Unlike most of my other posts this post is not about law but it is about innovation.
I’ve been cycling as a commuter as not for leisure for the last four weeks. That has prompted me to wonder why cycle manufacturers don’t innovate, especially when cycling is a green technology. One factor seems to be that the companies that make bicycles don’t see bicycles as a green technology, another and closely aligned factor seems to be that bicycle manufacturers see their customers as leisure riders who purchase their bicycles to use only in daylight in suburban settings.
While this might have been accurate in the early 1980’s and then only in developed countries, and that excluding Europe, its certainly no longer accurate. If most adults who ride bikes, or at least road bikes expect to routinely (1) ride in traffic and (2) leave the bike other than in a locked garage then way are (1) visibility and (2) security not integral to the design of road bikes?
Most bikes have reflector panes on the peddles perhaps a little disc reflector mounted somewhere on the back or front. There has been no innovation on making bicycles visible since the 1960’s. If you want to make your bicycle and thus yourself more visible then you have to buy additional lights to add on. These are problematic because they are usually not very good, rely on batteries and are easily stolen. Batteries create difficult to dispose of waste and are usually relatively weak, generating far less light than is needed to make a cyclist visible.
Why not integrate front and rear lights into road bicycles, lights that are part of the frame and so not easily stolen and that are on whenever the cyclist is riding day and night.
There is actually older technology available to do this, a dynamo powered by peddling which stores some power a battery and which powers lights on the bicycle. Manufacturers could do this in the 1950’s, so perhaps they should be able to manage it now.
Why stop at having a front and rear light when one could have a strong of LED on the frame?
Instead of a few measly reflectors why not paint bicycles in reflective paint? Perhaps there is some concern that that will somehow look unappealing. I can’t think of anything more appealing about a bicycle than that it might reduce my chances of being crushed by a drive gabbing on a cellphone no matter what it looks like. But perhaps I am in a minority who cares more about surviving than how pretty my bicycle is. Well then find a way to make reflective paint aesthetically pleasing, if as a bicycle manufacturer you can’t marry form and function you should either hire some new designers or get into a different business. Invest a little in preventing your customers being killed in traffic and you’ll get more repeat business.
It may come as a surprise to bicycle manufacturers but bicycles and components are readily stolen in urban areas. Like traffic safety bicycle security is one of the major reasons that people don’t commute by bicycle. Employers, city councils and other organizations can help change this by providing secure parking for bicycle, but so can manufacturers. Simple locks on quick release components such as seats, light and front wheels will help stop the petty theft. What about bikes themselves. Manufacturers look for lighter materials to reduce the weight of bikes, and ignore the total load that cyclists carry when they are forced to carry heavy cycle locks. A lock which uses the front and rear brakes would at least prevent a bicycle being ridden away even if it can’t prevent it being awkwardly carried away. There is plenty of room for innovation.
Many of cycling commuters chose to buy cheaper or second hand bicycles because of a concern about theft, and others don’t commute at all because of it. Innovate to sell more, and more expensive bicycles?
Environmental concerns, coupled with the cost saving benefits of cycling have given rise to a new interest in urban cycle commuting. Many people are willing to spend quite a bit of money on bicycles which they will use every day to commute. A manufacturer which makes bicycles that integrate visibility and design will have the entire market segment to itself.
Edited to add: a reader has pointed to a few websites where some of the features that I’ve suggested should be on every road bike are available on some bikes, although not, as far as I could see, all on any one bike. No-one seems to be offering dynamo powered lights. There also don’t seem to be any security innovations like alarms and smart phone de-activates locks.
That raises some interesting questions: if some of these features are available at those vendors why aren’t they more widely available?
Why aren’t those vendors more prominent?
How come I’ve never seen a bike with these features in South Africa or the United States?
Do only a small minority of commuters care about avoiding injury, death and theft?
What do Y’ll* think?
* I am allowed to use this term because I am writing this post in North Carolina.