What is the best functional bike tech?

It's not always about saving grams and making things more aero, sometimes the best tech is stuff that just works

Clock13:00, Sunday 18th February 2024

In this day and age, it is all too easy to get dragged into the technological arms race in cycling that often sees new products aim to be lighter, stiffer, and faster, but normally this comes at the detriment of functionality, comfort and other benefits. A lot of us simply want a bike that is durable, easy to live with and does exactly what we need it to.

This notion got GCN’s tech experts Alex Paton and Ollie Bridgewood thinking about what some of their favourite functional bike tech is - stuff that does what it needs to without all the bells and whistles. We’re talking mudguards, bags, and a good pair of lights, the things us cyclists all need, probably more than the latest aero invention.

Here we have a far from exhaustive list of some of the best bike tech that is great to live with, according to Alex and Ollie - feel free to add your ideas in the comments below!

Read more: Our 6 best 'bang for your buck' bike upgrades

Dynamo hubs

Dynamo hubs allow some of the energy you create as you cycle to be converted into electricity. This means that whilst you ride you can be charging your lights or head unit or even just a power bank for use later on. Dynamo hubs have become increasingly popular with bikepackers as they allow for off-the-grid riding with relative ease.

Read more: How to set up your road bike for adventure riding and bikepacking

With this being said, there is a penalty to be had for using a dynamo system as they do add a few hundred grams of additional weight and some added resistance from the generation unit. Over the course of around 100 kilometres, a dynamo-equipped bike would complete the ride around four minutes slower than a bike with regular hubs.

If you are not bothered by setting the fastest known time for point-to-point and instead prioritise peace of mind, safe in the knowledge that you are going to be able to charge your devices and power your lights without the need for any external power sources, then a dynamo could be for you. They’re practical and helpful, exactly what this list is about.

Mudguards

Whether you opt for a set of traditional full-length mudguards or a set of clip-on mudguards, we think they are one of the best bits of kit that you can fit to your bike. Not only do they keep you cleaner and drier out on a ride but they can also keep dirt and detritus away from the more delicate parts of your bike.

If you ride outside during wet and wintry months, investing in a good pair of mudguards will pay for itself in no time and will increase your enjoyment whilst out. If you do decide to go with the convenience of clip-on mudguards, make sure that you fit some sort of protective tape to the frame to prevent grit from damaging the frame underneath the mounting point of the mudguards.

Read more: How to fit clip-on mudguards to almost any bike

Bar bags

Strapping essentially a massive pencil case to the front of your bike is not going to win you any aerodynamic awards, we’ll admit. However, for steady rides and gravel adventures, bar bags are hard to beat. Having everything you need in reach right in front of you makes the bar bag the perfect companion for keeping your essentials including all your snacks within arm's reach.

Ollie is keen to go one step further and thinks that the top tube bag is even more functional as it allows for easier access and doesn't impact the aerodynamics at the front of the bike. Whichever type of bag you prefer, we think they are the perfect functional solution to carrying your kit.

Saddle bags

The original functional way to carry your spares and repairs with you on a ride, using a saddle bag allows you to carry all your essential kit in one neat and tidy solution, and keeps your jersey pockets free for your phone, snacks or an extra layer. As saddle bag tech has developed over the years, what you can fit into a relatively small package has increased massively with some saddle bags even coming with integrated tooling.

With the advent of TPU inner tubes, the footprint your spares take up has shrunk, meaning that everything you need for a mid-ride mishap can be tucked away under your saddle. These smaller saddle bags are great as they can almost be seen as a fit-and-forget addition to your bike, with them always there when you need them.

Read more: How to carry accessories and spare kit on a bike ride

High-vis

Wearing high-visibility clothing is one of the most effective ways to be seen whilst out on the roads. Wearing something that is both bright in the daytime as well as reflective at night can make you easily visible to other road users.

Fitting some high-vis cuffs to your tights in winter has the added benefit of being situated on something oscillating: the up and down movement of the pedalling motion means that the high-vis cuff will stand out more to road users than a static section such as on your torso.

Lights

Something else great to pair with high-vis clothing is a pair of lights. Lights are not purely for use at night time and research has shown that irregular flashing daytime lights are one of the best ways to attract attention to yourself. Lights are considerably more of an investment than high-vis clothing but for city riding, we think they are worth the cost, and a necessity if you’re going to be riding in the dark.

When looking for a good light we would always recommend something that is USB rechargeable as this will allow you to recharge the lights easily wherever you go. The other thing to look for is that they have a flashing setting as a minimum but ideally an irregular flashing pattern as this is harder for other road users to blank out.

Read more: Staying visible in autumn and winter: How to choose the right bike lights

Belt drives

If cycling is simply a mode of transport that you use to get around a town or city then having an oil-coated chain at trouser cuff length can make things messy. Turning up to work with an oil-stained trouser leg is hardly the way you want your day to start. For city riders, belt-drive bikes are a more enticing option. These use tough rubberised belts, have far less maintenance associated with them and can run service-free for around 30,000km.

There are some drawbacks to belt drives such as a small efficiency penalty as belt-drive bikes have slightly higher system friction. The restricting issue for belt-drive bikes is that they either need to be used with an internal hub gear or gearbox system if you want to have more than one gear at your disposal.

Internal gears

Internal hub gears take all of the delicate parts of a bike's drivetrain and move them into a sealed housing inside the rear hub of the bike. This has the effect of creating a weatherproof environment for the gears to sit in. A benefit of this is that they are not subjected to the accelerated wear that comes from dirty or contaminated chains.

Read more: Classified releases white paper to prove Powershift hub efficiency

Internal hub gears are known for their long service life and ease of living with. A typical hub gear can last up to 10,000km between services making it the ideal solution for riders looking for hassle-free riding.

Mirrors

Fitting a mirror to your bike in whichever guise you see most fitting is going to give you a greater view of the road around you. Having a mirror on your bike whilst riding through built-up areas is going to allow you to keep an eye on the road ahead whilst more easily glancing at what is going on behind you without the need to turn your head completely over your shoulder. It may not be the most pro-looking accessory, but that’s not the point - it has an added practical benefit, so it earns a spot on this list.

Did we miss anything off our list? Let us know in the comments section below and make sure to check out more tech features found here.

Related Content

Link to Inside a pro cycling team bus with Lotto Dstny
YouTube video CvYfoujj7n4

Inside a pro cycling team bus with Lotto Dstny

We've been granted access all areas to Lotto Dstny's team bus to find out exactly how they set up for race day

Clock
Link to Tech analysis: The inexact science of Paris-Roubaix
It appears like the ideal Roubaix set-up is still open for discussion

Tech analysis: The inexact science of Paris-Roubaix

It’s not a case of 'one size fits all' when teams are deciding on what equipment to use for the tough cobbled Monument

Clock
Link to Is tech making racing too dangerous? – GCN Tech Show
YouTube video pVOS2CwEf10

Is tech making racing too dangerous? – GCN Tech Show

We take a look back at some of the tech trends that might be contributing to some of the high profile crashes that appear to be sweeping the peloton

Clock
Link to Bianchi responds to Florian Sénéchal’s criticism after bike problems at Paris-Roubaix, team apologises
Bianchi claimed Arkea B&B Hotels mechanics didn't follow specific instruction regarding handlebar assembly at Sunday's Paris-Roubaix

Bianchi responds to Florian Sénéchal’s criticism after bike problems at Paris-Roubaix, team apologises

Arkéa-B&B Hotels issues apology as a result of Bianchi statement, shining some light on the events at race and admitting that set-up instructions were not followed

Clock
Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox