Thu 28 Dec ‘17 11.14 GMT
Even as the temperature plummets, cyclists keep pedalling. And with the new year just round the corner, more people will be turning to two wheels for transport, in the hope of sticking to healthy resolutions. There are startups of all shapes and sizes seeking to capitalise on cycling’s popularity, so we took a look at some of the companies leading the way for 2018.
The theft tracker
The origin of Sherlock, the “invisible” bike tracker, started in a scenic piazza in Turin, Italy. It was there that its founder, Pierluigi Freni, was leaving the theatre with a friend, who discovered that his bike had been stolen. Freni says the pair wished they had a Find My iPhone app for the bike. And so a business idea was born.
The result is a GPS tracker that sits invisibly inside handlebars (so thieves can’t simply remove it). Users activate the device when parking, and receive an alert if the bike is moved. They can then track its position on a smartphone and share a tracking code with police. The app also includes a “bike passport” – a document with information on the bike and the owner – which was developed with police.
The startup has received support from the University of Bath Innovation Centre, as well as funding from the European Union’s frontier cities project. After selling out an initial run of 1,000 units last year, the company is getting ready for a larger second round of production, while celebrating winning the Best Startup prize at the 2017 CosmoBike show in Italy.
The intelligent bike light
Cycle tech startup See.Sense creates bike lights that collect data to inform riders about dangers on their route in real time. The company’s first light used sensor technology to adjust brightness and make cyclists more visible, and the second connected to the user’s phone, enabling low battery alerts and crash notifications. The latest iteration, ACE, is due to be released in June and is all about data.
“ACE allows people to opt in to the See.Sense community and share the data about their rides,” explains co-founder Irene McAleese. If, for example, there is a particular roundabout where a lot of people are having near-miss events, she explains, See.Sense’s aggregated data would show that and allow users to avoid hotspots on their journeys.
The product already has considerable support from cyclists, as demonstrated by the startup’s funding campaign. “ACE reached the funding goal in four hours, and went on to achieve £183,291 with 3,938 backers, making it the bike light with the most number of backers in the history of Kickstarter,” McAleese says.
The safe signalling gear
As bikes become increasingly advanced, there is one area that remains dangerously low-fi: signalling. The law still requires cyclists to indicate with their arms, but that’s not always effective, as Guy Lester, founder of Cyndicate, discovered in 2014. He was involved in a “very near miss” with a cyclist and car, who hadn’t seen the signal.
The idea behind Cyndicate is simple: an indicator panel sits on the handlebars, and when activated, it lights an arrow on the rider’s backpack, alerting drivers to the direction they will be heading, so their intention is clear even when they return their hands to steering.
And it seems that Lester’s conviction is about to pay off: Halfords has just signed a contract to sell Cyndicate products online next year. “We’ve been looking for that big break and we’re hoping this deal is it,” he says.
The dockless sharing bikes
Dockless bike sharing hasn’t had a completely smooth introduction to the UK – after being hailed as the next great disruptor and “Uber for bikes”, the numerous schemes (which allow users to hire bikes for a short period and leave them anywhere) have had teething troubles. But that isn’t stopping these startups from making big plans for 2018.
Chinese startup behemoth ofo (which now has more than 2,000 bikes available across the UK after launching in April), says the company is always looking for new areas to expand into.
“We’re in four cities at the moment – Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich, London – and we’re launching in Sheffield in January,” explains Joe Seal-Driver, UK manager, ofo.
Soon the company is going to start experimenting with “smart” pricing in which the rider pays for the route rather than just the time: “If you’re cycling down a hill, for example, you’ll pay more money than if you’re going up the hill.” The company hopes to reach “different community groups and different kinds of people”.
“We’re very active: it’s a cheesy corporate line but our ambition is to unlock every street corner,” he says. “We look for dense urban environments, where there’s a problem with air quality, and where cycling could be improved – and there are lots of cities in the UK that could do with us.”