How electronics on bicycles improve the most ingenious machine in the world
The bicycle is the most frequently built machine in the world, and can look back on almost 200 years of history. Despite many innovations, the bike is far from fully developed. Because many of us avoid the bike because of numerous weaknesses. Read in this blog post how electronics and the LEAD User Method help to further perfect the bicycle.
"No other invention combines the useful with the pleasurable as a bicycle." This quote is not from a bicycle freak, but from Adam Opel, the founder of the car designer of the same name. Like Opel, there are many other prominent fans of the Velocipedes. Albert Einstein, a physicist and Nobel Prize winner, for example, commented on "his" theory of relativity: "It occurred to me while I was cycling. And British admiral and politician Charles Beresford even said: "Whoever invented the bicycle deserves the thanks of mankind. The emergence of the car as a means of transport may have caused the advantages of the bicycle to be somewhat forgotten. But now cycling is back in fashion. Despite the weaknesses of the bike, which even its declared fans cannot discuss away. And on closer analysis, these are not so few:
1) Cycling leads to perspiration
As an athlete, you want to see this phenomenon, but as a commuter you hate it. Or do you like to start your working day with wet stains on your shirt or business blouse? And you're afraid of your deodorant failing all day?
2) Cycling is dangerous
By bike you are not the strongest road user and are dependent on the consideration of the truckers and motorists. Pedestrians and dogs are also a danger to you. Because their movements are often unpredictable and, moreover, as a cyclist, you often have to share traffic areas with precisely these road users, who are difficult to assess. And: As a cyclist you have access to paths that are rarely used. If you fall and get seriously injured, you should be glad if you can still use your smartphone or hope to be discovered in time.
3) Bicycle theft is the almost perfect crime
Stealing a bicycle is often still a trivial offence. With equipment becoming more and more expensive, organised crime is also interested in bicycles. The detection rate of these offences is in the low single-digit percentage range. Bicycle theft is a serious problem, especially in cities. If you can boast that you have not yet become a victim of such an offence, you belong to a rather rare species.
4) Cycling gets dirty
Bicycle chains have the unpleasant property of sliding out of the sprockets or chainrings. This annoyance is less common with hub gears, but it is not entirely excluded. Hands full of black greasy dirt testify to such an incident. These always occur when they are not needed at the moment.
5) Bicycles remain unheard in the traffic chaos
A bicycle bell may serve its purpose on cycle paths. On roads with cars, however, they remain unheard. As a cyclist you often have only a roar to make car drivers aware of you and to demand the right to which you are entitled according to the traffic regulations.
6) Bicycles are poorly lit
Generations of cyclists have made their way through the darkness with the help of a side-running dynamo. However, the luminosity of the front and rear lights was only marginally stronger than that of a standard grave candle. Modern hub dynamos brighten up the surroundings of the bike a lot more. And battery-powered lighting systems make even the main beam of a car appear dark. Nevertheless, the lighting of the wheel is still a weak point: Either you don't stand out enough or you left the battery operated lighting system at home to protect it from thieves. Stupid only if it gets dark before you get home.
7) Switching requires experience
Today, modern bicycles are equipped with 30-speed gears and more. In order to be able to use them for your own benefit as a driver, you need some experience. But don't worry: even professionals can "interconnect" themselves. On the one hand, this is dangerous, because you then step into the void as a driver. On the other hand, it is annoying because the chain often falls out and you get dirty fingers (see point 4).
8) Often orientation is lost at the wheel
Drivers find their way on the basis of square meters large and at conspicuous places marked signposts. A navigation device including voice control makes orientation even easier for the driver. As a cyclist, it's a lot harder for you. Cycle paths are usually only marked with stamp-sized signs. Sometimes there is no indication of the further course of the cycle route - or the signpost was even turned over or thrown into botany by an unknown hand. To look at the map, you as a cyclist have to interrupt your ride. And even card-reading co-drivers are rare on bicycles. Navigation devices or smartphones designed for cyclists often have disadvantages such as reflective displays, too detailed displays or insufficient battery power.
Innovation as an end in itself
In view of all these shortcomings, it is actually surprising how many people regularly get on their bikes. So the driving feeling must be pretty great. However, the bicycle designers cannot be accused of innovation fatigue either. On the contrary: the industry is keeping cyclists in suspense with numerous novelties at ever shorter intervals. The problem is that many of them, such as the 650B wheel size or carbon rims for road bikes, bring little benefit or even new problems to cyclists. These developments are only intended to encourage consumers to constantly purchase new equipment. In some cases, they are even forced to do so. Because the technical durability of bicycles and components is shortened: A steel wheel can still function well after 100 years if properly maintained. Vintage races like L'Eroica or In Velo Veritas are the best proof of this. The materials commonly used for frame construction today, such as aluminium or carbon, fatigue much more quickly. In this way, however, innovation becomes an expensive end in itself - at least if it is not successful on the market.
User-centered and electronic
However, a San Francisco-based startup shows how much room for improvement there is in bicycles. Its "Volata Cycle" makes targeted use of electronics. But the really special thing about this bike, which will also be available here next year, is something else: Because the developers have asked themselves the question: What annoys us most about cycling? They then simply worked through this list, which should be strikingly similar to the one above, as well as possible. A procedure quite similar to the LEAD user method. The result is certainly something to be proud of. Because the Volata Cycle is:
The computer with 2.4-inch display is mounted directly in the driver's field of vision and can be operated with a joystick built into the brake-shift combination. The driver does not have to take his hands off the handlebars. The computer serves as a weather station, and also provides information about heart rate and smartphone messages. Particularly clever: navigation is via large arrows, so that the driver only has to look at the display for a moment. In busy city traffic, this is not only practical, but can save lives.
A horn, which can also be activated with a joystick, makes itself heard in urban traffic. The volume of 96 decibels is hard to overhear.
Rear and front lights of the Volata Cycles are permanently installed in the frame or in the fork. Forgetting light at home is therefore impossible. The energy is provided by a hub dynamo, which also serves as a power source for the aforementioned bicycle computer and other electronic components. If the lighting conditions deteriorate (tunnel, twilight), the bicycle lights switch on automatically.
The electronic hub gears provided 11 gears. The dreaded "shifting" is not possible because the electronics ensure an exact gear change.
The Volata Cycle is not driven by a chain, but by a belt. Chain oil is therefore just as unnecessary as regular maintenance. Dirty fingers are a thing of the past. By the way: The belt cannot jump off the gears at all - this is ensured by the electronic gearshift.
The Volata Cycle is equipped with a GPS sensor. If the bike changes location without the owner's knowledge, he will receive a message on his smartphone. So bike thieves have a hard time. Or are quickly caught because a stolen Volata Cycle shows the authorities the way to the delinquents.
Additional equipment prevents perspiration
The Volata Cycle is a good example of how something tried and tested can be significantly improved thanks to electronics and a user-centered innovation strategy. But the bike is not expensive at all: a mid-range road bike or a mountain bike made of carbon always costs 4,000 euros. However, the sweating caused by the movement does not prevent the volata cycle. However, it can be converted to an E Bike with an electric motor. Several solutions already exist on the market.
A bicycle as a helper in need
It is not only Volata Cycles' goal to further improve the bicycle with the help of electronics. Fortunately, there are many other resourceful developers who choose a list of shortcomings that is quite similar to the one described above as a starting point. For example, Deutsche Telekom and Canyon, a bicycle manufacturer from Koblenz, presented an intelligent bicycle some time ago. Thanks to sophisticated sensors and mobile phone technology, the bike becomes a "thing" on the Internet of Things. The smart wheel can get help when the driver is in an accident. Or it knows exactly when which wearing parts have to be replaced. Unfortunately, this development has not yet gone into series production.
Conclusion: How electronics on bicycles improve the most ingenious machine in the world
The vast majority of innovations that the bicycle industry presents every year serve one main purpose: to sell more wheels by constantly developing and realizing new products that are often of little use to the user. If the bicycle industry would increasingly use the LEAD User Method, then the novelties presented would probably look a little different. And they would probably also have more success on the market. Instead of getting passionate cyclists to buy another bike, these innovations would also appeal to new target groups. They would convince people who do not want to do this to themselves because of the numerous disadvantages today. These innovations would be able to change the world of mobility. True breakthrough innovations.
Born in the Salzkammergut. After working for Shell and Porsche, he concentrated on innovation management as a study assistant at the Innovation Department of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. In 2003 he founded LEAD Innovation and manages the company as Managing Partner. Lectures at MIT, in front of companies like Google or NASA.