Wearables and the Future of Cycling Technology

Wearables and the Future of Cycling Technology


Wearables and the Future of Cycling Technology


Simon Tuck


I’ve had a glimpse of the future and I’d like to share it with you. I visited the Wearable Tech Show recently at the Excel in London and it got me thinking about Wearables and the Future of Cycling Technology.


You stroll out to the garage and get your bike. You roll off down the street. The temperature is still a bit nippy and the sensors in your kit run voltage to the heat conducting wires in your jersey, shorts and insoles just enough to take the chill off. The solar panels in your helmet are already charging the batteries that power the inbuilt tech. As you go, your heads-up display shows you that one of your riding buddies is already at the meeting point.


A visit to the Wearable Tech Show recently at the Excel in London has got our man thinking
A visit to the Wearable Tech Show recently at the Excel in London has got our man thinking


As you come to the end of the street you put your right arm out just briefly, but it’s enough to activate the orange LEDs woven into the arm and shoulder of your jacket. As you put your hand safely back on your bars to brake for the corner the red LEDs on the back of your jacket brighten to show other road users that you’re slowing down. When you turn the corner the LEDs on your right are still flashing orange on that side to indicate your intended path. As you complete the turn, the LEDs turn off.


You gesture and the sensors in your gloves select ‘phone’ and as you speak his name your friend’s phone number is selected from your stored contacts and the call is placed. You speak to him through the microphone and speakers woven into the collar of your jacket, and tell him you’ll have a flat white.


You put the hammer down as you start to warm up. The power meter in your shoes, combined with the HRM and integrated respiration sensors woven into your clothing, tell you how hard the hammer is down via the heads-up display. Your GPS tracker and navigation app light up the small LEDs on your gloves to tell you which way to turn.


As you pull up to the cafe, lock your bike and walk in, you don’t need to take anything off of it because it’s all built-in to your clothing. Your mate has just sat down with your drinks. You high five, paying him for the drinks wirelessly through the gesture at the same time, it was your turn to buy because you got there last.


Later when you get home you review the footage recorded by your glasses of when you got cut up by a lorry, and decide that it wasn’t as bad as you had thought at the time. An app can predict by monitoring your sleep patterns, recent activity, and current readings, whether you’ll be able to do another long ride tomorrow. If you’re risking over training you can have a day at home, or go for an easy recovery spin to help prevent injury.


All of the data collected by another app will be used by local councils to detect accident hotspots, poor road surfaces and popular routes. Google ‘smart cities’ for more information on how some of this data can be used in the future. Strava and Garmin already use data on popular routes in their route planner programmes.


We'll be reviewing the Visijax from Wearable Technologies
We’ll be reviewing the Visijax from Wearable Technologies


I’ve used a bit of artistic license, but most of these things are already possible. You may not yet
find one item of clothing that has all of the above features, mainly because of the difficulty in mass producing such a complicated garment and the amount of battery power it would take.


Wearable Technologies Limited already produces a cycling jacket, the Visijax, which has motion sensitive signalling technology. Clara Swiss Safety Technology has something similar with indicators and braking lighting built-in. Smartlife and Hexoskin amongst others already produce garments with textile sensors to monitor heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration, muscle utilisation, power, brain activity, eye movement, temperature, Galvanic skin response (which helps to measure stress), and accelerometry.


Garmin and Recon both produce heads-up displays which can show maps, control your phone functions and display your exercise statistics. Emfit, Beddit and FirstBeat all produce technologies that monitor your performance and/or recovery and sleep patterns. FirstBeat equipment is already used to analyse top-level sports persons and optimize training loads for certain events. Brim Brothers and RPM2 have both designed wearable power meters.


If I crash, the SEE.SENSE ICON lights I recently reviewed can call a pre-programmed number, there’s no reason this programming can’t be integrated into clothing. There are quite a few companies working on wearable airbags. In fact, in the motorbike world you can already buy leather suits with airbag technology in. Dainese have been using it for years and first tested it on their MotoGP riders.


The Hexoskin jersey can measure heart rate, breathing rate and volume, how active you are and your sleep patterns
The Hexoskin jersey can measure heart rate, breathing rate and volume, how active you are and your sleep patterns


I know a number of cyclists that have fallen off and broken their collar bone, that classic injury that comes from breaking your fall with your hands and the shock going through and fracturing the weak link. I know they would probably have snapped up (sorry, I didn’t even mean to do that) an airbag device that weighed little and would have saved them months of off the bike recuperation.


I know lots of riders who at the very least will have done an FTP test or a VO2 max test. I know a few who have gone more in-depth and gotten lactate thresholds and body fat analysis and other tests done in the name of improving their performance and their understanding of their performance. Having all the sensors in a vest that you can wear is the next logical step, you can see in real-time if you’re improving and if you need to rest.


Generally I guess it doesn’t matter to most riders whether your tech is attached to your bike or your person. As a racer who also commutes regularly (but fortunately not in rush hour so the roads are a bit quieter) I like to monitor all of my rides, as even my commutes can become training rides. In fact often, especially through winter my commutes are the only outside training I get! When I get to work, or if I have to go shopping or to a meeting, I don’t want to spend ages taking all my smart lights, GPS and other assorted bits off my bike to stop them being stolen. It’s much easier if they are all integrated into my clothing.


Hardly discreet, but could a cycling HUD improve your ride?
Hardly discreet, but could a cycling HUD improve your ride?


On a ride I don’t want to have to delve around my jersey pockets to retrieve my phone if someone calls me, or if I want to take a picture. My Garmin 1000 tells me who is calling and can show me a text message, but the technology is there to take this further. The Garmin Varia Vision glasses are giving us a glimpse of that future (see what I did there), and the rest of the companies mentioned above are all helping us along the path of Wearable Technology.


I don’t know how far I’m going to take this myself, but I’d definitely like to have a longer try of the Garmin heads up display and I have a cycling jacket next to me, the battery pack is charging via USB. I’m going to be wearing it on my commute. It has white LEDs on the chest, red on the back flap, and orange LEDs on the bicep and tricep areas that are motion activated and flash to indicate a change of lane or intention to turn. What wearable tech would you like to see?


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