People who ride bikes tend to appreciate the beauty of the analog machines they ride—untouched by electricity or gasoline, this mere assemblage of gears gives them the freedom to outpace digital life. So, while speedometers are often a necessary part of a cyclist's kit, they break the bicycling idiom. You just can't lose yourself in analog super-speed when there's a series of blinking LEDs on your handlebars.
With the Omata One, Julian Bleecker and Rhys Newman are looking to give cyclists a beautiful bike computer that looks and feels just as analog as the bike they are riding.
On the outside, the Omata looks like a Swiss-made assortment of nested analog dials inside a milled aluminum frame. The white hand points to distance. The orange hand, meanwhile, points to speed, centering on 18 miles per hour because it's anecdotally a "lovely speed to just roll," says Bleecker. The dial on the lower-left measures feet climbed, and the dial on the lower-right displays either duration or time of day, configurable through a smartphone app.
Despite its analog dials, though, the Omata One still has a digital brain. All of its functionality is powered by a GPS-equipped computer running behind the dials, which Bleecker admits is a little "devious," since it could be considered a cheat by analog die-hards. Yet Bleecker says the attempt with the Omata One isn't to create a pastiche of the analog. The dials serve an important purpose.
"Bicycles are supremely mechanical objects," Bleecker says. "Everything about them is legs moving gears moving wheels." A traditional electronic display not only introduces the cognitive dissonance of the digital into this "supremely mechanical" experience, it's simply as not as legible as a good old mechanical dial. How many times have you had a hard time seeing a digital screen in the sun? No one wants to have the same problem when trying to figure out how fast they're going.
Bleecker says that the Omata One's mechanical nature also allowed them to avoid the design pitfalls of having a display. "The problem with displays is that because they're so malleable, they become a honeypot for extraneous information," says Bleecker, who along with Newman knows a thing or two about busy LCD UIs: the two met working at Nokia. "Eventually, if you're not careful, all the noise and chatter of the Internet starts appearing on your bike's display. But that's why people ride bikes: to move away from that noise." Staying analog in appearance (if not entirely functionality) allowed Bleecker and Newman to keep focused on designing the Omata One to convey only the data cyclists need, as beautifully and legibly as possible.
The Omata One is available for pre-order on Kickstarter today, starting at $499. That's a bit expensive, considering that the Omata One isn't doing anything your smartphone couldn't do, but Bleecker says that he doesn't think cyclists will balk at the price.
"It's a premium product," Bleecker admits, but if there's one thing he's learned over the years, "cyclists don't compromise on their bikes."