How new bike technology could help cyclists tell drivers not to crash into them

Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a Scottish blacksmith, may have been the first to invent the pedal-driven bicycle, when in about 1839 he attached a treadle like that on an old sewing machine to a hobby horse and made it possible to pedal. Then, about three years later, he set out on a journey that might be another first: he left his home in Dumfries and Galloway, pedalling 130 miles to visit family in Glasgow, where a crowd gathered to watch. In the confusion, Macmillan knocked over a child, and was fined five shillings for doing so.

Ever since the bicycle was invented, accidents have followed closely behind. (It is not clear whether Macmillan really was the “gentleman from Dumfries-shire bestride a velocipede of ingenious design”, described in a contemporaneous newspaper article, who caused the incident in the Gorbals.) Nearly 200 years on, bikes have improved at an astonishing rate – but not always in ways that have kept people safe.

In recent years, however, new technology has joined the humble helmet in an attempt to avoid bike crashes and reduce injuries when they do. Innovations allow cyclists to know where drivers are, even if they can’t see them; and upcoming products will make that more broadly possible, letting bikes and cars talk to each other with the hope it will stop them colliding. Proponents hope that new technology will make cycling safer, allowing more people to get out on bikes and, among other things, help the environment. But some fear that the technology, if not properly implemented, could actually make cyclists less safe on the roads.


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