Despite plenty of well-publicised horror stories, every year lots of us cyclists will happen across something cool on a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, put down some cash and then expect the finished product to arrive a few months later when the successfully-funded project has gone into full production.
Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but… it doesn’t always turn out that way, which is why I find myself, almost four years on, still waiting for a clever cafetiere with a thermometer, timer and coffee grind depository at the bottom for easier clean-up.
This particular crowdfunder was actually too successful, with the small team behind the product unable to fulfil the huge number of orders after securing over $1 million in crowdfunding, and later being named the ‘Fyre Festival of French Presses’.
Having only chucked £35 or so towards the eventual downfall of the Rite Press, it’s not something I felt bitter about for long when it became apparent I was never going to receive it. I’ve never actually backed a cycling product personally, but a quick Google of ‘cycling indicator crowdfunder’ (or any other product category that appears on our round-up of where cycling products go to die) and you’ll find crowdfunding platforms are littered with unsuccessful projects for low value cycling-related items.
You might see some fairly angry comments from disappointed backers, but usually no one gets burned too bad here. If the crowdfunding hopeful can’t bring the project to life for whatever reason and isn’t in the financial position to refund backers, they have failed to fulfil the agreement entered into; but for pretty much any backer who isn’t a particularly resentful millionaire, the cost of bringing legal action will be far too time-consuming and expensive.
Having said all that… it’s not all doom and gloom of course! Some hugely successful companies both in the world of cycling and beyond began life on crowdfunding platforms, such as the Swytch e-bike kit (that you’ll read more about below) as an example of the former and the Oculus virtual reality headset as an example of the latter. Each crowdfunder mentioned in this listicle has been given a verdict on whether we think it has been successful or not. Some of these verdicts were much more straightforward to arrive at than others…
We’ll start on a high with the innovative Bristol-based bikepacking luggage specialists Tailfin. We’d never really seen pannier racks this light or luxurious before Tailfin came along, and judging by the comments under our first article on its carbon rack and pannier, some predicted the reason was that there simply wasn’t a market for such products.
The rise of ultra-distance cycling events and bikepacking put paid to the naysayers, though, as Tailfin’s first Kickstarter smashed its target in four days back in 2016. The demand for super strong and light luggage racks and packs – and what people are prepared to pay for them – has clearly gone up in recent years, with subsequent Tailfin products receiving rave reviews on road.cc and elsewhere.
As its regular product launches and popular Instagram page suggests, there are no signs of the demand for Tailfin’s products slowing down, and the brand no longer appears to need crowdfunding investment to bring new innovations to life.
From one of the best examples of a crowdfunding success story in the bike industry, to one of its most notorious failures. Dublin-based Brim Brothers hit Kickstarter in early 2016, having tried and failed to bring its wearable Zone DPMX power meter to the market for several years already. The cleverly designed gadget clipped onto your cycling shoes and measured power from the cleat, with hopeful cyclists backing the project to the tune of €175,443 collectively.
Unfortunately the struggle to manufacture the product continued even after the cash injection, and in October 2016 Brim Brothers was forced to inform all backers in a statement that it had ceased operations, and the power meter would not be delivered.
More than five years have passed since Brim Brothers’ grim news; and after we contacted him recently, former CEO Barry Redmond, who has since founded sports and wearables consultancy company BR Sensors & Systems, was kind enough to provide us with a comment about what happened.
Barry told road.cc: “While our Kickstarter project was a success from a fundraising point of view it was ultimately a disaster for everyone. There is nothing to celebrate.
“The support of all our backers meant a huge amount to us at the time but we did not deliver our part of the bargain. When everything came crashing down at the end of 2016 we let down our families, our investors, and our Kickstarter supporters. It took me a while to learn to live with that.
“You learn most when things go wrong so if there’s any positive at all from the experience it’s the lessons learnt. Primarily, be very very careful with crowdfunding a product that doesn’t quite exist yet – both as a fundraiser and as a funder. It’s in the nature of people to be optimistic about something new and exciting – that’s how new things are created – but the trick is to balance optimism and imagination with reality.”
Knog Oi Bell
Knog’s wildly successful 2016 crowdfunding campaign for the Oi differed to most plucky start-ups, as the Australian brand founded in 2002 was already pretty well established for its lights and locks. As we said at the time, this was a reinvention of a product that hadn’t really changed since it was invented in the 1870s, with the slim design wrapping discreetly around the handlebar.
It was a neat concept, receiving a largely positive road.cc review initially… but then the complaints came in, mostly about the volume (or lack of it) and the spring mechanism breaking off, the latter of which I fell victim to myself.
Knog went away and introduced a nicer-looking, louder and more refined version, the Knog Oi Luxe, which got better feedback overall. The Classic and Luxe bells continue to be sold on Knog’s website alongside its other products, most of which are instantly recognisable and successful.
Verdict: Eventually a hit
STYX power meter
Another innovative power meter that never saw the light of day, and this one was actually fully embedded into the cleat. We were so intrigued that on route to another press launch in the summer of 2017, I actually stopped off to meet with the inventors and have a look at the prototype, writing the story up here. The picture above was taken in an airport cafe as we chatted over some extremely expensive coffees and pastries.
The impressive PhDs, who worked together at ETH Zurich’s Multi-Scale Robotics Lab, explained how the power meter would be incredibly accurate by measuring real force rather than using its own parameter and measuring via a strain gauge. For €610 backers could secure a unit with delivery expected for late 2019… but as far as we know, that coffee and pastry was the only thing any cyclist got out of Magnes, as the crowdfunding failed to reach the target and the product never materialised.
We tried to get in touch with the folks I spoke to, but have yet to receive a response. The Indiegogo campaign no longer exists, there is no mention of STYX on the homepage of the Magnes website and its social media accounts haven’t been updated for over three years.
Verdict: Miss (unless someone tells us otherwise)
As mentioned already, you’ll find plenty of cycling products with smart safety tech on Kickstarter that never saw the light of day… but the nifty LED lights on Lumo’s smart Herne Hill Harrington jacket and waxed canvas backpack changed all that, raising almost £75,000 back in late 2014 and going into production shortly afterwards.
The Herne Hill got a good review on road.cc, receiving praise for the bright LEDs and comfort of the jacket itself, but less for the £250 price tag. Lumo went to Kickstarter again in 2016 for a new range, and as far as we know the products were delivered after a successful crowdfunder… but the Lumo website no longer exists, and a message on its Instagram page from 2019 says it was acquired by Lumos Helmet. The Lumos website doesn’t stock Harringtons or bags with LEDs on, so we can only assume the products are no longer being manufactured.
Verdict: Hit… then a miss
Swytch e-bike conversion kit
Another crowdfunding success story, the original Swytch e-bike conversion kit was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo and received a positive review from our sister site eBikeTips back in 2018. The simple system features a battery pack that sits on your handlebars, a cadence sensor on the crank and a motor built into a wheel to fit your bike.
The smaller and sleeker version 2.0 (above) was described as “the easiest way to convert almost any bike” in the second eBikeTips review, and the company has gone from strength to strength. CEO Oliver Montague told us:
“Since crowdfunding, the company has delivered over 30,000 Swytch Kits to 74 countries across the world.
“Swytch runs a pre-order every month where you can secure 50% off the kit’s RRP but make sure to register on the website as they sell out every month. They are now up to 5,000 units production capacity every 2 months and still selling out!
“Swytch sold 17,000 kits in 2020, 10,000 of these were to the UK and they have estimated that they have almost tripled the size of the market single-handedly, and captured more than 60% of the UK eBike kit market.”
HindSight Edge smart sunglasses
Raising over £100,000 on Kickstarter, the HindSight team includes former Olympic team sprint champion Callum Skinner and promised a product that would “enhance situational awareness” on the road and “will challenge the very way people cycle” at launch last year.
The idea is that the £200 shades would make looking behind you a thing of the past, with angled lenses so you can see what’s going on at the rear… our reviewer thought otherwise, saying that the HindSight glasses are “a good concept, but a long way off being a viable alternative to a good old shoulder check.” Looking at the comments on the HindSight Kickstarter page, a few customers who have received their rewards don’t have many nice things to say either.
HindSight last posted on its social media pages in late November, and shared a survey on its Facebook page asking for feedback to improve the product in mid-November.
Verdict: Crowdfunding hit… but product a miss so far
The “world’s first 3D-printed custom unibody carbon fibre composite bike and e-bike” was one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns of all time, raising over £5 million in 2020… but as we reported back in March last year and as you’ll see on the photo above, the finished product backers were receiving wasn’t quite what was promised… and those were the lucky ones from what we can gather, as the thousands of comments on the Superstrata Indiegogo page suggest that many who have paid thousands for a bike haven’t received anything yet.
Others have questioned the design, and Superstrata was forced to make numerous changes to improve the strength and ridebility of the chunky, seat tube-less frame.
A recent response to a comment from an angry backer on Indiegogo says: “Doing something new (in Superstrata case is transform how we as a species will make things in the future) is always a risk but we are doing everything we can to stay true to our commitments of delivering products.”
Verdict: Missing seat tube, missing bikes
Despite many of the comments under our review of the Zero aero wheel reflectors invariably telling you where to buy far cheaper reflective stickers on eBay, Flectr products have always been successful every time they land on Kickstarter, and our reviewer couldn’t deny that the product was a functional and “effective alternative to spoke reflectors and particularly useful for tagalongs/trailers.”
Flectr now sells various types of reflectors for your wheels, cranks and spokes, and most recently took to Kickstarter again to launch its Green Disc, a chain-lubing device that stores lubricant and freely rotates over the top to apply. That was in July last year and Flectr has been quiet on social media since, but all products are still available to purchase on its website.
Verdict: A surprise hit
iQ2 pedal-based power meter
The “most crowdfunded cycling power meter campaign ever” appears to have had zero success in actually delivering products to backers, after showing a lot of promise when it was offering single-sided and double-sided power meters for a pledge of just £131 and £219 respectively back in 2018.
There are a grand total of 2,779 comments on the Kickstarter page and 1,189 on the Indiegogo page at the time of writing, some accusing founders of abandoning the project and speculating on their whereabouts, some threatening legal action and many even more vitriolic than this.
Despite us sending a couple of emails, iQ2 hasn’t responded to our requests for comment so far.
iTrakit GPS bike tracker
After receiving a few emails urging us to investigate, road.cc published an article detailing backers’ frustrations after they were left waiting for the iTrakit bike security system more than two years after backing the project on Indiegogo.
A slightly messy situation emerged, which involved Condor Cycles strongly denying any involvement in the project after originally being cited as a partner on the iTrakit website. iTrakit told us “a combination of critical technical issues with our main chip supplier from the beginning of 2020, the pandemic and a reduced team” severely affected the companies’ ability to deliver the product on time, and iTrakit is still working on getting the product to market and fulfilling all backers’ pledges.
230 comments and counting (many of them unkind) on the Indiegogo page suggest that the finished product is still some way off, with iTrakit’s last update on 3rd December 2021 saying: “Further to the last update, our antenna testing for iTrakit 2.0 has not been completed and will not be scheduled until mid January now, due to a combination of team availability and suitable testing facilities. In order to guide us through to manufacture, we have recently taken on an industry expert in the specific area of antenna design and pre-manufacture testing, who is already proving invaluable in guiding us through to the next stages through to manufacture.
“We remain committed to getting iTrakit 2.0 to market and we will keep you posted in early January as to how thing progress over the next month.”
Verdict: Still missing
Loffi hit Kickstarter with the first version of its smiley cycling gloves in 2018, surpassing the £5k crowdfunding goal in 36 hours and eventually raising just shy of £30k. Aiming to “make journeys more enjoyable… in the hope of shifting our road culture towards positivity, rather than anger,” the first two iterations of the Glove received positive reviews on road.cc and elsewhere, with the decent technical features showing Loffi is “more than just a pretty face” as the brand says so itself.
Having just launched the third version of its smiley Glove, Loffi is continuing to flourish with founder Jack Hudspith telling us: “Since the Kickstarter about three years ago, the company has grown fivefold with no outside investments. We are now a very small team and are happy with our slow and steady strategy – it does win the race after all!
“We will send out roughly 7,000 pairs this year and have shipped to over 54 countries to date. I am over the moon that positivity seems to transcend language barriers, and pleased that there are tens of thousands of riders out there who want to spread joy.
“In terms of how Loffi has progressed, if I am being totally honest, we still spend the majority of our time on design and manufacture. We make our gloves in the same factories and with the same materials as the most famous cycling brands out there, but I am constantly astonished at how difficult it is to make high quality clothing at scale.”
We’ll leave you with the big daddy of all horrendous crowdfunding fails…
The Chinese startup behind SpeedX had a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign, raising almost $10 million for its original Leopard ‘smart’ road bike with an integrated computer. Once again, the overwhelming success proved to be part of SpeedX’s downfall, as the company had to figure out how to ship bikes to thousands who were promised a cutting edge product head and shoulders above the rest.
What was delivered fell way short of the mark, so SpeedX went to Kickstarter again and raised hundreds of thousands more for a new model, the Unicorn. As the name suggests, the mythical bike never materialised and countless people worldwide lost every single penny. As SpeedX went bust, owners of the underwhelming Leopard were left with a dud; a smart bike that was no longer smart, because the app no longer supported it.
The full story involving a wildly ambitious young entrepreneur, the Chinese secret police and hundreds of thousands of blue bikes dumped on construction sites was documented in this Herculean feature by Ian Treloar of Cycling Tips. If you were highly sceptical about purchasing your next bike through a crowdfunding platform already, SpeedX’s downfall might just put you off for good…
Verdict: Hopefully it’s already clear
What have we missed? Feel free to mention other crowdfunders that have been successful/unsuccessful/notorious below and they might make the next update.
This article originally appeared on https://road.cc/content/feature/13-best-worst-and-wackiest-cycling-crowdfunders-289179