Unless your lucky enough to live in Copenhagen, the urban bike ride is still a pretty hazardous commute–and one that requires your full attention. Amongst street signs, pedestrians, inattentive drivers and narrow bike lanes (that often double as bus stops), city cyclists have enough to worry about without having to pull out an iPhone for directions.
The product designers at London-based industrial design studio Map agree. As cyclists themselves, they often bike to meetings together and would talk about the pain of having to stop and look at your phone for navigation, says the firm’s design director Jon Marshall. Through a client, Marshall met Mark Jenner and Tom Putnam, who were developing an app that points cyclists toward their destination without giving turn-by-turn directions. Map agreed to design the hardware and BeeLine was born.
There are other devices out there that offer directions at a glance for safer navigation (we wrote about the lovely SmartHalo earlier this year), but BeeLine differs in that it doesn’t dictate exactly where to go. Instead, an arrow shifts subtly in direction of the destination like a compass needle, giving the cyclist the freedom to explore new routes along the way. “We have a natural sense of direction and that direction gets distorted in a cities where the lanes curve and you easily lose your way,” says Marshall. “This offers a sense of exploration and a way to feel safer and empowered directions, rather than restricted.”
The device itself was designed with simplicity and affordability in mind. Made with an e-paper screen and a silicon strap, the BeeLine straps to your handlebars when in use, and fits into a protective case or on a keyring when its not. “The screen is low cost and low power, so it can stay in your bag for one to two months without having to recharge,” says Marshall. Using the accompanying app to set their destination and any waypoints, cyclist need only to glance down at the screen to know they’re headed in the right direction.
Having the freedom to find your own way seems ideal when you have the time, but what about when you’re in a hurry? Marshall says Map tested BeeLine side-by-side with cyclists using Google maps and the travel times were essentially the same. “There’s a believability gap–people think it takes longer [than Google Maps], but as long as you roughly know the city it’s just as fast,” he says, noting that when one technology did beat out the other, it was often by one or two seconds on a half hour ride. “We wanted BeeLine to be a very simple, pure product that’s affordable for all cyclist. There are other fantastic products for turn-by-turn directions, we wanted this to offer something completely different.”
Put another way, BeeLine offers guidance but also encourages riders to trust their instincts and natural sense of direction. In an age when technology often does all the work for you, this subtle sense of friction is oddly refreshing. And who knows, you might even learn your way around.
BeeLine is available to back on Kickstarter now starting from around $33 for early bird pledgers (shipping summer 2016), and around $65 when it hits the market.