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Reinventing the wheel: The most inventive cycling innovations

From the practical to the freight-train bike horn...

Back in the day – in 1890, say – you could buy a bicycle made of steel with a chain, brakes and two wheels fitted with pneumatic tyres. It looked like a bicycle and rode like a bicycle, and it set the standard. Today's models may be lighter, slicker and come with better paint jobs but the safety bicycle, as it was known, was a design of such ingenuity that it has remained essentially unchanged in the 120 years since its wheels first rolled.

But this hasn't put off generations of innovators who have adorned that familiar diamond frame with gadgetry – or tried, in some cases, to re-invent the (bike) wheel.

As the damp road of spring threatens to deliver us, freewheeling, into summer, we explore some of the hi-tech accessories and innovations getting bike geeks excited, from the useful to the fanciful via the never-knew-you-needed:


You definitely don't want a Hornster on your bike. On sale this week and marketed as the world's loudest bicycle bell, it will cost you a smidgen under £5,000. It's actually a horn, or two horns of the sort usually fitted to US freight trains, adapted to be powered by the compressed air from a scuba diving tank. At 178 decibels, it's louder than Concorde and as stupid as it looks, but was developed as a noisy stunt by the Environmental Transport Association as a way to raise of awareness of cycle safety.

Mind control

Electronic gear shifting that does away with cables and mechanical levers in favour of wireless switches has crept into high-end roadbiking since Shimano launched its Di2 system in 2009. But last year Toyota and Parlee, a bike manufacturer, took it a step further by linking the shifters to an iPhone mounted in the handlebars of a slick white racer and a neural headset used in gaming fitted to the helmet. The result: The rider thinks "up" or "down" and the gears change accordingly. Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, Toyota has no plans to put the system into production, nor to entrust braking to the power of thought alone.

Thinking flat

As the number of cyclists grows in inverse proportion to the size of our homes, bike storage is becoming a sizeable issue. There are only so many lampposts in the world – and almost as many thieves.

To help us squeeze our rides into the most obvious place – the hallway of our flats – a US designer called Graham Hill bumped brains with German company Schindelhauer to create ThinBike.

Simply by incorporating a quick-release stem which allows the handlebars to be turned in line with the frame and pedals that fold in, Hill has designed a bike that takes up less than a third of the space of a normal one. Clever.

Bright ideas

Bike lights offer almost endless potential for innovation. LED lights put an end to the sorry days of bulbs and rust-prone batteries, but since then we've seen spoke-mounted lights that make wheels look like the rings of Saturn while turning at speed, as well as illuminations that make your backpack light up like Blackpool.

Now a Seattle-based design consultancy has come up with a concept bike called Pulse. The bike, by Teague, comes with a frame partly coated with with photo-luminescent powder to make it glow like a Tron light cycle. Indicators mounted in the handlebar ends complete the wired treatment and a battery pack in the stem keeps everything powered up.

Saucepan power

Graeme Obree, aka the Flying Scotsman, broke cycling's hour record (the longest distance achieved in an hour: he managed almost 33 miles in 1994) on a bicycle that included parts from a washing machine. It was banned for breaking strict rules about the design of bikes used in velodromes.

The Scot is now plotting a return to the record books with a bike that throws out century-old conventions of bike design – with the help of metal from an old saucepan. Obree, now 46, plans to become the first cyclist to hit 100mph on the world's flattest road in Nevada. He'll lie on his front on the aerodynamic "human missile", which is now taking shape on his kitchen table.