As much as the “safety bicycle” (crank and pedals attached with a chain to power the rear wheel), has not changed since H.J. Lawson made it in 1874, a lot of other technologies have changed with the bicycle and continue to change every year. We always think of the bicycle as a simple machine and, as it sits, it really is. The fact that this simple machine can go through so many engineering, mechanical, and design changes–some subtle and some totally dramatic–but still basically remain the same, is what makes it so amazing to me.
The biggest transformation with bicycles over the years is in the materials used to build them. From the original super heavy-gauge steel frames to the lighter weight carbon, titanium, aluminum, and even bamboo frames. Today, there are some steel frame bicycles that are even as lightweight as those carbon frames; it all boils down to the quality steel used and the engineering design of the tubing.
One really fascinating innovation that has come about recently is the Shimano Corporation’s cable-less/electronic shifting (Di2): as it sounds, when you shift the bike there are no cables attached to move the derailleurs. A few of these bikes were even used in the Tour De France.
There are far too many changes that happen every year to list them all, changes as small as a brighter led light, to as unique as a folding-style bike that holds your child as you pedal and then converts into a walking stroller for your child!
For me, the most significant change, as of late, that has happened to the bicycle was in 2003, when a company called Electra designed, and recently won the patent for, their “flat foot technology.” This bicycle is designed so that, when the rider sits on the bicycle, his or her feet will always be flat on the ground, but the leg is forward enough to always have the proper leg extension. Essentially, the pedals are moved forward about 8 inches, more or less a semi-recumbent style bicycle. This design allows people to feel more comfortable as they sit upright and always feel safe, as they know their feet will always be touching the ground flat. Many other companies have since made similar designs to this patented Electra design. As with everything, some are really good; and well, others, not so much.
So if you are in the market for a new bicycle this year or you just want to try this new style, stop by your local independent bicycle dealer and ask to try this new forward pedaling design. But caution: you may find yourself forgetting where your car keys are.