What gave you the motivation for Babel Bikes?
I used to commute by bike in London every day and thought it was too dangerous. I picked the quietest routes but even then, on one trip a white van took a left turn without indicating and I went straight into the side of it. The bike went underneath. I was fine, but I started to think about how I could create safety features for a bicycle. Cars have got safer over the years but no one has really made the bike any safer.
The emphasis has been on not having an accident by making use of high-visibility jackets and safety lights. But there was nothing to help the bike withstand an impact. My solution is the Babel Bike where the rider wears a car-style seat belt and sits in a custom-built safety cell that protects against impacts from turning lorries and buses at busy junctions.
Have you always been an inventor?
My main business has been in property investment – mostly international such as Japan, Oman, China, Malaysia, and some UK. For the last three years that’s taken a back seat and now I’m focused on bicycle design. I love cycling and that’s what I’m passionate about. There are always bits and bobs in the back of my mind though. I had an idea for a more economical kettle design, but the bicycle is what I’m most keen to plough on with.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Getting the bike design right. If you have the freedom to change anything, it can be difficult to focus the design. There is a natural desire to try and improve everything. I have learnt it’s better to concentrate on getting the basics right in the initial design and then build on that with subsequent versions.
We put the design on indiegogogo.com where you could pre-order the bike, which didn’t go as well as we hoped. But the feedback from that was very useful and has led to a redesign and a launch scheduled for next year.
Finances have also been challenging. I’ve had one investor but mostly it’s been self-financed from my property interests. It’s all on a shoestring. I might look for more investment later on.
What mistakes have you made?
Many I’m sure. I went with one design company but had an option to go with another designer who had a lot of expertise in car design which would have, in hindsight, been a better bet.
You come from a famous inventing heritage [Crispin’s father is Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the UK’s first, affordable home computers and the Sinclair C5 electric vehicle]. Has your father’s work influenced you?
Probably, although more sub-consciously than anything else. My dad got me thinking about how things can be better designed. For Christmas I’d tend to get the latest Sinclair products, so I got a ZX Spectrum home computer and a ZX81 a year or two before that. I’d spend a lot of time shooting aliens rather than doing homework. I hope you didn’t have the ZX81 RAM pack? It was an accessory you could plug in but if you breathed on it, it would crash the computer. The Spectrum was good though with colour graphics and sound – it was very advanced for its day.
Is there something about designing transport in your family?
That one is probably more of a coincidence than anything. Bicycles are a love and I’ve happily toured across Europe – just with my tent and stove. I can strip a bike down to its ball bearings and rebuild it.
What does the future hold for Babel Bikes?
I’m still getting the finances back on track. Beyond that, it’s all about progressing the next prototype, and getting it into the workshop. Originally the idea was for a one-person commuter bike, but this new version will be targeted at parents taking the children to school, so you can put the children in the front of the bike and keep them safe.
The indiegogo feedback told us that people worry less about themselves on the bike but do worry about transporting their kids. With this design, the kids sit in an open box in the front of the bike which is strong enough to take a 20-30mph impact.
To find out more, go to Babel Bikes.