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This Smart Bike Navigation System Brings Back The Joy Of Riding Unexplored Routes

Don’t become a GPS drone. Beeline keeps you going in the right direction, but lets you explore new areas and decide where to turn.

A typical GPS system disconnects you from the city: you never need to actually pay attention to where you are, and you’ll probably always take the same route between two points.

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Beeline, a new navigation device for riding a bike, is designed to let you explore new neighborhoods instead, without ever getting lost. A compass-like arrow points continuously toward your destination while you choose which streets to take.

“Rather than starting with turn-by-turn and then simplifying it, we were originally talking about how it would be useful to just have a compass on your bike to keep your orientation, as if you had that you’d often be able to find your way if you had a rough knowledge of the area,” says Tom Putnam, a cyclist and co-founder of the London-based startup.

Working with designers at Map Project Office, the founders experimented with a few different variations of the device that gave riders more information. But it turned out that the arrow alone worked well; cyclists who tested it didn’t get stuck on dead ends, despite the lack of guidance. Without explicit directions–but also with the assurance that it isn’t possible to get lost, no matter where you turn–people started discovering parts of the city they’d never seen.

“You’re engaged in the journey and making decisions, so there’s a sense of achievement when you take a little short cut and it works out well,” Putnam says. “You stop being tied to major roads full of traffic, and find yourself discovering all kinds of hidden gems on the back alleys that you end up riding along. Because you’re not a passenger, you really learn your city more.”

He finds something new each time he rides with the device. “A couple of examples that stand out were finding an ancient old wine bar tucked under a railway tunnel and riding past an old square with what Google later told me was London’s oldest freestanding statue in it,” he says.

The simplicity of the technology also led to some other advantages. It’s more affordable than a full GPS system and can last longer between battery charges (up to three months). Because there’s less information to look at, Putnam argues that it’s also safer than trying to navigate with a smartphone app or other GPS. Still, systems like Google Maps do have the benefit of directing riders to routes that have bike lanes or are otherwise better designed for bikes–with Beeline, you’re on your own.

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BeeLine can be pre-ordered now.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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