August 24, 2020

#5 Light it up

At this point, we knew urban commuters’ go-to excuse for not wearing a helmet is usually style: ‘it doesn’t look good on me’, ‘I look dorky wearing it’. So the first fundamental point to create this helmet was quite clear from the get-go: style.

And by style, we don’t mean just building something attractive… we mean making a life-saving product attractive enough so that style – or lackthereof – is no excuse not to wear it.

Making a stylish helmet is certainly a step in the right direction but hardly a full plate.  We wanted something more… an extra layer. So we zoomed in at these commuter experiences to see what else could be done to improve them.

Urban commuting is certainly not free of issues and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that. Riders moving through the city and sharing an outdated infrastructure with other bikes, cars & buses exposes them to many dangers. If you look at hard data – which you must-do if you want an objective look on things – you’ll see 55,000 cyclists get injured per year in the US (and estimations state only 10% of incidents are reported). Even though bike-friendly infrastructure and overall awareness have grown in the past years, about a thousand people die every year in bike-related accidents.

‘It seems riders worry less about crashing than they do about getting hit by a car’

70% of these fatal accidents occur in the cities with heavier traffic, meaning the link between bike accidents and cars on the road is quite strong, but that is no surprise. The real surprise is this: even though helmet use is quite low (40% in the US, 20% in Europe), cycling lights are widely used (over 90%). Why?

It seems riders worry less about crashing than they do about getting hit by a car… and making themselves visible matters more than protecting their head if & when they crash. Ok, we are onto something here.

To back this up we talked to more than 300 urban cyclists to corroborate all this and a pattern quickly emerged: blind spots, low light, intersections, recurring problems with drivers always coming down to visibility & communication. In other words, ‘Sorry, I didn’t see you there’ and ‘How could I’ve known you were going to do that’.

If you were paying attention you’d say ‘wait, isn’t that what cycling lights are for?’, and you’d be right. Cycling lights are usually cheap, convenient, and make one visible on the road. But they’re not perfect: they are easily lost, forgotten and even stolen. And let’s face it, who hasn’t forgotten the overnight charge before a morning commute? Sure, it’s better to use them than not… but do they really get the job done? They sit quite low (usually under the seat) and most of them are super small. In terms of visibility, a bit underwhelming.

When the smoke cleared, we had almost 300 people tell us they used cycling lights and yet were still afraid of getting hit by a car. Well, it doesn’t get clearer than that, we’re looking at that extra layer: we’re putting lights on our helmet!

It’s go time.

The UNIT 1 Team