Over the past three or four years, I’ve funded various bike related projects and products on Kickstarter. Of these, I’ve reviewed the Torch Bike Helmet and the Blaze Laserlight in past blog posts. Both are examples of unique products that were brought to market by entrepreneurs via crowdfunding, and I’ve been pretty happy with both. However, if I look at all of the bike related Kickstarter projects that I’ve helped fund, I can see that my Kickstarter experience has been somewhat of a mixed bag. This table summarizes all of these projects. As you can see, funded projects range from printed things (comics, shirt, posters), bike accessories (lights, camera), documentary films, and the latest: a complete cargo bike. Vendors ranged from individuals to established companies. There are a couple of patterns. The most obvious one is that in cases when a completely new product has to go from a prototype that is just at the stage where launching the Kickstarter is possible, all the way to a product manufactured in large batches, things can be delayed significantly. The most overdue project is a high intensity bike headlight that promises not only to be exceptionally bright, but to have well designed optics for a beam pattern that has a sharp vertical cutoff. Given the rapid development of LED’s over the past two years, I now question whether the light will be competitive with recent commercial lights such as the latest from Fenix. The Blaze light and the Torch helmet were less late, and also had the advantage that both were arguably unique products, with no direct commercial equivalents. In both cases, a steady stream of updates during the long delays made the waits more bearable. The other two product Kickstarters that I am waiting on are the Haul a Day Cargo Bike, and the Bitlock electronic bike lock. These are quite different projects. The Haul a Day involves Bike Friday, which is a very well established manufacturer that was raising capital in order to be able to expand their ability to built cargo bikes on a larger scale. I already own two of their bikes, and I have every confidence that their bike will be of high quality, and that their after sales customer support will be great. Thus, it wasn’t much of a risk to support them, and as a cargo bike user, I also support their larger goal of popularizing longtail cargo bikes for everyday utility biking. The Bitlock falls more into the category of the Torch or Blaze: a first time group that is still working out the bugs in supply chain, etc. The delay means that their product will no longer be that unique. There have been a couple of other bike locks on Kickstarter since then, and there is a crowdfunded solar powered competitor as well. This won’t necessarily affect the unit that I will get as a result of the Kickstarter, but it certainly would affect the viability of the Bitlock as a commercial product in the long run. I have also supported projects that I have a personal connection to, such as the two Aerovelo projects, and more peripherally, the Graeme Obree film. In all three cases, I’m more than willing to cut the projects a little slack. Finally, there are some projects related to bike culture or bike advocacy such as the Less Car More Go, or Cars vs Bikes documentaries. Here again, I am basically supporting a cause and am not so concerned about what I actually end up with at the end of the day. I had to support the second one as I am actually in the trailer for the film. (from Bikes vs Cars trailer, footage taken during the Henry Mejia Memorial Ride) What do I consider when I back a project? If it is a bike widget, I look first for uniqueness, tempered by the expectation that I might end up with something that is not fully sorted, and that might not have any meaningful warranty support in the future. Given that most of these things are made in small numbers, I’m not necessarily going to get something that is a screaming good deal, as it is very very difficult to compete on price with established bike accessory manufacturers. I do take care in reading the descriptions of the projects, but in some cases I still end up with something that I won’t necessarily use that much. Case in point: the Fly6 video camera. I didn’t realize at the time that this unit only mounts on a seatpost, and on all my bikes, I either don’t have enough exposed seat post, or there is a pannier, rack or bag that will block the view of this unit. I’ll figure out how to use it eventually, but in the meantime, there have been plenty of other small video cameras that are capable of loop recording that have come down in price. Of the product projects that do get funded, I’m not sure how many will survive as retail products. The Blaze Laserlight is a very nicely designed product, but the price point is quite high, and the safety that it provides is probably not more than what $200 spent on other bike lighting products would provide. I do get lots of comments on it though. Similarly, I get lots of questions about the Torch Helmet, so there would appear to be a market for it as well.
One bike project that attracted a lot of funding was the Vanhawk bike, which promised to integrate smart electronics into a carbon fiber urban bike. I wasn’t that interested in the bike as I didn’t buy into the concept, and I had some reservations about the apparent lack of bike design smarts as presented on the kickstarter page (their prototypes clearly had some issues), but it was fascinating to read the backer comments and expectations during their campaign. Here was a bike promising all sorts of things at a price point that was pretty low. The other thing about the project was there were all sorts of bells and whistles to be added to be bike such as disc brakes and belt drive at various stretch goals. Delivering a carbon bike with embedded electronics and haptic feedback for $1000 was going to be a challenge ($1250 with a NuVinci hub). With the over the top success of their campaign, they now have to provide belt drive and disk brakes as well at the same price point, something that I think would be a challenge for an established bike manufacturer. For example, here is a non carbon bike with similar bike spec without the whizz bang electronics for $1400. It looks like they have hired some good people so I hope that they pull this off, and it was amazing to see the buzz during the campaign, but I hope the backers of this project will not be disappointed.
Here is an interesting article about kickstarter and crowdfunding gadgets in general.
Update #2: I write about Kickstarter bike projects on the Dandyblog.
Update #3: looks like Vanhawks is in trouble.