In cities, cycling is a key component of multi-modal transport. Yet for all the (deservedly) grand illusions we have about cycling-conducive streets, dockless bike sharing and the cardiovascular benefits of two-wheeled transportation, there are barriers to entry: cycling still faces challenges when it comes to safety, convenience and inclusivity. In America, cycling fatalities have been increasing since 2010; poor design plagues many cities that attempt to navigate car-driver-pedestrian relations; and cycling has deep fissures along gender, race and class lines. For inexperienced cyclists – the exact segment required for the mass-adoption of cycling – that’s enough to keep people off the road.
Designers have tackled the problem from a number of angles, many of them unsuccessful. Urbanists have developed myriad solutions – two-step turns, protected lanes, wayfinding tools – but these have been unevenly adopted globally. The tech world has developed jackets that communicate info via haptic feedback, smart helmets and glasses that visualize ride data. These are all positives, to be certain, but they’re often complicated solutions built for dedicated riders. As Ken Greenberg of Ken Greenberg Consultants recently told the Toronto Star, casual riders are “not going to read a manual” about cycling infrastructure. The same applies to safety products.
When it comes to safety, simplicity and accessibility reigns supreme. That’s why we like these five products – they integrate with preexisting cycling habits. In other words, they empower riders to focus on one thing: riding.
One of the unheralded joys of cycle commuting is that, if everything aligns correctly, it can be faster than driving, walking or public transit. If you hit every green light on the way to work, for example, you’ll get there faster – often, while expending less effort. With that in mind, Stockholm industrial designer Clement Dauchy designer Orion, a handsome, stem-mounted gadget that helps optimize your ride. The more efficient the commute, it suggests, the more a user will want to ride a bike.
The hardware is simple: it features a circular module, featuring an LED screen, along with an adjustable strap. The module pairs to your phone via Bluetooth, and that’s where the magic begins: it syncs with Google Maps, and after users set their destination, Orion provides at-a-glance information about your ride. It lists directions, projected distances and arrivals, incline information and timing on upcoming traffic lights.
That information will help riders get where they’re going on time (and in one piece). The module also displays information minimally and intuitively – Dauchy is also a UI/UX designer, and it shows – to keep your eyes on the road, not on Orion.
Bikeshares are often touted as affordable and convenient ways to traverse a city. But they’re not always safe, especially since its riders may not have access to helmets; it’s estimated that cyclists who ride without helmets triple their chance of death by head injury. But that’s where the Ecohelmet, a cheap, recyclable and collapsible helmet, steps in.
Designed by Spitfire Industry founder Isis Shifter, the Ecohelmet is made from recycled paper and stretches to fit most head sizes. Created in a radial honeyomb pattern, the helmet according to the brand is cheaper than traditional polystyrene options, all while offering comparable protection. Disposable, affordable and easily shipped, it’s an ideal solution for those who don’t have head protection ready. A winner of the James Dyson Award in 2016, it isn’t yet available for consumer purchasing, though bikeshare services can order them directly from Ecohelmet’s website.
SEE.SENSE ICON LIGHTS
In photos, See.Sense‘s Icon Lights looks no different from a standard bicycle light. It mounts onto a bicycle’s seatpost or handlebars, just like any other LED. But See.Sense does several things off-the-rack lights can’t, thanks to its built-in-sensors: it automatically turns on as soon as your bicycle starts moving, and shuts off after three minutes of inactivity. It reacts to ambient light, growing brighter in dim environments. It even senses roundabouts and intersections, flashing to ensure greater visibility. Powered by two CREE LEDs – which the designers say are visible from 2 km away – it’s also made from silicone and Lexan R, a material used to create visors on NASA space helmets.
In other words, it’s a smart light that requires very little user intervention. But should users want to play with their Icon Lights, there are additional benefits: if paired with a smartphone, it can also broadcast crash and theft reports. Like so many tech products, the apps can also be used to gather information – and See.Sense has partnered with Queen’s University Belfast to collect data on road conditions, riding styles and collisions to help provide deeper insights on cities. These lights can help riders feel safer now, but it’s conceivable that they can eventually inform city infrastructure, too. (It’s also worth noting that data collection isn’t enabled on retail lights – it’s accrued via voluntary beta testers.)
The IceDot Crash Sensor aims to solve one monumental problem: what if you get in an accident while you’re riding alone? Mountable to any helmet, the sensor pairs with a smartphone app, which alerts a selected group of contacts about when your ride started, when it ended and – most critically – if it has detected a dangerous impact to the head. It also can provide first responders with critical health information.
Its functionality may not be as sophisticated as, say, See.Sense’s reporting, but it’s hard not to like the one-task simplicity of IceDot.
Few safety products aim to improve the enjoyability of cycling, but Coros‘ Omni helmet, unveiled at CES 2018, does just that. Using earbuds while cycling has long been a guilty pleasure for riders – it’s unsafe, as it drowns out road sounds, but it’s still quite common to see even savvy riders with headphones. Instead of shaming those riders, Coros offers them a viable alternative: a helmet that allows users to listen to music and make calls, all without filtering ambient noise.
Bone-conduction technology – a rapidly rising trend for headphones – allows users to hear audio by transmitting sounds through the jaw- and cheekbones; Omni, for its part, has speakers mounted directly into the helmet’s speakers. From there, it functions like any other bluetooth headphone – it pairs with a phone, allowing users to wirelessly listen to music or accept phone calls. As an added bonus, it also features LED directional signals, controlled by a bar-mounted remote, on the back of the helmet – just like the ever-popular Lumos Helmet, which was one of our favourite tech products of 2018.