 

4. Hammerhead: An Android-based bike computer

Most bike computers run on bespoke operating systems. Unsurprisingly, these aren’t as good as those found on your average smartphone. This disconnect in the user experience between the two can be frustrating, particularly as high-spec bike computers aren’t cheap.

In recent years, Wahoo has used a custom version of Android to good effect. However, basing a bike computer on a familiar operating system is a trick that the firm Hammerhead has taken and run with.

Its Karoo 2 unit not only feels like a smartphone, but its high-resolution screen and reactive touch controls mean it looks and behaves like one too.

The first bike computer we’ve used that feels truly smart, it benefits from cellular connectivity, a massive 32GB internal storage, and in-device route planning.

Operating more like a tech company than some of its competitors, Hammerhead plans to release bi-weekly updates to its software, showing an understanding that it’s the OS as much as hardware that dictates the user’s experience of a product.

5. Body Rocket: See drag in real-time

In less than a decade, power has gone from the preserve of pro teams to a metric used and understood by everyone from amateurs to gymgoers. Body Rocket aims to do the same for aerodynamics. Essentially recreating the technology used in a wind tunnel, its system separates the rider from the bicycle via the bars and seatpost.

Monitoring force, air pressure, wind speed, acceleration, inclination, and weight, once these are brought together, it promises to display a rider’s level of drag as an easily understood number shown in real-time via a Garmin or other compatible cycle computer.

Requiring a moderate degree of intervention to the bicycle, the company expects its product to cost £1,499-1,999 when it launches.

A niche product perhaps. However, if Body Rocket can follow powermeter makers in shrinking the size of its technology while cutting its cost, we could all soon be showing off about our CdA in the same way we do our wattage.



6. Brompton: A good way to make great bikes 

Pretty much the last large-scale British bike maker standing, Brompton is a rare UK manufacturing success story. Making a huge effort to keep control of its manufacturing and supply chain, its decision to stay in the UK has proved even smarter during the recent pandemic. Founded in the 1970s, the firm still makes bikes that would be recognisable to the first Brompton owner.

However, through continual refinement and inward investment, it’s managed continuous improvements to an already excellent initial design.

At the same time, Brompton has resisted pressure to offshore or contract out production. Growing slowly but surely, it’s just invested in a £100m eco-friendly factory in Ashford to supplement its current location in London.

Increasingly popular in Asia and North America, Brompton plans to soon manufacture 200,000 bikes per year, up from the 70,000 bikes it made in 2021. Recently releasing electric and fully titanium models, the brand’s steady expansion shows no signs of slowing.

7. Peloton: Still benefiting from a captive audience 

With fans including Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak, Peloton’s combo of spin bikes and remote instructor-led classes became incredibly popular during lockdown. However, it’s since gone from stock market darling to cautionary tale.

You know that episode of The Simpsons where Homer invests all his money in pumpkins? It’s Halloween, and he’s explaining to Barney how they’ve been going up in value all October and how he thinks they’re going to peak sometime in January.

In this analogy, Peloton is Homer, the pumpkins are exercise bikes, and Halloween is Covid. The result: after its share price exploded during the pandemic, Peloton is now valued at almost exactly as it was on its IPO.

However, despite setbacks, including killing Mr Big from Sex and the City, the brand still has a huge presence in homes around the planet. At the same time, its subscription model that sees many owners leasing its machines means that although it’s failed to make most shareholders rich, the firm is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

8. Zwift: Training as a game

Who would have thought a product to make time on a turbo trainer less boring could become a billion-dollar business? Or that in doing so, it would make millions of everyday schlubs slaves to their FTP?

Built around a virtual world where users can train and compete, Zwift’s gamification of fitness has helped many riders stay fit and motivated when riding indoors.

It’s also helped drive a massive boom in indoor training generally. Slightly divisive among those that see cycling as something only for the real world, we still think it’s hard not to be won over by its charms.

But what next for the platform? Beyond new courses, training plans, and competitions, the additional controls already found on several dedicated indoor training bikes such as the Wattbike or Muoverti hint at even greater in-game autonomy in the near future.

9. Laka: Inverted insurance 

Financial technology, or FinTech, is another sector offering cyclists something new. The traditional insurance model is that you pay your premium, and if your bike gets stolen, you negotiate with your insurer to get them to pay up.

However, they may try and wiggle out of paying or offer you a reduced amount depending on the circumstances and small print.

The person who does this weaselling is called a loss adjuster, and it’s part of their job to make money for the insurer by avoiding paying out. London-based Laka inverts this model with what it calls ‘crowd insurance’.

At the end of each month, the cost of its member’s claims is split between customers, with the individual’s maximum premium capped at around the market rate. Fewer claims mean everyone pays less.

At the same time, rather than being incentivised to avoid paying out, Laka generates money by taking 25% on top of each claim, so it only makes money when it pays.

Assuming it can prevent fraudulent claims, everyone should get cheaper insurance that’s more likely to pay out. Recently raising almost £9-million in funding to expand further, it’s already annexed a good share of the UK cycle insurance market.

Want to use technology to get the most from your cycling? Check out our guide to the best cycling training apps



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