Just in time for the end of the year, it is a good idea to look back at the past year and also take a look at what the new year 2021 will bring in terms of urban bike innovations — and could bring.
Review: the Corona year from a bicycle perspective
As is well known, Corona turned completely upside down this year — also as far as the bicycle industry is concerned. But while the majority suffered from the global pandemic, the bicycle industry fared quite well: the bicycle itself, but especially the urban bike sector, experienced a real boom this year.
Dealers were already sold out in the summer, workshop appointments were booked up for weeks, and the bicycle was suddenly the means of transportation of the hour. No wonder, since it allowed people to escape the crowds on public transport and experience cities more quietly than ever before. Thanks to home offices, car traffic dropped significantly, numerous cities set up pop-up bike lanes as a result, and cyclists could actually feel that they were being taken seriously as road users.
Of course, the wonderful weather (here in Germany) in the spring also played into the cards. The bicycle was (re)discovered not only as a useful means of transport, but also as a fun leisure activity. At times, it became crowded in the parks and the right of way between walkers and cyclists was not always clearly regulated.
As bitter as the pandemic remains — one beneficiary of it was definitely the bicycle. And it is to be hoped that this was only the initial spark for the continuing recognition of the bicycle as a sensible, healthy and sustainable means of transport. Cities should now stay on the ball to create safe and sensible bike lanes as well as the infrastructure around them (parking spaces, etc.) — also to further increase the number of cyclists.
Smart bikes for the tech generation
Two brands launched new e-bikes on the market this year and introduced a largely new audience to bicycles thanks to smart functions. These are VanMoof and Cowboy, which caused a stir in the media with their comparatively inexpensive bikes. The focus was not only on the prices between 2,000 and 2,400 euros, but also on the consistent smartphone connection with many exciting features. Integrated GPS sensors allow the bike to be tracked on the display at any time, and functions such as automatic unlocking via Bluetooth or even an integrated alarm system with app notification attracted tech-savvy users in particular.
But regardless of what you think of these new bikes, they are also helping to increase interest in bicycles as a means of urban transportation — and they are showing established manufacturers quite clearly where the journey has to go: We want to see connectivity with easy-to-use apps and integrated GPS sensors as standard in other e-bikes in the future!
Unobtrusive, lightweight and electric
Not only the Smart Bikes mentioned above were visually appealing with their largely invisible e-drive — in general, this trend continued to spread across all manufacturers this year. The driver in this sector is certainly Mahle, whose compact X35 drive consisting of a hub motor in the rear wheel and a small battery (formerly known as Ebikemotion) is now being used in more and more e-bikes from small and large brands (e.g. Orbea, Cannondale, Schindelhauer, Desiknio, LeMond, MTB Cycletech). Specialized takes a different approach with the Vado SL, which has also developed a relatively compact mid-motor in collaboration with Mahle. The mid-motor system from Fazua is also becoming increasingly widespread, which is also likely to be ensured by the new commuter bikes from industry giant Canyon. All in all, these drive systems offer a good mix of sufficient motor support and the most inconspicuous integration possible in the bike — with a light total weight of between 13 and 17 kg.
The growing popularity of the Mahle X35 system — representative of all hub motors in the rear wheel — should also ensure that the Pinion bottom bracket gearbox becomes more widespread. Inevitably, one might say, since the inexpensive and robust hub gears here just have no place in the rear wheel. But Pinion gears also offer many advantages over hub gears; and together with the equally trendy belt drive (instead of conventional bicycle chain), this trio can be found on more and more urban e-bikes (e.g. Geos, Schindelhauer, MTB Cycletech or Desiknio). It’s just a pity that all these models are still reserved for the upper class in terms of price.
A small detail with a big effect, on the other hand, can also be found on many cheaper bikes of the 2021 vintage: there, all cables and lines on the handlebars now disappear directly into the frame (e.g. at Orbea, Schindelhauer, Riese & Müller or Urwahn). Thanks to special stems and headsets, this is possible, which leads to a very tidy cockpit and still protects the cables from damage from the outside. A seemingly simple solution that makes you wonder why this is not already standard!
And the classic bicycle?
There is no question that the e-bike is the driver of the current bicycle boom — but of course the classic bicycle without a motor is still available. For athletes, purists or simply as a cheaper alternative, it will certainly continue to find its interested parties. Even in an urban context, you might think that many short distances can be covered effortlessly with a normal bike; but if you have to cover longer commuter routes or want to arrive at your destination as sweat-free as possible, you might as well reach for the e-bike — which also offers an extra dose of riding fun.
Many new models for 2021 have already been presented, interested parties should decide now — the hype around the wheel is still high and accordingly there will be (again) delivery bottlenecks. Lightweight drives and a higher level of system integration will be increasingly seen on various bikes in the coming year; this includes the aforementioned stems with integrated cable routing as well as an integrated lighting system (for example, with the new Lightskin handlebar with headlight).
When it comes to electric drives, it remains to be seen whether the major manufacturers — above all Bosch, of course — will finally pick up on the trend toward smaller motors and batteries. Such a mid-motor with reduced size, a compact battery with 300 to 500 Wh in combination with a hub gear and the Gates belt drive could be a promising formula for future urban bikes. However, we are already in the land of dreams — so let’s wait and see what 2021 will really bring!
Finally, thanks to all readers for the interest in UrbanBike.News and have a good ride into a hopefully better, healthy and beautiful new year 2021!