Somewhere on Princess St. in Toronto, Canada, a group of dreamers is working on their vision for the future of bicycle commuting.
In 2011, Sohaib Zahid and Adil Aftab developed a carbon-fibre manufacturing process that won them an award at the Bike Expo in Munich, Germany. Rather than license the technology they used this as a springboard to chase their dreams of entrepreneurship. Along with Sohaib’s brother Ali and friend Niv Yahel, they founded Vanhawks with the vision of applying connected and smart technology to their own line of carbon fibre bicycles. They’ve since attracted a broader team of engineers, designers and developers and in 2014 raised more funds on Kickstarter than any other canadian company (over $820,000 to date).
Sometime this year the company hopes to bring to market the Valour; a commuter bicycle with a number of smart connected components designed to improve the commuting experience. The pre-market Valour at face value looks like a traditional hybrid bike. Its relatively upright riding position is suitable for the quick moves often required in cities and its bottom bracket is relatively low to make it easy to stop and put a foot down in stop and go traffic. Vanhawks Chief of Design Mark Remennik, formerly a designer with a well-known road bike manufacturer, says on the company’s website that “we’ve hit a great balance between comfort and performance; our aim is to design a commuter bicycle that’s both safe and fun to ride.”
The Valour’s spec is adequate with Avid mechanical disc brakes, Ergon seat/grips/pedals and is available either in singlespeed belt-drive (18lbs) or with a near infinitely variable CVT Nuvinci N360 internal gear hub (22lbs). Lights are integrated in the front and back and offer an attractive 150 lumens of brightness. A nice touch is the internal routing in the fork for both the brake cable and the battery-charging dynamo cable. Valour frames are available in either black or white frame color, with red, white or black rims.
By connecting to an apple or android smartphone, the bike offers built in turn-by-turn navigation, speed tracking, speed tracking, distance and elevation, blind spot detection, and anti-theft tracking. Through a number of sensors mounted at various points of the bike, data is gathered and collected via a downloadable smartphone app. Unlike many ride tracking applications available today, the Valour automatically begins recording data when it senses that it is being ridden and does not require the user to consciously start the application.
As the number of Vanhawks bikes on the road increases, the navigation technology will become more and more powerful. Aggregate data gathered will be used to feed a crowdsourced route planning service to avoid trouble spots like traffic and potholes. If your Vanhawks bike is stolen, you can mark it as such and if it comes near another Valour or open wifi network it will notify you with the location.
The embedded electronics and lights in the Valour require power to operate. There is an onboard battery that recharges as you pedal using an onboard dynamo hub. While this does presumably reduce pedaling efficiency slightly (although I’ve tried several dynamo hub bikes from other manufacturers and can’t say I’ve noticed the extra resistance) it does mean that the connected features of the bike are always ready to go.
The feature I found most interesting was a blindspot detector. Using ultrasonic sensors the Valour monitors a 4×10 foot area behind the bike and vibrates the grips if an object enters this “safe zone”. Clearly this is not designed for peloton use, but I can see how it might help avoid traffic accidents for commuters.
In a way, the Valour is not a product, but is instead a rolling showpiece for a modular piece of technology. The “brains” of the bike all sit within the integrated stem/handlebar and could in theory be applied to any commercially available bike. As a blue sky vision the company hopes that someday other bike manufacturers will see the value offered by the Vanhawks system and license the technology for their own commuter bikes. The company says that the more bikes out there that have the technology the more observations can be collected, improving the networks ability to plan their routes.
Vanhawks has attracted over $800k on kickstarter on an initial target of $100k, and has since attracted an additional $1.6 million in funding from Real Ventures, Olympic triathlon gold medalist Simon Whitfield, Brenda Irwin of Relentless Pursuit partners as well as various angel investors.
The first bikes are expected to ship sometime this year with pre-orders being accepted now via kickstarter. The bikes are designed and engineering in Toronto, and manufactured in China and Taiwan. While risks are always involved in buying such an early stage product, the Valour may be a worthwhile purchase for the urban commuting early adopter. Whether or not we’ll ever hear the name “Vanhawks” uttered in the same sentence as giants such as “SRAM” or “Santa Cruz”, it is always exciting to see innovative new technologies being developed right here in Toronto and I wish them (and their vision) the best of luck.
All photos courtesy of Vanhawks www.vanhawks.com