Cycling is hip. Not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the world. This is of course very positive, but that popularity also seems to have kicked off a second trend: bike gadgets.
“Not a single week goes by without some inventor revealing his invention to make cycling more comfortable, safer or easier.”
For me, a bike is a tool like a mixer or a vacuum cleaner. The less fringes it has the better. My top gadgets (lock, panniers and bicycle bungee cords) are therefore not the newest or fanciest inventions, but solid add-ons to any bike.
I cycle because it’s usually the healthiest, cheapest, most ecological and quickest way to get me from A to B. If a gadget can significantly improve my cycling experience in one of those fields, then I’ll consider it. Yet that’s where it usually goes wrong.
The False Safety Narrative
Gadgets come in all shapes and sizes but more often than not they focus on improving your safety. The unique selling point of many gadgets usually is as follows:
“Cycling is dangerous, but this accessory will guarantee your safety and might save your life!”
I simply don’t agree with the premise. Cycling is extremely safe, as cyclists rarely cause serious or fatal accidents. Obviously, cyclists are often the victim of traffic accidents, but the gadgets tend to play the victim blaming game. “If you had put this gimmicky helmet on, or rode this reflective bike, or had worn these gloves with turn signals, everything would have been just fine!” These types of messages are completely off key and even tend to create a false sense of safety among cyclists.
“Cycling gadgets tend to play the victim blaming game.”
Earlier this year Volvo also joined the victim blaming game as they jumped the gadget band wagon with their Life Paint. Copenhagenize.com was quick to point out the idiocy of the idea, but not before just about every media outlet worldwide had written about the paint.
Many cycling and gadget blogs unfortunately (unwillingly) push this narrative and sensational titles play a big role in tempting visitors to take a look. Here’s a very small selection of recent headlines:
Tackling road safety starts with implementing a traffic policy in which the car is not central. Adopting this mindset will have by far the biggest impact. Of course, all road users (including cyclists) should behave responsibly. Better infrastructure is also critical, as is traffic education. But when it comes to road safety, gadgets should never play a major role.
“Bike gadgets often reinforce wrong ideas about bicycle culture and road safety. In the long run, they do more harm than good and distract attention from real problems and much-needed solutions.”
I need all my senses already when I cycle
Other gadgets are trying to improve your bicycle. For years now car manufacturers have been trying to add gadgets to cars to simplify or enhance driving. As cycling is becoming more popular, inventors now apply that same mindset to cycling.
Unfortunately, the benefits of most inventions simply don’t outweigh the potential drawbacks. A simple example is the hip, Swedish designer coffee cup holder by Bookman. In theory, a nice gadget to have, but in practice totally useless when you cycle through a cobblestone street or hit a pothole. Chances are that I’ll be more concerned with my coffee than with ongoing traffic around me.
Moreover, all my senses are already stimulated enough when I cycle through the city. I’m already continuously engaged with what is happening around me as I’m anticipating potential situations (traffic lights, cars, oncoming cyclists, pedestrians). So I definitely have no need for additional auditory or visual stimuli. Yet that is exactly what many gadgets try to sell. And there are gadgets out there for just about everything.
One example to illustrate: Byxee. A device that you mount on your handlebars and that warns you about upcoming potholes and objects with a beeping sound. The idea and crowdfunding campaign was blogged about worldwide. Advertising enough to achieve a successful crowdfunding, you would think … nope. The project stalled at 14% of the financial target with only 89 sponsors. Why? Because simply no one was waiting for this invention.
Strangely enough though, these gadgets are eagerly blogged about and massively shared. A few more examples that I recently stumbled upon, to wrap things up. You got a headset helmet by Bern and a rearview radar Varia. If you wanna go even more extreme, you can opt for the Raptor visor (movie), a gadget inspired by the helmets used by fighter pilots… With the deceptive slogan “So you can keep your eyes on what matters.”.
Conclusion: Gadgets rarely contribute to traffic safety
There seems to be no end to the cycling gadgets today. I do find it fascinating to see how bicycles continue to inspire creativity worldwide. The bicyle is more than a hundred years old, but its story is far from over. Consider the emergence of electric bicycles for example. And so the temptation will always be there to spotlight a new, creative gadget.
But, sadly, these inventions solve more imaginary than real problems. This also means that there is rarely a big market and gadgets usually reap nothing more than “five minutes of fame” through a variety of blogs and social media. In itself, there is nothing wrong with that, if it wasn’t for the fact that these gadgets continue to reinforce wrong ideas about bicycle culture and road safety. In the long run, they do more harm than good and distract attention from the real problems and much-needed solutions.
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