If an 80,000-pound semi truck slams into the new Babel Bike, the bike is supposed to survive–along with the person riding on it. The Babel Bike surrounds the rider in a “safety cell”–a custom seat that looks like a cross between the roll cage in a race car and a bike seat made for a toddler.
“The safety cell is physically large enough so as not to get under the front or side of large vehicles, so the Babel Bike (and rider) will be pushed away by the bus or truck, not crushed by it,” says Crispin Sinclair, the U.K.-based entrepreneur who created the bike. A seatbelt holds the cyclist inside the safety cell, so they won’t be thrown out in a crash.
Sinclair came up with the idea after a crash of his own in London. When a turning van didn’t see him in a bike lane, he narrowly avoided his own death and his bike was crushed. He had an epiphany: Why not redesign a bike that could fully protect a rider? Over the last couple of years, he worked with a team creating hundreds of prototypes of a safer bike.
The final bike has several other features that go beyond a standard design. If a cyclist pulls into a truck’s or bus’s blind spot, the bike sounds an automatic alarm. Front and rear lights come on automatically as someone rides, even during the day. The horn is as loud as a car’s, so drivers can actually hear it. The bike also has turn signals, rear view mirrors, and foot protectors (one foot protector doubles as a Kryptonite lock). Components like wheels are locked to the frame to prevent theft.
Sinclair believes that the bike can fundamentally change the number of people who are willing to ride on busy city streets. “Survey after survey shows that safety is the number one reason people give when asked why they don’t cycle more,” he says. “By being the first company to build dedicated safety features into the bicycle we genuinely hope to cause a very significant uptake in the number of people using their bikes on a daily basis.”
But will people want to ride a bicycle that looks so different from a classic design? Sinclair points out that they’ve made the shift before–in the 1800s, penny farthings with giant wheels were commonplace. The new “safety bicycle,” invented in the 1880s, with the design we now think of as standard, also had to go through a period of acceptance. “In 1884, the Rover Safety Bicycle would have looked very odd as it looked completely different to what bicycles would have seen as ‘normal’ for a bicycle,” Sinclair says.
The startup thinks the bike will be most popular in cities like London, where, despite a growing number of bike lanes, cyclists still often have to ride with traffic. In a place like Copenhagen, with a full network of separated lanes, it might be less necessary–though even there, Sinclair argues that it could protect people on bikes from turning vehicles.
“Proper bicycle lanes are, of course, the best solution for bicycle safety,” he says. “But until these are put in all over New York and London and thousands of other cities around the world, we hope and believe that the Babel Bike will be very popular.”
He is currently raising funds for the bike on Indiegogo. It’s not cheap–the Indiegogo discount price is £1,999 (nearly $3,000), or £2,999 with an optional electric motor. The company plans to offer payment plans for those that can’t afford the up-front cost, and hopes to make it accessible to everyone.
“It will work out less than you would currently pay to commute by car, bus or train, assuming an average commute of three miles or more each way,” Sinclair says. “When you own the Babel Bike outright, your daily commutes are completely free. And you won’t need to go to the gym or for a run afterwards, as you will have built your exercise into your daily commute.”