A certain segment of the biking world loves gadgets, and usually, this segment has a lot of overlap with the road-biking segment. After all, a little computer on your bike that gives you all kind of fun stats can be an entertaining way to distract yourself from the next set of hills in front of you.
Urban cyclists haven't yet en masse embraced these gadgets or the idea that computer-enabled devices for city bikes are necessary.
Now two new gadgets – one from a team in Montreal, the other from a group in my bikey hometown of Portland, Oregon – are getting ready, their creators say, to make a better biking world.
SmartHalo is a bike light attachment to standard-sized handlebars (and with tamper-proof screws) that stays on your bike and provides a number of features through your smart phone: step-by-step directions, anti-theft features, weather alerts, activity tracking and more.
Ride, from a Portland start-up, is a smart phone application that uses GPS to automatically log your bike rides and then afterward, lets you rate them quickly from the lock screen of your phone.
SmartHalo's tag line is: Turn any bike into a smart bike, while Ride's, on the other hand, is taglined 'A Mind for the Bicycle'.
Both companies aim to improve the experience for cyclists and by extension, get more people to decide to bike.
Ride will give people's feedback and anonymous route data to the city of Portland so that the city (hopefully) improves bicycle planning and infrastructure. Ride principle Will Henderson has also embedded a number of sensors on Portland streets to collect bike and car data. Eventually, Ride data will also help create turn-by-turn bike directions taking both rider preferences and comfort into account.
"When we start to aggregate the ratings, we can see on a really precise level what intersections are problematic," said Henderson in a recent KGV TV spot.
Ride was also featured on a Marketplace segment last week. Henderson has said the app will be available in the next month.
SmartHalo, said its makers, is designed to address the spectrum of cyclists needs, from the 'casual dabbler to Lycra wrapped road bicyclists'. SmartHalo is seeking funding through a crowdfunding campaign next month.
“SmartHalo’s design philosophy has always been centered on minimalism and simplicity. Biking in cities is already a challenge so our product needed to be smart yet easy to use, without being another distraction." - Gabriel Alberola, SmartHalo director of user experience.
Of course, neither Ride nor SmartHalo are the last we'll see of gee-whiz bike apps and add-ons.
But is this just another instance of depending (perhaps too much) on technology to solve our intractable problems, while never quite cracking the human-relations issues?
One of the main reasons people don't bike now in cities is for fear that they will be hurt, maimed, or killed by a car. Lots of us bike in spite of this fear and just try to stay alert to conditions.
No technology, however, has yet been created that stops a speeding or distracted or impaired driver from making a mistake that leads to a collision with a bicyclist or pedestrian. Volvo is at least trying, with its pedestrian protection system (an add on that also adds $3,000 to a Volvo's price tag!).
So it seems that gadgetizing our bikes could be simply another shiny technology distraction, or it could be the road toward urban bike nirvana. What do you think?