A slingshot projectile in the bum, followed by frustration about the idiocy of some road users, inspired two Australian entrepreneurs to invent a device that will watch the backs of vulnerable cyclists on the road.
Called the Fly6, it is a combination video camera and flashing rear light that promises to make riders more visible while recording what happens behind them. It is fitted to the bike's seat post.
The inventors say it could also help to determine who is responsible when a motor vehicle hits a bicycle from behind – one of the most common causes of serious injury or death among cyclists.
Andrew Hagen says the idea for the device was hatched after a random, unprovoked attack two years ago on his business partner, Kingsley Fiegert.
"Kingsley was riding up a hill by himself in Perth, and some young guys came up in a car and shot him with a slingshot in the arse," says Hagen.
"It was obviously very painful and left a bruise for weeks. He nearly fell off his bike, but by the time he’d got his bearings again, the car was driving off into the sunset."
The inspiration was at first to make "people who do stupid things like that" more accountable, but they soon felt it could have a preventive effect.
"If motorists just thought there was a camera potentially on a bike, they would take it easy and we’d have a much better time on the road," says Hagen.
The Fly6 has a camera lens in the centre of the flashing bulb cluster on what looks like a standard cycling safety light. It records at 720 x 1280 definition, with a 130-degree field of view, while capturing 30 frames per second. The device is waterproof and also records audio. Recharged by USB, its lithium-ion battery runs for more than five hours.
It comes with an 8GB class-10 microSD card, which holds some two hours of footage. The camera automatically overwrites old files on a loop, so riders don't need to delete old video.
In an accident, a switch inside the unit shuts the camera down if it lies at an angle of 40 degrees for more than four seconds – which prevents the crash data from being overwritten. For the weight-conscious sports cyclist, it tips the scales at just over 100 grams.
In recent years, cyclists – and motorists – have been using video cameras to record their road movements, to use for legal or insurance purposes in the case of an accident. Attempts to determine responsibility often boil down to the driver’s word against the cyclist – if the cyclist wasn’t killed.
It could also record whether a motorist was engaging in illegal behaviour, such as using a mobile phone, in the moments before a collision.
The Amy Gillett Foundation, an advocacy group that is campaigning nationally for a minimum passing distance when motor vehicles overtake cyclists, can already see the possibilities.
"Generally speaking, video footage is a very useful addition to the ‘he said, she said’ arguments that follow a dangerously close pass or even a collision," said AGF spokesman Sean Sampson.
"As cameras become more prevalent, this may hopefully lead to an improvement in road behaviour, with motorists aware they may be filmed."
Hagen and Feigert, who have worked in land development for a decade, took to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to fund their project, seeking $95,000 in a 30-day campaign that started last month.
They hit the target in under three days, and had received a total of $265,000 when the funding drive finished this week. The Fly6 is now on sale at a pre-order price of $149 – expected to rise to $169 when full distribution commences. Made in Dongguan in southern China, it is expected to start shipping in May.
Some 150 prototypes were sent out for testing. Within days, a cyclist in Brisbane captured a ute driver hooting at a group of cyclists for some 40 seconds while following them.
"It was on the news that very night, the police got involved," says Hagen, who believes the "viral nature of such incidents" will make people more aware.
Hagen and Feigert are now working on a front-mounted safety camera, so that cyclists can keep themselves covered in both directions.