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Wheels of invention keep turning for cyclists

People can't stop tinkering with the bike. This year, dreamers out to reinvent one of history's most basic mechanical contrivances give us groundbreaking innovations such as the hammock seat, the asymmetrical frame and one-handle brakes, plus the most expensive, sophisticated e-bike of all time. And they all did a pretty good job of it.

The happy hammock

BananaHama: This seven-speed recumbent bike with mountain bike tires has a groundbreaking seat: a hammock. It was invented by metalworker Brent Ingrim, who was tired of the sore butt he got from regular bikes. His Visalia, Calif., company is now getting funding via Kickstarter.

Likes: It's a fun, smile-pasted-on-your-face riding experience. The hammock is sort of odd at first but feels so natural after a while that it is simply forgotten. It includes a pivoting handlebar that you can adjust on the fly as you shift from straight-up to laid-back seating positions. The height-adjustable hammock gives great shock absorption. You barely feel it when you go off a curb. After a few minutes, handling quickly improves and the bike becomes quite fun. The hammock unbuckles instantly for access without having to throw your leg over it. An optional cable lock integrated into the frame will be available, as well as an overhead surfboard rack.

Dislikes: It's a bit gangly at first. Unless you're an experienced recumbent rider, it'll take a good 30 minutes to get rid of the shakes and wobbles.

Price: $680. Upscale 27-speed "Urban" model with briefcase holder and Leatherette-covered hammock, $1,330.

Gear: Let these new bike helmets go to your head

Asymmetrical hardtail

Pinarello Dogma XC 9.9 29er: The carbon-fiber hardtail (front suspension only) mountain bike has a tall seat-post clamp attached to asymmetric seat stays that attach to the seat post about an inch apart vertically, like two bony fingers. The seat clamp uses a collar and bolt at each junction. Supposedly, these non-parallel seat stays dissipate more vibration than normal stays that join at the seat tube junction, making for a more comfortable ride while maintaining instant pedal response.

Likes: It looks cool and probably works. The asymmetric stays, inspired by Pinarello's successful asymmetric Dogma road bike frames, do add comfort, according to several hardtail aficionados I tested it with. (As a longtime dual-suspension rider, I couldn't really tell.) Another innovation is a built-in rubber bumper under the down tube, just behind the head tube; this keeps the fork crown from cracking the fancy "nanoparticle"-embedded carbon frame during a crash.

Dislikes: None

Price: $3,500 for frame and fork only.

Two brakes in one

Jamis Commuter 4: The deluxe aluminum commuter bike has 700C road wheels, unlimited-range gearing and the "Slidepad" braking system, which controls both wheels' brakes with a single right-hand lever.

Likes: This is a fast, comfortable, good-looking and safe all-round sport and commuter bike. The Slidepad system smoothly brakes both wheels simultaneously, as your car's brake pedal controls the wheels. This cleans up the handlebars and stops rookie riders from applying too much pressure to the front wheel and going over the bars. Adding to the simplicity is the innovative, twist-shifting NuVinci N360 internal hub, which covers a huge range of gears, with no messy derailleur. Includes fenders, chain guard, rear rack with built-in bungee cords, fork mounts for a front rack, a bell, 5-inch height-adjustable stem and comfy swept-back handle bars. Weight: 31.5 pounds. Slidepad also appears on Jamis' lower-cost Hudson recreational bikes and the Commuter 3, 2 and 1 models ($750, $550 and $440). All are available in women's step-through frames for the same price.

Dislikes: No kickstand, which is handy on a commuter bike.

Price: $1,050.

The Porsche of e-bikes

Specialized Turbo: The sophisticated, high-end, ultra-expensive "pedal-assist" electric bike provides more power the harder you pedal and can reach speeds of 28 mph.

Likes: You get white-knuckle power cloaked in the stealthy look of a regular 10-speed bike. The bold, attractive design, replete with custom-made parts, hidden cables and built-in lights, camouflages a giant pull-out battery in the thick down tube. It can be fully recharged on or off the bike in two hours. Its 250-watt motor, internally run cables and lithium-ion battery seamlessly respond to your pedaling, increasing with your own effort; I hit 28 mph even while climbing steep San Francisco hills, giving me the exhilarating illusion of being a Tour de France contender. It's light for an e-bike at 47.5 pounds. A compact dashboard displays speed, remaining battery charge and your current electric-assist mode, selected by a hand-grip thumb button: turbo, eco, no-assist (pedal on your own without help) and "regen" (for regenerate the battery; which can also be activated by applying the rear brake). It includes a fast-rolling, puncture-resistant 700C Armadillo belted tire and heavy-duty wheels and axles.

Dislikes: Massive sticker shock; other decent e-bikes are as little as $1,500. Technically, its top-end speed of 28 mph, although great in city traffic, is illegal by federal law. The battery capacity of 343 watt-hours is small for a bike this expensive. On turbo mode, the range is less than 20 miles. Fatter tires would yield a smoother ride.

Price: $6,000.

Wallack is coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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