I am a long time avid cyclist. I presume to know what’s best for you. We mock those who don’t obey the Rules. You must wear the right clothing and wear the right shoes, ride the right bike, and don the correct helmet. We’ll even mock your choice of handlebars.
The reasons we create these barriers to entry are complex, but these attitudes stifle innovation and creativity within the industry while also discouraging newcomers from testing the waters.
It’s not just the bike industry that does this. I worked for a Silicon Valley computer firm known for its failure to convert its technological brilliance into marketing success. For decades, European automakers ignored requests from their American dealers for decent cupholders because their engineers presumed to know better. Who wants to sip a carbonated beverage when one is engaged in the serious business of driving an automobile?
When a group of young problem solvers in California designed their Helios handlebars to “transform any bike into a smart bike,” the endemic bike media — both traditional and new — mostly ignored the slick integration of a headlight, turn signals and Bluetooth connectivity. We didn’t think we need those things because, after all, our normal handlebars work fine, and so what if the headlight mount is a little bit clunky and ugly?
But a funny thing happened. The Helios concept went viral among gadget and technology blogs. This list of features available just from the Bluetooth connectivity allowed Helios to nearly double their Kickstarter project goal.
- Proximity Lighting – Allow your bike to sense your presence & automatically turn on your headlight when you’re near, and off when you’re not.
- Turn Signals – Left and right blinkers keep you safe & visible on the road.
- GPS Tracking – Track your bike via SMS from anywhere in the US. Receive the coordinates of your bike & a Google Maps link to its location within 30 seconds of tracking.
- Visual Speedometer – The rear facing LEDs change color according to how fast you ride, providing you with a visual speedometer so you never need to have your phone out.
- Turn-by-Turn Navigation – Find the fastest route to any destination by harnessing the power of the Google Maps API.The rear lights will indicate when a turn is approaching.
- Ambient Lighting – Set the color of the rear lights to any color you want.
Who buys Helios handlebars? People who don’t consider themselves “avid cyclists.”
Cool and useful gadgets like the Helios handlebars have encouraged people to try biking. Helios co-founder Tony Belmontes tells me, “In terms of Helios bringing otherwise non-biker commuters to biking, is without a doubt a trend we’re seeing. In fact, we’ve had people who can’t ride a bike purchase Helios bars in hopes of learning how to ride a bike, just for the technological benefits and the experience of something totally new to biking.”
“Helios appeals to not only folks who bike now, but those who have forgotten the magic of cycling or hadn’t really considered it as a viable mode of transportation.”
I welcome these newcomers to cycling into the fold, regardless of their choices in apparel, bikes, and handlebars!
Disclosure: This post was written as part of Progressive’s Apron Project, helping tell the story of people and their initiatives making progress towards a greater good. I have been compensated as a contributor to this project, but the thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.