ONE DAY, bikes that don't change gears for you automatically could seem as quaint as a stick-shift car. And riding a model without built-in lights will seem as crazy as driving with your headlights out.
That future is closer than you might think. Batteries that power these upgrades have gotten smaller, lighter and longer lasting—enabling bike makers to trick out their new models with carlike features. This improves both safety and performance. The goal isn't just to wow bike enthusiasts; it's also to attract people who may be reluctant to bike on busy streets.
Here are three new models that begin to blur the line between auto and bicycle.
The High-Performance Hybrid | Stromer ST2
The ultimate autolike bike at the moment is probably the Stromer ST2 ($6,990, stromerbike.com), an electric model from Switzerland that's the Tesla of the transportation-biking world. It has a "boost mode" to give riders super-pedaling powers (with potential to reach nearly 30 miles an hour) and a system that recharges the battery when you brake or coast down long hills—similar to a hybrid car.
A touch screen on the frame's top tube lets you adjust the bike's performance and lock the rear wheel to prevent theft. If your bike does get stolen, you can track it down via the built-in GPS. Because the Stromer ST2's system can be accessed over a cellular network (as well as Bluetooth), all of these functions can be operated from afar using your smartphone: Lock or unlock your bike from anywhere, or even let Stromer's technicians run diagnostics on your ride remotely.
Stromer CEO Christian Müller said it makes sense that bikes are adopting more features like these. "There are people who are replacing their cars with bikes," he said. "It is beginning to happen in the United States. In Europe it has been happening for at least five years."
The Everyman Ride | Trek Lync
At first glance, the integrated LED headlight and taillights that are built into the Trek Lync's lightweight aluminum frame may not seem so revolutionary. After all, for about $50 you can buy lights to screw onto your handle bar and seat post. But those lights' output of around 50 lumens is puny compared with the Lync's system. The Lync's 550-lumen headlight is comparable to high-end aftermarket bike lights costing $200 or more.
The look is also much cleaner. The lights sit nearly flush with the bike surface, and wires running to the removable, USB-rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (about the size of an iPhone but lighter) are hidden inside the frame tubes. The two-button controller is nested discreetly on the underside of the top tube.
"Even a couple of years ago, integrated lighting like this would have been cost prohibitive," said Trek senior product manager Darren Snyder. The battery cell used in these types of lights is similar to that of laptop batteries, which have become smaller, more powerful and less expensive, allowing Trek to deliver integrated lighting relatively affordably: The 9-speed Lync 3 (trekbikes.com) costs $990, which is midrange for a city bike, while the Lync 5—with 27 speeds, a few nicer parts and a haul rack—costs a reasonable $1,320.
The Next-Gen Auto Bike | The Fuji Denny
Meanwhile, Fuji is working to debut a model next summer that's intended to take the place of a car entirely: the Denny. The bike's prototype design was the winner of the recent Oregon Manifest Bike-Design Project, a competition to create an "ultimate utility bike" that includes what are essentially carlike features, such as an antitheft system, lighting and more cargo capacity.
In addition to features like integrated turn signals, brake lights and an electric motor that kicks in to help you pedal up steep inclines, the Denny also has the equivalent of an automatic transmission: Its battery-powered auto-shifting feature senses when you're pedaling faster or slower than you need to be, and will shift gears up or down accordingly.
Lower-tech details include innovative fenders with stiff, strategically-placed bristles that sweep aside water and grit as they fly off the tire so they don't hit the rider.
The challenge now for Fuji is figuring out how to mass-produce the Denny. The company may have to modify the design to ensure it meets industry requirements for world-wide sale. Fuji may also release a midprice version with fewer features to appeal to more price-conscious consumers (price to be determined, fujibikes.com).
Car-ify Your Ride // Four Auto-Inspired Safety Accessories for Bikers
Signals That Shine
Hand signals may be old fashioned, but Zackees Turn Signal Gloves make these simple gestures as conspicuous as a car's indicators by putting a big, bright, blinking arrow on the back of each hand. Zackees have tiny contact plates on the thumb and index finger that you touch together to activate the arrows. A light sensor allows the gloves to shine brighter during daytime than at night. These padded gloves are waterproof and machine washable (on a delicate cycle), their batteries rechargeable via USB dock. $75, zackees.com
A Horn That Roars
The Orp bike horn emits two very different sounds. Flip the switch up for a friendly, singsong chirp; press down to unleash a shrill screech that, at 96 decibels, is on par with some car horns. The Orp has a setting called "Anti-Dooring Mode," during which the alarm beeps and the light flashes to alert parked drivers that you're cruising by. $65, orpland.com
Lights That Blaze
The Revolights Skyline is a ring system that's outfitted with 24 LED lights. As your wheels spin, a micro controller figures out which lights are at the front or rear edges of the wheel and turns only those on. Not only are these de facto head- and taillights visible from every angle, but the rear lights blink when you slow down, creating an eye-catching brake-light effect, and the front light is bright enough to illuminate road ahead. $199, revolights.com
A Concealed Cam
Many cyclists attach GoPros or other mountable video cameras to their handlebars or helmets to document any run-ins they may have with aggressive drivers. The Fly6—a wide-angle, high-def video camera tucked inside a typical blinking safety light—is a sleeker solution. After you push a button to start taping, the Fly6 records a five-hour continuous loop, automatically writing over old footage. $159, fly6.com