Bike Tech: Gadgets for Cyclists

Shawn Krest Writer, Movable Media
bike tech cyclist

From trendy outerwear to stereo systems, the latest bike tech helps keep cyclists stylish, happy and safe on the road.

Let’s face it; cyclists are often gear snobs — and rightly so. Safety, visibility and weather-appropriate gear is essential. Because cyclists don’t need a lot of equipment, they tend to get the best equipment — whether it’s the bike, a helmet or indoor trainer.

Several new stylish and functional technologies can help commuters or recreational bikers be more stylish and functional, while making them even safer on the road.

Outerwear to Office Wear

Cycling at night, especially during the winter months, often requires riders to make a choice: they can either be safe, or they can be fashionable.

“Traditionally, cyclists have worn high-viz clothing, which is effective in making them stand out in the road,” explained Lucy Brainer, founder of LUMO, which creates stylistic and safe cycling clothing. “But then [the clothing is] quickly stuffed into a jacket or backpack for fear of looking like a radioactive lemon walking into an office or pub.”

bike jacket

Until recently, most of the clothing and gear designed to be visible in low light are bright, reflective, and gaudy. Clothing that stands out less in social situations, however, can be tough to spot when worn by someone cycling down a dark or busy road.

Brainer decided to do something about the cyclists’ dilemma when her husband Doug was knocked off his bike a second time during his commute through London’s Battersea roundabout.

bike tech jacket

“The driver who hit him said he hadn’t seen him in his dark jeans,” she said. “Doug’s vanity had stopped him from swapping his normal gear for a high viz jacket. Urban cyclists typically dress for their destination as well as their journey, and until now, there hasn’t been a solution that caters to both.”

The Brainers developed LUMO, which provides added visibility, but only when cyclists need it. From bomber jackets to polo shirts, LUMO produces stylish clothing with embedded LED lights that are invisible until the cyclist turns them on. They even have a helmet that lights up with LED brake and turn signals.

“We designed LUMO so that cyclists could choose when they wanted to be seen. There are 24 ultra-high brightness flexible LED lights completely hidden beneath the fabric on the front and rear of our classically designed jacket, that when switched on, are visible up to 400 meters away,” Lucy Brainer said.

bike tech backpack

If cyclists don’t want to wear light-up clothing all day, LUMO also offers the Bermondsey Backpack.

“We based the design on vintage British military rucksacks to make the Bermondsey a super versatile waterproof roll top backpack,” Brainer said, noting that the backpack has lights in the front and back, and is visible from 400 meters away.

bike tech pants

Another option encourages cyclists to get on their bikes regardless of the weather. The Legs Jacket by VEAR is a waterproof and breathable covering that allows wearers to protect their pants without taking off their shoes.

“Rain is the number one reason people cycle less. We saw a need for high-performance rain pants with contemporary stylish design for cyclists and walkers who need to stay dry and comfortable during their commutes,” said VEAR co-founder Valentin Nicoară in a press release, explaining that people in cities are commuting more frequently.

couple on bikes

“It’s time for commuters to have a stylish, high-performance pant that becomes a key part of their professional wardrobe on snowy, rainy, damp and cool days.”

The pants have a pocket that acts as a storage bag that keeps water from leaking everywhere once the wearer gets indoors. At night, the black pants become reflective to help drivers spot the cyclists sharing the road.

The Legs Jacket has been fully funded on Kickstarter, and the first items are expected to ship in February 2017.

Helping Drivers See the Light

Urban cyclists often move along at the same pace as traffic, winding around corners and popping out of alleys. Blind spots abound. That’s why a company called Blaze has developed a light that helps increase the size of a cyclist’s footprint on the road.

The Laserlight combines a bright LED headlamp with a laser projection to make the cyclist visible from a variety of angles.

In addition to the 300 lumen bike light, Brainer said the Laserlite “projects an image of a cyclist on the ground 10 yards in front of the cyclist, to alert other road users and prevent them from missing you in their blind spot.”

That means before a cyclist appears in traffic, drivers will see the luminous green image of a bicycle on the ground, warning them to take caution. Independent testing comparing Laserlight to LED lights found that cyclists’ visibility to city bus drivers improved from 72 percent to 96 percent. The test was convincing enough for London’s Santander cycle-sharing program to install the devices on all 12,000 of their bikes.

Seeing is Believing

There’s not much about cycling that’s hands-free, so obtaining information from hand-held devices is a bit challenging. To solve that problem, the Garmin Varia Vision hopes to become the Google Glass of cycling.

The device clips to sunglasses and provides cyclists with information by beaming it directly into their eyes. Varia Vision scrolls through information including speed, heart rate, distance traveled and remaining to go, as well as turn-by-turn directions.

The Varia Vision doesn’t block a rider’s peripheral vision, like many other devices worn on the head, and can be used in conjunction with Garmin’s Edge Radar to warn cyclists of approaching traffic.

The Oakley Radar Pace sunglasses also help cyclists keep their eyes on the road. Using state-of-the-art Intel Real Speech technology, the biker can ask for information about pace, heart rate and other biometric data and receive helpful training tips from a coach through integrated ear buds.

Oakley's Radar Pace glasses

The sunglasses have a gyroscope, accelerometer and barometer in addition to a virtual coach that can understand more than 50,000 fitness-related phrases.

“Oakley is all about design,” said Chris Croteau, senior director of business development in Intel’s Headworn Products Division, “so we had to invent totally new technologies, new manufacturing techniques. We put 50 pounds of tech in a 56-gram frame. When you put it on, you literally don’t know there’s technology on your head.”

Music for the Ride

Wearing headphones on a bicycle is inconvenient, and it can also be dangerous. Since most standard bikes aren’t fitted with stereo systems, cyclists often have to spend long hours without their favorite tunes.

Since exercise and music are entwined in most people’s minds, the folks at Scosche came up with the BoomBottle. It’s a portable, Bluetooth wireless speaker that is designed to fit in the water-bottle cage on just about any standard bicycle.

The BoomBottle provides powerful, stereo music, and it’s both shockproof and waterproof.

boombottle waterproof speakers

A Gift From the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

Like the LUMO LED clothing, the Eco Helmet was developed after a cycling accident. Isis Shiffer was riding a Citibike in Brooklyn when she got sideswiped by a taxi. She avoided serious injury, but it got her thinking that helmets should be as readily available as rental bikes.

“I like to travel abroad and ride bikes while I’m there,” Shiffer explained. “I never bring a helmet with me, because it’s big and doesn’t fit into my luggage. The number one complaint from people who use bike services is that they get anxious riding without a helmet.”

So Shiffer designed a foldable, recyclable paper helmet, which can be distributed from vending machines located in areas where bike-sharing is popular.

The helmet uses a honeycomb cell design — think the accordion-style unfolding design used by round paper holiday decorations in stores — that can cushion blows from falling off of a bicycle. The paper helmet passed all U.S. crash test standards for bicycle helmets, performing as well or better than traditional bike helmets. A biodegradable coating also means that the helmet can stand up to rainfall for up to three hours.

Eco helmet - folding bike helmet

The Eco Helmet is designed as a one-use product, and recycling stations will be located next to the vending machines.

The product is not on the market yet, but Shiffer’s work is promising; the Eco Helmet won the international James Dyson Award on Nov. 17, 2016.

Whether it’s stylish LED clothing, a laser projection system, wearables or wireless speakers, bike enthusiasts have a whole new world of tech gadgets to add to their gear snobbery.

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