There was a time when the humble bicycle was simply a collection of mechanical parts helping us get from point A to B. And although bikes have certainly been slave to the progressive march of technology, they have largely avoided a digital revolution… Until now.
Enter the Vanhawks Valour.
A tremendous Kickstarter success story, Vanhawks managed to raise $820,083 – Over 8x their original goal of $100,000. Billed as a “rethinking of the urban commuter”, in addition to a solidly spec’d carbon fiber bike, there’s certainly no shortage of digital enhancements to be found on the Valour:
- 3-meter blind spot sensor delivering haptic handlebar feedback – Should anything enter into the sensors range (behind the bike) you’ll feel a vibration through the handlebars.
- Handlebar embedded directional LEDs – Proactively tells you where to turn based on the route you selected through the app.
- Smart route tracking – Including traffic, terrain, elevation, etc. This information is enhanced by other peoples travels as well.
- Mesh network security – Other bikes will look for the unique signature of a stolen bike and notify the owner.
- A front wheel dynamo hub will charge all the electronics with a 1-hour ride.
- Metric-based app that collects speed, distance, calories and time (along with the routing features)
- Available as either a single speed or with an internal variable transmission
It’s an impressive list, but at the end of things I’m left asking if it’s all really necessary. What does “being connected” on a bike really mean? What is the benefit? Does this actually make life easier for a new urban commuter? Are new commuters really looking for this depth of information and assistance?
We know that generally speaking the largest barriers to new riders are infrastructure and safety related – I wonder if the technological augmentations in this bike will help to overcome shortcomings in these areas… I can certainly see the value in each feature, and although you could argue that a 3-meter proximity sensor may give a cyclist the valuable seconds they need to avoid a collision, will it really help a new rider overcome their insecurities and get out and ride in the first place? Is that 3 seconds providing the right kind of safety? But perhaps, the Valour will play an important mitigation role in a city whose infrastructure falls short.
I also wonder if new commuters will have enough confidence in these technologies to drop $1,200SUSD. Though for that price, they are getting a pretty solid bike. Interestingly, to help reduce costs Vanhawks developed a new carbon layup for the frame based on biophyllic design (explained lower in the article). I’m unaware of this approach being used elsewhere in the cycling industry, so I’m intrigued to hear how it performs.
At first blush, I can definitely see value in features the Valour is bringing to the table – Those embedded directional LEDs would definitely be handy in areas of town I’m not familiar with. However, when I look at the whole package (admittedly knowing I’m not the target market), I’m not sure that I’m 100% sold.
I think there would be tremendous value in a bike like this being integrated into a bike-share program. Accessibly designed, pain-free routing, potential for built in tours (tourists), internal gearing, etc. (though I’d imagine the bikes in these programs aren’t quite as spendy as the Valour).
I guess at the end of the day, I’m left with more questions than answers, but from a technological standpoint, I’m certainly intrigued. I know this type of evolution is inevitable and is ultimately just one of the steps bringing us closer to being controlled by the machines ;-)
What do you think? Is the Vanhawks Valour a technological marvel, or destroying the simplicity of the bicycle?