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5 bits of quirky bike tech that actually work

By Bruce Lin

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I love weird bikes. If it’s unorthodox, I want to ride it. If a new standard or proprietary tech might improve performance, I’m down to try it. Half the fun of cycling is experimenting with all the crazy new products that get released each year.

Without change, cycling would be boring. To push the sport forward, we need tech that thinks outside the box. Sometimes, you get duds. (Ever try magnetic pedals?) Often, there are teething issues. And always, there are internet “pros” and armchair engineers eager to provide their criticism. But every once in a while, we’re blessed with a quirky idea that actually works. Thanks to designers and engineers who ignored the haters, we now get to ride awesome products like 29er mountain bikes, road disc brakes, dropper posts, and tubeless tires.

I decided to take a look back at some of the best quirky pieces of bike tech I’ve tried over the years. This is the cream of the crop, products that have risen above and proven themselves, gaining the one thing that all bike tech desires: acceptance. Here are my five favorite pieces of quirky bike tech that actually work.

1. Yeti Switch Infinity

Yeti sb150 switch infinity mountain bike suspensionClose-up of the Switch Infinity link on an SB150. Photo courtesy of Yeti Cycles.

I’m starting this list with something that may not seem that quirky. Yeti’s Switch Infinity system is essentially mainstream nowadays. But let me take you back to 2014, when the first Yeti SB5 arrived at The Pro’s Closet. Everyone lined up to take turns squishing the rear end, just to watch the main pivot move on the two Kashima coated stanchions tucked down low in the frame. At the time, it seemed absolutely wild — rear suspension was supposed to have rotating pivots, not sliding stanchions.

Switch Infinity sliders allow the pivot to change position relative to the frame, rather than remain in a fixed position like most other bikes. The pivot moves up at the beginning of the stroke, and then it switches direction (hence the name) as the bike moves deeper in its travel. This allows Yeti to finely control suspension kinematics and axle path. Switch Infinity provides anti-squat early in the travel for an efficient, bob-free pedaling platform. Then, when descending hard and pushing the bike deeper into its travel, the anti-squat will drop off quickly to provide more mid-stroke support and then plush, bottomless feel at the end of the stroke.

Because of Switch Infinity’s appearance, we used to joke that Yetis had three shocks, which meant three times the maintenance headaches. Curious observers on the trail would ask how reliable it was, and several of my riding partners swore it off, thinking it would be a gimmicky maintenance nightmare.

Yeti switch infinity mountain bike suspensionThe Switch Infinity link removed from an SB115. Photo courtesy of Yeti Cycles.

They were wrong. In reality, Switch Infinity is about as simple as it gets. There are no internals and very few moving parts. The two stanchions are fixed in the frame, and the main swingarm pivot simply moves up and down on them. The pivot uses grease ports for quick and easy service that can be performed with little to no expertise required.

I finally got to ride a Switch Infinity bike, the Yeti SB4.5, a few years later. It had a modest 4.5” (114mm) of rear travel, but it was much more capable than the numbers implied. It felt like a 130mm- or 140mm-travel bike. And unlike older VPP and Horst link bikes I’ve ridden, there was minimal pedal kickback or brake jack, just a feeling of immense plushness. It also pedaled incredibly well, quickly firming up to propel you over climbs. I was sold on the SB4.5 after the first ride.

Switch Infinity is now found on every full-suspension Yeti model from downcountry whippets like the SB115 to big bruisers like the SB150 and SB165. It’s taken some of the world’s best enduro racers to world championship wins, and Yeti’s bikes are regulars on enduro podiums. Switch Infinity has been so effective that surely no one questions its efficacy anymore.

2. Lauf fork

Lauf true grit grit sl gravel forkLike Björk, the Lauf fork is a divisive Icelandic export to which I feel strangely drawn. It looks more like an insect limb than a bicycle fork. Conventional suspension forks are made up of two circular legs, one side containing an air or coil spring, and the other containing a damper. The carbon fiber Lauf fork, however, moves on a set of “S2 Springs” built into a linkage by the axle. These springs are made of military spec S2 glassfiber that is both extremely durable and flexible.

A Lauf fork requires zero maintenance. Seals and fluids in conventional forks require service as they wear, demanding regular service to maintain performance. Lauf forks have few moving parts, so you can ignore them and they will operate the same for years and years. This is great for riders who don’t want to work on their bike, or those who need an extremely reliable fork for rides that venture far from civilization.

Reduced friction is an added benefit of eliminating pistons and seals. Even though the Lauf TR Boost and Carbonara mountain bike forks only provide 60mm of travel, they feel supple and responsive, moving instantaneously when encountering obstacles. Lauf claims that, at 60mm, the S2 Springs require no damper, keeping the fork simple. The springs also use a progressive rate, which means they become stiffer as the fork compresses. This keeps the fork from bottoming out without sacrificing small-bump compliance.

Then there’s the fork’s low weight. Because they are built out of carbon fiber and use fewer moving parts, Lauf forks weigh significantly less than their conventional counterparts. The TR Boost, for example, weighs only 1,000 grams. That is nearly a pound lighter than the top XC forks.

Lauf true grit gravel bikeThe Lauf True Grit gravel bike with the Grit SL fork.

There are gravel versions too, which are actually more widely accepted than the mountain bike models. The Grit and Grit SL provide 30mm of travel, similar to gravel forks like the Lefty Oliver or Fox AX, but at a much lighter weight. Gravel forks like the Grit are gaining popularity because take the edge off of rough terrain and improve traction. There’s even a complete Lauf True Grit gravel bike built around the Grit SL fork. Our Content Marketing Manager, Spencer Powlison, has been shredding a Lauf True Grit for years, including his 200+ mile ride from Boulder to Kansas with Alex Howes

If you’re looking for the lightest, simplest, most reliable suspension fork possible, there’s nothing (yet) that can compare with Lauf forks. I will likely choose a Lauf fork for a future bikepacking rig to maximize reliability and weight savings for big multi-day adventures.

3. Canyon VCLS / Ergon CF3 seatpost

What if you need a bit of extra comfort for your backside? That’s where Canyon’s VCLS seatpost comes in. I first heard about it when Spencer sang its praises after conquering Unbound Gravel 200 aboard a Canyon Grail.

Canyon vcls Ergon CF3 pro seatpostThe Canyon VCLS seatpost is actually a rebadged product created by another German brand that's well-known for some quirky parts: Ergon. Yup, the guys who make those winged GP1 grips (I’m 50/50 on whether these actually work. Convince me in the comments!) also designed the best compliance-enhancing seatpost on the market, the CF3.

Why is this seatpost so quirky yet so good? Instead of a typical tubular post, the VCLS / CF3 uses two parallel carbon leaf springs (Ergon calls this “VCLS Technology,” hence the name of Canyon’s product), joined at the saddle clamp with bushing-equipped pivots. When the carbon flexes, the saddle can deflect and move backward in an arcing motion. This allows the post to absorb vibrations and bumps from the road. It instantly makes the rear end more comfortable while also retaining the direct feel you expect from a high-performance road or gravel bike.

The VLCS’s main competitors, the Cane Creek Thudbuster and eeSilk, and the Redshift ShockStop also provide great comfort. But I prefer the VCLS because of the more direct feel (it doesn’t drastically alter your saddle position), lighter weight, and svelte styling. Many riders would never notice you have anything special on your bike. In terms of aesthetics, the VCLS blows suspension seatposts like the Thudbuster and ShockStop away.

Canyon Grail gravel bike hover barThe Canyon Grail gravel bike. The Hover Bar is quirky too, but I don't love it as much as the VCLS seatpost. 

The only downside is the seatpost can be hard to purchase on its own. They are standard on Canyon’s Endurace road bikes and Grail gravel bikes, but if you just need the seatpost, you might have to scour eBay.

4. Specialized SWAT Door

Like the Yeti Switch Infinity, SWAT doesn’t seem that quirky, but I think we’ve gotten so accustomed to it that we just don’t remember how groundbreaking it was at first. SWAT is an acronym for storage, water, air, tools. It’s a kit-carrying concept, where Specialized frames, components, and even clothing are designed to easily carry multi-tools, tubes, pumps, snacks, and other, uh, “supplies.”

Specialized stumpjumper swat boxThe SWAT door on a 2021 Stumpjumper.

I used SWAT on bikes like the Specialized Epic, which featured external SWAT boxes tucked neatly under the bottle cages. But the 2016 Stumpjumper changed everything when it introduced a door under the bottle cage that opened into a spacious compartment hidden in the bike’s down tube.

The tubes used to construct bikes have been hollow since the beginning of time, so it seems crazy that it took so long for manufacturers to create hidden storage compartments. The SWAT door is fantastic because it makes use out of unused space. It allows you to carry things out of sight so they don’t ruin the beautiful lines of your bike.

I loved having a bike with SWAT because the essentials were always stashed inside the bike, out of sight and out of mind. When I moved on from my last Stumpjumper, it was a tough transition. Velcroing tubes to my frame or stuffing tools into a pack felt like returning to a time before the discovery of fire. It felt barbaric.

So why don’t all bikes have a SWAT door opening into the frame? Well, unfortunately, Specialized controls the patent. You’ll find SWAT doors on the Stumpjumper, Stumpjumper Evo, and Enduro mountain bikes. Other models like the Epic, Roubaix, and Diverge also have external SWAT boxes, but they are not hidden. Trek managed to weasel around the Specialized patent with its own Hidden Storage compartment on the Domane, Fuel, and Slash, but I don’t know how they did it.

For now, I have to remove the bulbous velcro tool kits and saddlebags from my bikes every time I take Instagram glamour shots. And sadly, I wear a fanny pack on short rides since I can’t stuff my keys and gummy bears into the frame. I eagerly look forward to the day that every bike has a handy stash compartment built into the frame.

5. Moots YBB

Moots Routt YBB titanium gravel bike softtailA Moots Routt YBB gravel bike.

Some might look at Moots’s YBB rear suspension and remember a bygone era. In the late-’80’s and early-’90’s, before full-suspension mountain bikes became the refined machines they are today, bike builders were experimenting with softtail designs. (The earliest softtail might actually be a Bianchi folding bike from WWI.) Moots began experimenting with its own softtail designs in 1987 and introduced its YBB system in 1991, likely the first company to mass-produce the design.

YBB is shorthand for “Why Be Beat?” and it relies on a small, spring and elastomer damper unit positioned where the seat stays join the seat tube to offer a bit of suspension at the rear end without adding too much weight or complexity. There are no pivots, and movement depends on flex in the chain stays.

Moots YBB softtailA close-up of the YBB spring and damper shows how simple it really is.

Moot’s YBB system provides 20mm of travel, which is great for riders who regularly explore rough terrain and need a bike to absorb vibrations and bumps. If you have back or hip problems like me, the added comfort can also help you go farther and ride longer. One of my fantasy gravel setups is to build a Routt YBB with a Lauf Grit fork and a Canyon VCLS seatpost. All the compliance with very little weight penalty!

The softtail mostly died out as mountain bike manufacturers refined lightweight full-suspension designs. In the case of YBB, the key to its success and longevity has been the frame material. Old steel softtails suffered reliability issues because that metal fatigues at a higher rate. Since the softtails relied on flex, it was only a matter of time before the stays cracked. Moots wanted to stick with YBB, so it transitioned to building titanium bikes, a decision that has come to define the company.

Interestingly, softtail bikes have been making a bit of a comeback in recent years. Trek’s IsoSpeed Decoupler doesn’t provide much travel, but similar to YBB it relies on elastomer-controlled flex at the seat stay and seat tube junction to provide extra comfort. It’s found on the Domane, Checkpoint, Boone, and Procaliber. BMC’s Micro Travel Technology relies on seat stay flex with a built-in elastomer damper that lets the back of the bike flex vertically by 10-15mm. It’s found on the Urs gravel bike and Teamelite hardtail. 

To add comfort to a gravel bike or hardtail, YBB is still my choice. It’s simple and elegant, and with 30 years of history behind it, it’s the OG. Plus, titanium bikes are just cooler.

Honorable mentions

Cannondale Lefty Ocho

Cannondale scalpel Lefty ocho mountain bike forkI recently bought a Cannondale F-Si hardtail with a Lefty Ocho fork and an Ai offset rear end. It’s the quintessential quirky mountain bike, and it works pretty darn well. There’s not much need to go deeper because I’ve already expressed my love for the stiffness and precision of the Lefty Ocho fork. But long story short, it’s the best XC fork I’ve ever ridden.

Trek IsoStrut

Trek supercaliber isostrut suspensionIsoStrut is found on Trek’s Supercaliber XC race bike. It’s of great interest to me because it seems like the perfect compromise between a hardtail and full-suspension race bike. The minimalist, frame-integrated shock provides 60mm of suspension travel to absorb the big hits riders encounter on World Cup XC courses while maintaining the weight, stiffness, and efficiency of a hardtail.

Unfortunately, I haven’t ridden it yet, but the Supercaliber is used by Trek’s World Cup racers, and I’ve already been smoked plenty of times by local high school racers riding Supercalibers. As a rider who constantly switches between hardtails and full-suspension bikes, the idea of having one XC bike to rule them all is appealing.

 

There’s a lot of quirky bike tech out there and I can’t include it all. What did I miss? What’s your opinion of the tech featured here? Does it work? Or is it just a gimmick? Let us know in the comments!

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