Bicycling is good for a lot of things — reducing environmental impact, lowering commuting costs, sharpening mental focus and releasing mood-lifting chemicals. It's also a great way to get in better physical shape. So if there's a downside to bicycling, it probably revolves around one thing: safety.
According to the National Highway Safety Administration, 726 bicyclists were killed in the United States in 2012, with the vast majority (88 percent) being male riders in urban areas where 69 percent of all bicycle fatalities took place. An additional 49,000 bicyclists of all ages were injured in collisions with vehicles.
While it is probably impossible to prevent all cyclists from catching a right hook from inattentive motorists, an emerging class of new technology is taking aim at these and other dangerous scenarios. Meet five tech-driven products designed to make cycling safer.
1. Lumos Bicycle Helmet
You know the hand signals cyclists use to let motorists know they're changing direction? They work best in well-lit conditions, which can make cycling at night a vulnerable proposition. Enter the Lumos, a next-gen bicycle helmet with built-in LEDs. The Lumos project blew past its 2015 Kickstarter funding goal, bringing in 647 percent of what it initially sought, and will begin shipping helmets in September 2016.
While Lumos isn't the first bicycle helmet to integrate lights, it advances the concept with LEDs that function as turn signals and brake lights. The yellow signal indicators on each side of the helmet are controlled by a wireless remote attached to the handlebar, while the red brake lights on the rear of the helmet activate automatically as the bicycle slows down. There's also a set of permanently on LEDs on the front of the helmet to increase visibility.
The COBI system is designed to turn nearly any bicycle into a “smart bike.” This new-to-market system includes a two-part hardware system comprising: (1) a smartphone hub that pulls triple-duty as a phone mount, headlight and charger, and which communicates with sensors such as a barometer, altimeter and ambient light activator; and (2) a thumbstick controller that can be installed on a handlebar.
The COBI hardware is paired with the COBI smartphone app, which allows cyclists to take phone calls, plan a route, cue playlists, adjust volume, get real-time weather updates, track fitness and more—using a smartphone or the thumbstick controller. There's even an alarm system: A built-in accelerator senses motion and activates an audible and visual alarm, and sends a push notification to the cyclist's smartphone.
3. Hövding Airbag for Cyclists
The Hövding Airbag for Cyclists is a collar that releases an airbag upon impact. The Swedish-born device is outfitted with 200 sensors that measure movement, recognize impact and inflate the helmet in one tenth of a second. According to the manufacturer, the airbag helmet secures a cyclist's neck and simultaneously protects the head from hard surfaces.
But don't mistake the Hövding as a runner-up alternative for cyclists who refuse to wear bike helmets. “This is a direct replacement for traditional helmets,” says Per Sjöfors, CEO and founder of Atenga, a pricing strategy company working with Hövding. “With this airbag you can bike with the freedom of no helmet, but with the safety of using a helmet. The best of both worlds.”
4. Orbitrec 3-D Printed Bike
The Orbitrec bicycle is so safety-conscious, it will text a friend if you've been in a crash. That's because this bike has some pretty impressive technology built right into its 3-D-printed titanium and carbon-fiber frame.
This Internet-connected road bicycle's manufacturer Cerevo fabricates multiple sensors and implants them into the bicycle frame during a custom printing process so the sensors can send and receive information while the gear is in use. Collected data points include everything from exact GPS riding locations and velocity to temperature, humidity and the impact of lean on the bike's frame.
The information is then logged and analyzed so riders can make adjustments, whether to technique, usage or efficiency. And, with the help of a related smartphone app, the Orbitrec's lights can be programmed to turn on as environmental light dims and its suspension can be set to automatically change with the terrain.
5. Orp Smart Horn
Orp's mission is simple — “make human-powered activities safer and more fun” — and it has packaged this mission into the Orp smart horn. This gadget attaches to a bicycle handle and doubles as both a headlight and a horn. It has a variety of settings that can be activated on the device itself or through a thumb-controlled remote.
The Orp, which is about the size of an orange, has two sound levels that register from 76 to 96 decibels — somewhere between the noise level of a moving car and a trumpeting elephant. Every time the horn is activated, the LED lights flash. The lights also have fast or slow strobe settings and an always-on headlight function. The idea is, much like drivers depend on car horns or headlights, the Orp can make cyclists seen and heard by motorist and pedestrians.