The big brands usually get all the coverage and credit for innovations and splashy bikes. But several boutique manufacturers have also come out with important advances recently.
One great thing about the bike industry is its low cost of entry for brands. If you have a solid idea and some manufacturing connections or savvy, it’s generally possible to get into the business. And nowadays, with all the oddball sizes and new “standards,” there’s tons of room for these smaller companies to create niche products that will increase versatility, cut costs, and stave off planned obsolescence. The big brands could take a few lessons from these small guys.
Robert Axle Project Thru-Axle for BOB (From $70)
I nearly got rid of my BOB trailer, which I love for hauling and hunting, when I found that it wouldn’t work with a thru-axle (which you'll find on every modern bike), and that BOB didn’t offer a fix. But then I found the Robert Axle Project, created by a couple in Bend, Oregon, who apparently had similar frustrations.
Combining a 7075 aluminum axle shaft with stainless steel end pieces that fit the BOB’s mounting parts, the axle is a simple, elegant piece of hardware that allows me to pull my trailer with whatever bike I want. Given all the different hub widths and thread patterns, it’s definitely worth buying direct from Robert Axle (using the handy drop-down menu).
The company also makes axles for Thule, Burly, Chariot, and other trailer brands, for wind trainers and cargo racks, and bolt-on solutions for bike security.
Wolf Tooth Boostinator ($25)
The rapid rise of Boost hub spacing might be good for performance as it creates stiffer wheels and better clearance, but it has also made some older wheels incompatible with newer bikes. Thanks, however, to the Boostinator from Wolf Tooth, you don’t have to sell those old hoops to run them on your new whip.
These smart kits consist of a machined aluminum end cap and, on the rear kits, a rotor spacer, that allows hubs with smaller spacing to be used on new wider-set frames. It’s a simple installation, even if you have to re-true your wheel a bit, and $50 for the two kits, is a pretty small price to pay for the repurposing of those expensive wheels.
One Up 42T Sprocket + 16T ($80)
Everybody wants a 1x11 drivetrain these days, but the cost of retrofitting your trusty old steed, which can include upgrading everything from a rear cassette to cranks, shifters, and even wheels, has kept many people on their existing gear. One Up’s 42T hack gets people with 10-speed cassettes many of the benefits of a 1x11 drivetrain—minus all the headache and expense.
Here’s how it works: On most 11-36 cassettes, you simply nest this bigger 42T ring on the outside, then sub in the 16T sprocket for the existing 15T and 17T. Of course you don’t get quit as big a range as 1x11 (especially not the super wide Eagle options) and you give up one gear, but the quick change yields a 17 percent range increase for a pretty minimal investment. One Up also makes 50T hacks for Shimano 1x11 cassettes, as well as well as a 10T cluster for those willing to invest in a new free hub body. Smart stuff.
Bar Fly E-Box Spacer ($40)
Though I love riding Shimano Di2, it’s always struck me as insane that the junction box (the charge port and brains of the whole damn thing) attaches to your stem with a rubber band or zip tie. It’s like putting coaster brakes on a Ducati. Regardless, I was thrilled when I found Bar Fly’s E-Box Spacer, which attaches the mount for the junction box to an anodized aluminum five-millimeter headset spacer. Genius! And for what it’s worth, Bar Fly makes all sorts of other excellent and elegant mounting solutions for GPS units, lights, cameras, fenders, and pretty much anything else you want to attach to your bike.
Paul Set N’ Forget Thru Axle ($70)
This thru-axle replacement definitely falls into the serious tech geek realm, but if you’ve ever been frustrated with the fiddliness of stock thru axles, it will be a godsend. On many standard setups, it’s tricky to get both the right tension on the axle as well as the right position for the lever. The Set N’ Forget replaces your stock axle with one in which the lever can be indexed in 12 positions. Once you install it and put the lever in the desired position, you simply screw the axle into place and the lever will line up where you want it to go every time. No more futzing around to get it just so or riding with the lever in a questionable spot.