Shoka Bell: The Ultimate City Cycling Tool..If it were 20 Years Ago
Being an enthusiastic cyclist, Shoka Bell, an advanced electronic bicycle bell, immediately caught my attention.
Shoka Bell is pitched as the “Ultimate City Cycling Tool”, with the key features including different types of bells, navigation info, and theft alert. It sounds great in theory, but upon closer inspection it seems, to me anyways, that the Shoka Bell leaves a lot to be desired.
One of the main features is the ability to use different bell tones in different circumstances. For example, you can issue a loud honk to alert cars, or a gentler ring to communicate with a mom crossing the street with her child without scaring them off. The rings are issued using a game controller type joystick, which can be pushed in 8 different directions for 8 different sounds.
It’s an interesting concept, but I imagine it really only stays interesting for the first week. There aren’t that many different situations a cyclist runs into where it’s really worth thinking about what type of ring to use, and I’m willing to bet most would eventually just settle on one. The ability to record and download your own sounds offers some amusing possibilities, it could be a lot of fun for messing around with your friends, but overall this feature feels more suited for the ultimate city cycling toy.
Navigation is another interesting idea, the Shoka Bell gets navigation info from your phone via Bluetooth and displays it for you as you ride. The goal is to guide you around steep hills, dangerous and busy intersections, etc.
The problem is that the display on the Shoka Bell is limited to showing arrows, which, in the day and age of Google maps, just seems too rudimentary.
The problem with this kind of display is that it only tells you what you need to do, but completely lacks context and foresight; where you are and where you’re going. I’d much rather mount my phone to my handlebar and get the full detailed info. The future of this is some kind of augmented reality eyewear, showing you navigation instructions like a heads up display. The Shoka Bell solution, unfortunately, feels more like the past.
Third, there is the theft alert feature. If you leave your bike somewhere, you can take the Shoka Bell with you and it will start ringing if your bike is moved.
First problem, there are a lot of scenarios in which your bike might get moved a little with zero intention of theft. In their pitch video, in fact, they demo this feature by showing a dog sniffing around the bike, triggering the alarm. Admittedly, that dog does look a bit suspicious.
Second problem, the range is claimed to be a radius of 250 meters, which is useful in some scenarios, but also probably useless for many commuters. This feature also probably works using a Bluetooth connection to your phone, explaining the limited range. The future of this is IoT, once your bike is internet connected, you can keep track of it with unlimited range.
The third problem is that you have to carry the Shoka Bell with you, which is simply inconvenient. The thing is that it sits on your handlebar with magnets, so if you don’t carry it with you, someone else will probably carry it away.
Then there is the expected $159 price tag, which is more than the Target mountain bike I’m willing to lock at bus stops. It seems more likely that the Shoka Bell will get stolen as opposed to it saving my bike from getting stolen.
Despite all this, the Shoka Bell has more than doubled its funding goal on Kickstarter, so kudos to them for that! That is a real accomplishment and not an easy thing to do, but I must admit I am a bit surprised. The design, technology and functionality of this device just seems outdated, and costs far too much to be worthwhile for the majority of cyclists.