Get Smart. How data and technology are changing the path of cycling.

Globally, spending on smart transport is projected to reach nearly US$4 billion a year by the end of 2020 as urban planning authorities turn to technology to help reduce many of the transport problems our rapidly expanding cities are experiencing. Some of the technology already exists, some is just around the corner and some may or may not happen at all.

Bicycles communicating with vehicles as automation rolls out across the road. Smart cities building insights on traffic flows to plan better cycling infrastructure. Information in the hands - and on the handlebars - of cyclists to enable faster and safer journeys. These scenarios are part of the vision for the future of road transport and some are already becoming a reality today.

A smart approach to using new tech could help create a better experience for riders, while aiding the creation of safer and more attractive urban spaces for two-wheeled transport.

At Torch we are assessing all areas of technology advancement while maintaining the simplicity of Being safe. Being seen. While our technology research continues, we are believers that underdeveloped and ‘fad’ technology even in its simplest form can, at times, be a distraction to the rider and therefore dangerous when your key senses to maintaining your own safety remain human.

We will integrate technology of differing degrees in the future that prioritises the safety and convenience of the rider or commuter. We are, however, a huge fan and advocate of technology that supports convenience and is an enabler to our customer’s journeys especially when it is built into the fabric of our cycling environment.

In this blog, we review some of the latest information from the 2020 Deloitte Report which focuses on technology to improve cities, health data, workplace technology, how bike-sharing is on the rise and opportunities to make cycling socially safer.


Technology can help redesign cities

For the past century, cities have primarily been designed around cars. Bicycles and their needs for space and storage have usually been an afterthought, if indeed they were thought of at all. The construction of a 10-story garage would not merit a write-up in a local newspaper. The opening of a three-story bike park adjacent to a train station in Utrecht, Netherlands made news around the world.

But although cars are likely to remain prevalent for decades to come, a growing number of cities are beginning to reallocate available space to accommodate other forms of transport, including bicycles. Giving bikes more space is very likely a critical step toward making cities more hospitable to bicycle use: Many people who might otherwise embrace cycling are frightened off by the prospect of sharing a crowded road with big metal vehicles with only a helmet for protection. The good news is that there is plenty of space to reallocate. The United States has more than a billion parking spaces, for instance, and more than half of all of the country’s downtown space is given over to roads or parking.

In some cities, effective road redesign has prompted notable habit changes. London has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in creating standalone bike lanes. Partly as a result, cycle journeys in the city grew by 5 percent in 2018, with more than 4 million kilometres travelled by bike each day. The deployment of a dedicated bike lane on one of London’s busiest bridges, which required the removal of a lane previously used for cars, enabled a 5 percent increase in the number of people crossing the bridge during peak usage hours.

Data and analytics technologies can aid urban planners’ efforts to devise bicycle-friendly solutions. The amount of data available to planners is growing, while advances in analytics are making this data ever more useful. London’s transport authority is using a digital tool called Cynemon to help inform investments in the city’s bike lanes. This tool applies algorithms to data synthesised from multiple sources to determine what routes bikers are most likely to take along Greater London’s network of streets and urban paths.

Strava, whose consumer app collects data from millions of bikers and runners around the world, aggregates and anonymises this data through its Metro product and makes it available to departments of transportation and city planning groups to use in improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Depersonalised, aggregated data from mobile network operators could also be used to understand commuter journeys.

Bicycles and bike accessories themselves can be fitted with location and motion sensors to yield useful data. In the United Kingdom, Manchester’s city council subsidised a program that equipped bikers with See.Sense lights to capture data on routes, journey times, problem spots such as potholes, and key pinch points or stoppages. The council used the aggregated and anonymised data to understand what routes cyclists were using and where safety concerns were highest due to factors such as lack of infrastructure, adverse road conditions, or overexposure to traffic.

Health Data

The health benefits of bicycling and other forms of exercise have been proven many times over. As just one example, one major study that followed 236,450 participants for five years found that bicycling to work was associated with a 41 percent lower risk of dying compared with commuting by car or public transport.

Cyclists also had a 52 percent lower risk of succumbing to heart disease than non-cyclists, and a 40 percent lower chance of dying from cancer. Even riding an electric bike can improve a person’s health; an e-bike may require less effort, but less effort does not mean effortless. One US study found that people who rode e-bikes for 40 minutes each week for a month improved in cardiovascular health, aerobic capacity, and blood sugar control, while also losing body fat. 

In association with national and local governments, health care systems could use data models to predict the long-term financial benefits of health improvements driven by behavioural modification programs. These analyses could then be fed into cost models for the redesign of cities and towns to encourage more bicycling.


Workplace Tech

We spoke last week about how Employers, too, should be involved in shaping healthier commuter habits. Many companies already invest heavily in a range of worker well-being initiatives. Businesses can encourage people to bike to work in many ways, such as converting existing car parking space to space for bikes (10 bikes can fit into a single standard car parking space).

New buildings could plan to build in ample space for bikes from the beginning; Zurich’s AXA Winterhur office, which was designed with 1,000 bike parking spaces, is one example. Office entrances could include a dedicated ramp for bicyclists.

Calendar apps can add further incentive by encouraging workers to bicycle to their next meeting rather than drive or take a cab. The app could show projected travel time for a range of options, including for mechanical and e-bikes; as observed previously, cycling in major cities is likely to be faster than driving or taking public transportation, and e-cycling faster still.

Bike-sharing on the rise

There are billions of bikes in the world, with hundreds of millions of them under individual ownership—but only a small fraction of them are regularly used. One reason for this is because bikes are seldom around when you most need them. With the rise of bikesharing, this is changing.

Bike-sharing makes bicycles available at the point of demand. More than 1,000 dock-based programs exist worldwide, representing tens of millions of shareable bikes. The bike-sharing market is even attracting bike manufacturers seeking to diversify; specialist folding bike manufacturer Brompton, for example, has 45 rental locations in the United Kingdom which we utilised in our recent blog Camera. Brompton. London.


Although bike-sharing usage is still relatively low—in the United States, for instance, only 45 million trips were made on shared bikes in 2018, as opposed to the 115 million cars and trucks driven on US streets every day —electrification should make bikes-haring more appealing in the future by offsetting one of its major current drawbacks: the weight.

Shared bikes are designed to be up to three times heavier than a standard bike, both to make them more robust and able to withstand heavy use, and to make them less attractive to would-be thieves. But heavy bikes can be harder to ride, and they may discourage the less fit from making the attempt. An electrified e-bike, on the other hand, can be both robust and easier to pedal than mechanical shared bikes.


Safer Cycling

A major reason that people do not ride bikes—of any type—is because of safety concerns. Here, too, technology can offer multiple solutions.

Manufacturing (3D printing) techniques can improve helmet crash resistance, and this is something that we at Torch are using to improve our products and bring a new version helmet (T3) to market in the next 12 months.

Technology can help protect bikers from social dangers as well. Female cyclists, in particular, can be at risk of being physically attacked, and are often subjected to verbal abuse from drivers or male cyclists about their clothing, speed, body size, or even the merits of bicycling while pregnant. To help combat these issues, manufacturers are beginning to integrate increasingly high-quality cameras into helmets, lights, and bikes.

Filming antisocial behaviour does not address the root of the problem, but it may deter or dampen it. Not only can this improve safety for women riders, but it may also help increase overall bicycling participation rates, which tend to be higher in markets where women feel safe bicycling. In the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, for instance, there is minimal difference between male and female participation rates in cycling, and overall bicycling rates are among the highest in the world.

On the other hand, one study of trends in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia found that male cyclists outnumbered female cyclists by about two to one. In New York and London, about three-quarters of commuter cyclists are male.

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