Technology Transfer from Motorbikes and Cars

In recent years, there has been a lot of technology transfer from motorcycles and cars to bicycles. Modern bikes finally have tubeless tires and disc brakes, both introduced in cars as early as the 1950s!
Cyclists tend to be a conservative bunch, but it’s only a matter of time until we’ll see bicycles follow the lead of cars and motorcycles in other ways:

Spoked wheels are a total anachronism. When did you last see a race car with ‘wire wheels’? Cars made the switch to cast aluminum wheels more than 50 years ago. Motorcycles soon followed suit, and yet we’re still riding around on wheels held together by tensioned steel wires! Interestingly, carbon wheels were tried by Citroën (of course!) during the 1970s, but they never caught on. On bicycles, the switch to cast aluminum wheels is long overdue.

Another no-brainer are fenders for performance bikes. The aerodynamic benefits have been confirmed in Bicycle Quarterly’s wind tunnel tests. We’re not the only ones who figured this out: Moto GP bikes (above) have fenders to shield the tires from the onrushing air. And yet bicycles still expose their wheels to the wind like 1920s race cars!
The UCI ban on fairings may outlaw fenders for pro racers, but for the rest of us – and especially for gravel racing – well-designed fenders will increase a bike’s speed as much as a set of aero wheels.

Radial tires have improved traction and fuel efficiency of cars and motorbikes for decades, yet today’s bicycles still roll on old-fashioned bias-ply tires. Panaracer in Japan actually made radial bicycle tires decades ago, but a lack of interest stopped that experiment before the tires could be perfected. Improved traction and better efficiency – what is not to like?

Modern bicycles finally have electrically activated derailleurs, but the shifts are still operated manually – in fact, most racing bikes have four shift levers/paddles! How archaic!
High-performance cars these days have automatic gearboxes that learn the driver’s style and shift gears at just the right moment. Why not on bikes?

Anti-lock brakes and anti-wheelie protection are long overdue. Powerful motorbikes have it, and bicycles need it, too. With hydraulic disc brakes, it’s actually possible to flip the bike around the front wheel when braking hard (top photo). And modern bikes have so much performance that it can be hard to keep the wheel on the ground during full acceleration.

The chain is perhaps the most anachronistic part of a modern bicycle. Early cars had chains driving the rear wheels, but they were replaced by clean and silent shafts a century ago. Shaft-drive bicycles briefly were popular in the late 1800s, but conservative cyclists still resist the obvious move toward modern technology. It’s only a matter of time until dirty chains will be as obsolete as mechanical brakes.

Suspension is another obvious necessity: Cars or motorcycles without suspension are unthinkable. It’s not just about comfort, but also about traction: A tire that skips over bumps loses traction. Suspension is needed to keep the tire on the ground at all times. And yet racing bicycles still skitter over bumps on skinny 25 mm tires in a rigid frame! Suspension will change the way races are won – racers no longer will attack on the climbs, but outcorner each other on the flats and descents.

We’ve actually made some gains with regards to traction: Cyclists finally have adopted lower tire pressures. This was long overdue: Even racing motorcycles rarely run more than 40 psi, and yet racing bicycle used to roll on tires that were inflated rock-hard. We still have some ways to go: Few bike racers run pressures as low as 40 psi – the myth is this will negatively affect the handling and cornering. Somehow, it works for Moto GP bikes…
With disc brakes, tubeless tires, and lower pressures, we’ve made a start to overcome a century of stagnation in bicycle technology. Cast wheels, aero fenders, radial tires, automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, shaft drive and suspension are just around the corner. What other innovations will trickle down from cars and motorcycles to bicycles soon? And how will that shape future bicycles?
Last edited: April 1, 2019

42 Responses to Technology Transfer from Motorbikes and Cars

  1. Gert April 1, 2019 at 12:49 am #

    seat belts, air bags, air-conditioning??
    The best would be to increase the ethanol content of bicycle riders fuel to 5-15 %
    Maybe some already have

    • Andy Stow April 1, 2019 at 10:16 am #

      * slowly raises hand *

  2. Frederic April 1, 2019 at 1:48 am #

    Google next big project is autonomous bicycle…

  3. Peter Chesworth April 1, 2019 at 2:20 am #

    One of those April Fool articles that confuses with about 10 percent of possibility/truth! Take solace that the Wright Brothers were bicycle manufacturers before they started peddling aircraft.

  4. Mark Guglielmana April 1, 2019 at 2:29 am #

    After 5 chainringed Rene Herse cranks were introduced last year, I would have hoped that automatic transmission would already be at least prototyped, Jan!

    • Eric Steig April 1, 2019 at 7:35 am #

      OMG, I just realized that I believed the 5-ring crank post last year. I read it some time after April 1 so I didn’t get the joke.

      • Greg Parker April 1, 2019 at 8:47 am #

        Back in the old days (i.e. the 1970s), there were a few folks that ran quad cranks. Often TA Cyclotoutist cranksets, but others too.
        These were typically the same folks that built 75-speed drivetrains!
        Five-speed freewheel on a five-speed IGH, with three chainrings .
        They probably had 46 redundant gears, but hey, it was fun, I guess?
        And I’m not pulling your leg about this….

    • alexanderluthier April 1, 2019 at 4:32 pm #

      4-ring cranksets are not uncommon among the recumbent crowd. Since they can’t stand on their pedals for ascents they really need a seriously low gear, so they often add a big ring to create something like a 22/34/44/54 set to increase their speed on the flats even more.

  5. Keith Andrews April 1, 2019 at 2:31 am #

    Happy April Fools Day!?!?

  6. Nestor Czernysz April 1, 2019 at 3:09 am #

    How could you forget about self driving bicycles? 🙂

  7. Richard Kaufman April 1, 2019 at 3:28 am #

    Very funny. 😉

  8. Phil Houck April 1, 2019 at 3:40 am #

    Happy April. Fool’s Day!

  9. Phillip Cowan April 1, 2019 at 4:02 am #

    The bikes are getting better and better but they still have the same puny motors! Happy April 1st.

  10. Rod A Bruckdorfer April 1, 2019 at 4:46 am #

    Hum, keep is simple, keep it light. All the features you mentioned, just add weight and complexity to the bicycle.

    • Greg Parker April 1, 2019 at 8:49 am #

      Gotcha. Got me too, for the first couple paragraphs!

      • Rod A Bruckdorfer April 1, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

        Yes, but my bike has a warp drive. Ha, Ha, yes hook, line and sinker.

  11. Monty April 1, 2019 at 5:12 am #

    And, what about a motor😀

    • Mike April 1, 2019 at 10:30 am #

      Someone actually asked me about putting a small motor on my bicycle the other day when I stopped at the local grocery store for my regular shopping trip. I replied that if I wanted a motor on my bike I’d just get a motorcycle. I don’t want one, of course, I’m pedal-powered to the core; it just struck me as insane to mount a motor – one of those awful, oil-burning two-stroke small engines, basically ripped from a gas chainsaw – to a bike.

  12. Ron April 1, 2019 at 5:43 am #

    What about autonomous self driving bicycles? I want to step into my carbon bakfiets and have it whisk me to my destination; toddlers already have this service, but aren’t we all at some level Specialized (TM) toddlers?

  13. João M T Costa April 1, 2019 at 6:19 am #

    This is a fascinating discussion. But it seems that the market for high end bicycles is totally driven by what the UCI will and will not allow on world tour bikes. Do you agree?

    • Jan Heine April 1, 2019 at 7:12 am #

      If the bike makers demand it, the UCI will follow. Just witness the flip-flopping on disc brakes… So if bike makers demand fenders for better aerodynamics, the UCI will issue rules about how long the fenders can be (“for safety”), and then we’ll see every new road bike come with fenders permanently installed. Some young punks will take them off nonetheless for a ‘hot rod, outlaw’ look, but they’ll be the minority.

      • mtbvfr April 3, 2019 at 11:14 pm #

        Hi Jan,
        Given that most of the Rene Herse tyres do not have an aggressive tread pattern, do the fenders still offer a significant aerodynamic advantage?
        Which fenders provide the most aerodynamic advantage, smooth ones?
        And, whilst I have your attention, why can’t I post comments on older Blog Topics?
        Thanks, MTB.

        • Jan Heine April 4, 2019 at 7:34 am #

          We tested tires with similarly smooth tread patterns in the wind tunnel, and the aerodynamic benefits of well-designed fenders were still there. Also, look at the GP motorbikes: They have totally slick tires, yet they use fenders…
          We tested totally smooth fenders, and that is what the GP motorbikes use. In the wind tunnel, dimpled fenders (like golf balls) might provide an advantage, but on the road, they probably vibrate too much to get good adhesion of the airflow.

        • Jan Heine April 4, 2019 at 7:36 am #

          why can’t I post comments on older Blog Topics?

          The blog is moderated to keep the discussion relevant and polite. Each post closes after a certain time when the discussion has moved on.

  14. Brian April 1, 2019 at 6:24 am #

    Well done! Happy Fools Day to you and your team!

  15. dennischasseurdecols April 1, 2019 at 6:27 am #

    I haven’t seen such a ridiculous article since…er…last April 1st!

  16. Grant April 1, 2019 at 6:39 am #

    I for one do not roll my eyes at the idea of suspension on road bikes!

    • Steve Palincsar April 1, 2019 at 8:25 am #

      No, actually suspension on road bikes has been around for a long time. My AM-series Alex Moulton with front and rear suspension was built in the mid-1980s.
      Brilliant April 1 article, Jan. The tone was absolutely perfect.

      • Jan Heine April 1, 2019 at 8:40 am #

        Yes, there were many bikes with suspension – a company in France made some in the 1940s with a circular leaf spring front and rear. There are many reasons why it didn’t catch on. I wonder whether motorcycles got rear suspension only once engines started revving high enough that there was no suspension bob any longer…

  17. Jamie April 1, 2019 at 8:01 am #

    Wow, I had actually gotten about halfway through the article, and thought Jan had finally lost it, before I realized “oh wait a minute, it’s April 1…”
    What about crumple zones on bikes for crash protection? Not to mention Automatic Emergency Braking. I mean, who hasn’t dozed off on long rides behind the bars…

  18. DaveS April 1, 2019 at 8:15 am #

    There was two omissions:
    – Windshields (although the article mentioned fairings)
    – The 6V bicycle generators should be upgraded to 12V.

    • GAJett April 1, 2019 at 10:58 am #

      Sorry, had a commercially produced windshield on my Raleigh Comp in the early ’80’s. Nice to tuck behind on a long downhill, but cross-winds were murder!

    • Barrie Sutcliffe April 2, 2019 at 2:35 am #

      12V generators are real! 😀 The German Velogical company makes a 3-phase 12V version of their decidedly retro bottle dynamo, describing it as a “velo grid.” This inspired by electrical wiring on e-bikes. Having knowledge of electrics and power supplies, it’s a much better idea when working with battery powered devices and chargers.
      The best part for pedants is that you can actually call it a dynamo and be correct, as it generates DC (AC generators are technically alternators).—onboard-power-system-for-bicycles.

  19. GAJett April 1, 2019 at 10:54 am #

    “With hydraulic disc brakes, it’s actually possible to flip the bike around the front wheel when braking hard (top photo)”
    Was doing this in the ’70’s with Mafac brakes. The Weinmann’s were too wimpy.
    In motorcycle parlance the lifting of the rear wheel is called a “Stopie”. See it all the time in MotoGP. Same with bicycles? I use it there too.
    Note that anti-lock brakes are no longer allowed in Formula 1. Makes the cars too easy to drive.

  20. Saurabh Kulkarni April 1, 2019 at 11:22 am #

    Wow. I guess I’m a fool because I agreed with most of these.
    BikeAhead makes monocoque carbon fiber wheels that weigh somewhere around 1100g for wide tubeless clinchers (not cast aluminum, obviously. But a very similar idea).
    CeramicSpeed showcased their shaft drive tech. Personally, I believe that exposed chains are a horrid piece of technology. The constant maintenance and lubrication and throwing out of old chains gets really old. Not to mention the black grime and the immediate destruction of chains ridden in the rain.
    Red eTap actually mimics F1 style sequential shifting. That’s my favorite part of it. It also has some automated features like compensating for a front shift. So the “four paddle” being antiquated isn’t too far off base.
    Lauf makes a suspension fork that weighs only 550 or so grams more than a rigid carbon fork. Compared to a steel fork, I’m sure it’s even less of a difference. Jan, you yourself demonstrated that suspension is faster even on ultra smooth pavement, let alone descents on bumpy roads. As a really light guy who rides a skinny tire, super stiff road bike, I frequently find myself bleeding speed just to keep my front wheel from jumping on bumpy descents. I personally feel that we don’t get to use the full grip of our tires, because it doesn’t matter how sticky your tire is if it’s not on the ground.
    You also made an article previously about how fenders are indeed faster, and since fenders are usually removable, I don’t see why an aero bike that comes with a set of aero-optimized fenders is so ridiculous. It would be very similar to the fuel pod that the new BMC Timemachine comes with.
    I’d love to know your thoughts and whether this article was only half-joking, like I suspect.

  21. coconino April 1, 2019 at 1:17 pm #

    Here’s the anti-lock brake:

  22. dennischasseurdecols April 1, 2019 at 2:26 pm #

    Don’t forget fuel injection. You could probably win seven TDF’s. What? It was tried already?

  23. D'nardo Colucci April 1, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

    I hate being pranked! You win Jan!
    Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go install a tape deck on my Raleigh…

  24. alexanderluthier April 1, 2019 at 4:44 pm #

    Now for real: in 1988 there was an automatic shifter for bicycles made by Browning (yes, the weapons manufacturer). It was offered in both double and triple chainrings. Here’s a picture of the Mexican version of Popular Mechanics from back in the day:

  25. Doug L. April 2, 2019 at 10:01 am #

    I must be old school but lugged steel frames and wire spoke wheels are still my favorite from long long ago.

  26. Pk April 3, 2019 at 8:36 am #

    A guy brought in a 5 yr old mountain bike he wanted to pass on to his nephew. Unfortunately, the shock was leaky and needed overhaul and the shifters were frozen, and the 10sp drivetrain was toasted because the chain is too narrow to handle actual use. It was going to cost over $500 to fix so he tossed it in a dumpster and bought the kid a new bike.
    Welcome to the bike industry, I said.

  27. Eric April 3, 2019 at 9:52 am #

    When will we replace these 1×12 drive trains with 12×1 instead? We could get back to strong low-dish wheels again.