Why can’t a bike’s dashboard be more like an Audi’s? That’s what a small group working with the German automaker’s “connected car” systems wanted to know. So they left Audi to find out.
They started a new company, iCradle. The result is the COBI, a $159 all-in-one electronic system you can mount on your handlebars. It includes turn signals, a headlight, a tail light, and a smartphone dock that will recharge your device while the system’s app optimizes routes via GPS, plots distance and speed, counts calories and heart rates and logs the results on health apps such as Apple Health and Google Fit. It plays music. There’s a theft alarm too.
Riders can operate the smartphone without touching it: thumb controllers let riders keep hands on the handlebar grips. And the speedometer only appears after hitting 18 mph, to avoid rider distraction. “We have a responsibility to not get the rider into dangerous situations,” said iCradle co-founder and head of software Heiko Schweickhardt.
According to chief brand officer at bicycle manufacturer Specialized Bikes, Frank Aldorf, the COBI isn’t for everyone, but there has been an increase in demand for systems like it.
“There’s an increased number of people on bikes, and I think the ask for having a smoother, more comfortable and more enjoyable ride has definitely increased with that,” Aldorf said. “It’s less about the bicycle and more about the riding experience. The bike hasn’t changed a lot — in terms of innovation, we celebrate being able to shave a few grams off a road bike each year — but the experience of riding a bike has changed, and now it can be richer if you want it to.”
Other companies sell complete systems. The Helios system comes premounted on a set of handlebars. The Smart electric bike comes with a similar system pre-installed. The iCradle version, however, lets finicky riders – which is most of them – use the handlebars and bicycles they prefer.