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New radar device makes cycling safer

Cape Town - A revolutionary new bicycle safety device has been launched, which uses radar to warn cyclists about cars approaching from behind.

Backtracker improves cyclists’ visibility and awareness of what’s happening behind them on the road.

Vulnerable position: Reporter Murray Williams negotiates the chaos of Malta Road between Salt River and Observatory. Picture: Henk Kruger. Credit: Independent Newspapers

South African specialists in radar and computer-vision and cycling enthusiasts Ikubu have been creating prototypes for Backtracker since 2010.

“We believe our device will bring much-needed confidence back to a sport too frequently compromised by fear of unaware motorists. Backtracker is a type of sixth sense that helps cyclists to see what they ordinarily cannot,” iKubu managing director Franz Struwig said.

“Backtracker consists of two small, lightweight units which detect and interpret the speed and acceleration of rear-approaching vehicles at a distance of up to 140m,” he said. “The handlebar-mounted front unit indicates your potential safety risk using a simple peripheral vision range indicator. The intelligent backlight alerts motorists to your position via increasingly frequent light pulses.”

Backtracker’s radar technology is particularly valuable when cycling in low-visibility conditions such as fog and rain, dusk and dawn.

“Also, it’s functionality is not affected by the proximity of other cyclists, which is useful when training in pelotons or on family cycling excursions,” Struwig said.

The Cape Argus visited the company with Ernst van Dyk, winner of multiple Paralympics and World Championship medals and major international marathons, including a record 10 wheelchair-racing titles at the prestigious Boston Marathon.

Van Dyk happily endorsed the life-saving product, testing it on the back of his racing wheelchair.

Struwig said: “The idea for Backtracker was born through a chance meeting with an elderly cyclist, who had resorted to riding in the face of oncoming traffic, for fear of motorists behind him. It inspired us to create a safety product that could bring confidence back into every ride.”

From there, the idea started taking shape through many hours of discussion and preliminary sketches, followed by a hand-built prototype which put the thinking to the test. High- frequency antennas were developed several months later before a more refined second prototype was built. This was, then miniaturised to ensure the components were as lightweight and small as possible, making it ideal for even serious cyclists.

Safety-conscious road cyclists will be able to order the device via Dragon Innovation, a platform that has helped to launch other crowd-funded success stories such as the Pebble smartwatch and Hammerhead navigation system.

Backtracker’s success relies on about 1000 supporters financially backing the product before it can make it past prototyping and on to handlebars.

The device will be available in variously priced packages, including an early-bird special of about R1590, while the standard Backtracker price will be around R2125.

SAFETY TIPS FOR CYCLISTS

- Use pedal cycle lanes where these are available.

- Keep as close as possible to the left edge of the roadway.

- Obey traffic signs and signals.

- Ride with, not against traffic.

- Watch out for car doors opening in your path.

- Wear brightly coloured clothing in the daytime, and reflective clothing at night.

- Fit and use effective front and rear lights when riding in hours of darkness and when visibility is limited.

- Use hand signals when turning or changing lanes.

- Be aware of hazardous road conditions.

- Be aware of other road users, especially at intersections.

- Ride in a straight line.

- Wear a helmet that fits properly.

- Never ride with headphones.

FOR DRIVERS

- Yield to cyclists, especially at intersections.

- Leave a distance between the motor vehicle and the cyclist of at least 1m.

- Check your blind spots and look before opening the car door.

- Do not drive, stop or park in a bicycle lane.

Source: Safely Home Campaign

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