When my girlfriend and I first took our bikes to the United Kingdom last summer, I laughed at her so-called "bullet-proof" tires. Over the course of our one-month trip, I got nine flat tires; she got none.
Progress in the field of materials science has taken super-strong materials like the Kevlar in my girlfriend's tires (Continental's SportContact, www.conti-tyres.co.uk ) out of the hands of the well-to-do and put it into the bikes you see in local stores.
A great modern example of this is carbon fibre, a material based on a new class of carbon molecules named fullerenes, or buckyballs, after futurist Buckminster Fuller. Carbon fibre materials have worked their way from the aerospace industry into the frames of mid- to high-end bikes, many of which weigh less than a kilo and cost less than $1,000, like the magnificent Silk Carbon frame manufactured by Ibis ( www.ibiscycles.com ).
If you're willing to forgo performance in favour of elegance, check out the exquisite bamboo frame at www. bmeres.com/bambooframe.htm . Using one of the most ancient and durable materials around, designer Brano Meres has created a sturdy bamboo frame that weighs in at under 1.8 kilos. The ride is more comfortable than an aluminum frame, dampening vibrations wonderfully.
This one-of-a-kind creation was featured recently on the excellent technology blog www.patentpending.blogs.com . Created by patent attorney Bob Shaver, the site boasts a fantastic survey of the quirky history of bicycle technology, from a 1890 patent for the first front-suspension system to a mid-century patent for a bike with a drive shaft and a nested series of bevelled gears.
Speaking of which, chainless bikes still have a niche in the growing bike market. Check out the Dekra D-Drive site ( www.dekrabike.com ) for pictures of mountain bikes and road bikes looking bizarrely naked without a greasy chain strung to the back wheel.
Aside from eliminating the chain, manufacturers are seeking to make biking easier in another crucial way by eliminating gear shifting. Automatic bikes have been sold commercially for the past 10 years or so, relying on a tiny battery-powered computer that calculates gear ratios to keep the cyclist at a constant cadence. Performance reviews are mixed, but the leading contender is the Browning SmartShift system ( www.browningcomponent.com ).
In the city, biking is an excellent way to get from A to B, and companies have been working on making this process more pleasant. The sexiest example is Sinclair's A-bike, which weighs a mere 5.5 kilos and unfolds from the size of a briefcase to an easily controlled bicycle with wheels the size of beer coasters ( www.sinclair-research.co.uk ).
For bike couriers negotiating city traffic, the most recent gadget to make you drool is the ES300 Messenger Juice Bag ( www.rewarestore.com ). It's covered with a flexible solar panel that can run your MP3 player, digital camera and recharge your cellphone in a couple of hours. The bag is water resistant and is supposed to work even under cloudy skies, although the "juice" probably doesn't flow quite as freely.
The most fundamental change in bicycle technology in the last few years, though, has to be inventor Michael Killian's Sideways Bike. The cyclist sits sideways, with a handlebar at each end for steering both wheels separately. Killian, a software engineer from Dublin, says it's slower than a regular bike but more manoeuvrable, much like a snowboard or surfboard. Look for it on YouTube ( www.youtube.com ) in the aptly named clip What Would Dr. Seuss Drive?
So now that you have your new gear, where to go? Check out the new and improved City Of Toronto Bike Plan at www.toronto.ca/cycling/bikeplan/index.htm or the unofficial www.biketoronto.ca . For casual banter, check out local blogs www.bikingtoronto.blogspot.com or www.bikelanediary.blogspot.com . Happy riding!