There once was a time where jumping on your bike and pedalling through the streets was a chance to relax, sit back, and be the master of your own journey. But as cities get busier and busier, it can often feel like you’re putting your life on the line every time you swing your leg over the top tube.
Few places can be as intimidating for both novice and seasoned cyclists alike as London.
According to a government reports there are 2.6 million privately owned cars registered to London residents along with 23,000 licensed taxis with more than 30,000 vehicles driving through the city every single day.
This is the city Blubel founder Sasha Afanasieva found herself in. An advisor working with later-stage tech startups during fundraising rounds, Sasha was knee-deep in the business and the busyness of the city.
So when she first began cycling it was like breaking free from the chains of expectation. Taking the road less travelled she started to experience the ‘real’ London. The one off the main roads and bus routes.
But quickly that freedom grew its own set of constraints.
The problem was not only that she didn’t know where she was going without constantly consulting a map, but that the routes most apps and tools were sending her down were main roads—congested, busy, and definitely not cycling friendly.
“I kept getting lost and it was a bit of a nightmare. So I kept thinking about what would make this easier for me. And I kept coming back to this idea that the more people you have cycling in a place like London, the more you have this feeling of power in numbers.”
The more Sasha cycled and learned the best routes from the city’s more seasoned riders, the more she thought about building something that could help all cyclists. It was like there was two sides to the city, with sometimes only a few roads separating them. You just had to know where to go.
From app to prototype to product
The first idea was an app that allowed people to share routes and tips—almost like a crowd-sourced journey app. But despite promising to give you the best route possible, she quickly discovered how difficult it is to interact with your phone while riding.
Not only do you need to look down constantly to make sure that you’re going the right way, but there’s just too much information to quickly parse whether or not you’re taking this turn or the next.
So Sasha thought about other options—things that wouldn’t seem out of place on a bike, yet could tell you where to go quickly, easily, and intuitively. The answer? A smart bike bell.
Blubel is a bluetooth enabled bike bell that intuitively guides you to your destination using routes that real cyclists take and real-time feedback on what’s not only the fastest, but the safest route for your ride.
You simply put in a route on your phone and it connects with the bell via bluetooth.
A light then shows up on the unit displaying where your final destination is and you just start following that. As you come up to changes in your trip, Blubel will give a slight buzz and show turn by turn navigation.
The design is almost like a clock with 12 lights that blink in different ways depending on how and where you have to turn. If you have to make a slight turn or veer right, just one or two LEDs will start flickering in the direction of your turn. The sharper the turn, the more lights light up, sort of directing you and swirling to the right.
“It was all about making it really simple but also very engrained with the environment so you don’t have to think about a map or street names or what a particular sign means. It’s literally just following lights in front of you.”
And the bell housing isn’t just an aesthetic choice. It allows users to quickly give feedback on a route and any potential dangers there might be.
Pothole? Construction? Closed route that hasn’t updated on the map? Just ring your bell and the app will track and re-route future riders if needed.
Through the simple act of ringing a bell you’re creating a living, breathing cycling map of the city.
Making it more than just a map
“Through the process of figuring out the concept, I’d spent probably about half a year just talking to loads of cyclists to figure out what features made sense and who this product is actually for,” explains Sasha. “And from my perspective there was just still all of these things that weren’t necessarily set in stone.”
She needed to understand just what Blubel would be—not just as a product, but as an idea and a brand. With a solid prototype together, the next step was to cast their idea out into the world and see what they could catch.
“So we decided it would be really good to create a website, both to create a dialogue externally but also to help us refine and filter through all of our ideas.”
With the initial prototype of Blubel, Sasha had gone all in, building it out of a yogurt pot filled with Arduinos and coding the original version. So when it came time to build a site, she decided that her time was better spent finalizing the product.
She started the search for a design firm to build out their site, but most people had specific expectations—copy, layout, wireframes—which she just didn’t have yet. They were still figuring it out as they went along.
Eventually, Sasha stumbled across Crew and we connected her with Rueben—a designer and developer from Berlin known for his bold illustrative style, custom typography, and awesome use of color.
“With Reuben, he was very accommodating in that sense of helping us to explore how we were going to show this idea and explain it. Rather than saying ‘well send me a list of bullet points that you want to have’, he said ‘Ok, I understand the story that you’re trying to tell and I’m going to help you build it’.
“It was almost like he was working with us on identifying what is it that we needed to show on the website.”
The main goal was to raise awareness of their product, and capture sign-ups for people interested in testing and eventually purchasing Blubel. It needed to be welcoming, fun, and playful. The product is very much designed for the urban cyclist and they wanted to show that in the design and the brand.
“It isn’t just a tech gadget. And it’s not just for ‘cyclists’. It’s about having fun. Because you can have all these different bikes with different personalities we wanted the site to be more fun and graphic rather than realistic. Less ‘Ok, here’s what it looks like on a bike’, and more ‘how can we make it more fun and colorful and bold?’”
One of the major goals was also to show the journey that Blubel can help take you on. So as you scroll down the site white and black stripes move with you, simulating the lines on the road as you ride. Lastly, but most importantly, they wanted the site to highlight the smart features of Blubel—how it’s actively learning and updating your route as you go; how it intuitively guides you without the distraction and danger of looking at your phone; and how you can even use it to remember where your bike’s parked! (A common issue if you’re a regular urban cyclist!)
A product, a site, and now, a Kickstarter campaign
With their product almost 100% ready for market, a clean, beautiful site, and a concise brand message, Sasha and the Blubel team are ready to make biking a little bit safer for everyone.
They also just launched on Kickstarter, so if you’d like to see Blubel become a reality (and grab some peace of mind for the next time you’re on two wheels!) head over to their page and help them out.
And if you’re interested in building a marketing site that will help you get the attention your product deserves, hit us up and we’ll connect you with someone like Reuben.
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