I remember back in October 2015 seeing Beeline on Kickstarter and thinking “what an odd, interesting looking little device”. Flash forward a couple of years to October 2017 and Kate from Beeline reached out to see if we’d like to test one out for a couple of weeks. As it happens, I was about to move to Dublin for 6 months, so I thought the device might be a nice excuse to get out and discover the city.
Beeline – a smart compass for cyclists
Beeline is the creation of Mark Jenner & Tom Putnam. It’s a £99 smart compass, which sits on your bike handlebars and points you towards your destination. The device syncs via bluetooth with an app that you download to your iPhone or Android device.
What’s quite interesting about Beeline is there are two different ways you can use it. The most unconventional and intriguing is called free-flow, you drop a pin at your destination and then meander your way, roughly following the compass.
The other is the slightly more traditional navigation. Enter a destination and then use the turn by turn route assistant.
Setting up the Beeline
To kick things off, I downloaded the Beeline app and started charging up the device. To charge you use the included standard mini-usb cable via your laptop or a USB plug adaptor.
The setup process via the app was simple enough. You have to create an account and pair the device. After the Beeline finished charging, I put it back in the rubber holder, strapped it to my handlebars and finished the final step which is to calibrate the device.
You can fit the Beeline either to your bike stem or handlebars.
Taking it out for a meander around Dublin
With the Beeline setup and a clear blue sky outside, it seemed like the perfect time to get out and explore Dublin.
You start by entering a destination. You can either type the name of a place or simply drop a pin on the map. A really handy feature inside the app is the ability to add waypoints. Let’s say for example if I know I want to get across to the other side of Dublin, but I’d also quite like to see a park or museum along the way. Inside the app, I can add these as extra destinations.
With everything setup inside the app, you tap Go and put your phone away.
The screen displays an arrow to your next waypoint along with a distance indicator. This can be set to miles or kilometres. Despite the device being in direct sunlight, I had no issues with glare. You can easily glance at your handlebars to see the directions.
About 5 minutes in to the ride, I was making everything but a beeline to my destination. I followed the route one way, but couldn’t follow the arrow as it was a one way system. Then, when I was back on track, I again couldn’t turn left where I needed to as there was a river in the way, so I ended up zigzagging to the first waypoint.
None the less, it was really good fun and I was in a part of the city that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. If I was following directions on Google Maps, then I definitely wouldn’t have cycled this way – I’d have simply ridden the most direct route.
It quickly became clear that a 30 minute ride across town was more likely to take me an hour. However, the goal here wasn’t to get from A to B in the quickest way possible, it was to get to know my new surroundings. The Beeline is perfect for this. You know you’re heading in roughly the right direction, but you’re also not restricted by one particular route. It’s wonderful having the freedom to explore.
Upon reaching the canal, I tapped to end the ride. Beeline records your ride and then allows you to share with your friends via social media.
The share dialogue is smarty designed so that you can customise what background you want on your map. According to Beeline, integration with Strava is also on the way.
Following directions with Beeline
While meandering around Dublin without a care in the world is wonderful – it’s probably not a typical day to day situation. How about a more common scenario? For example, let’s say I had a meeting across town I needed to get to.
For this, you tick a little box labelled route assistant. The Beeline will now give you turn by turn directions. The interface is still the same – you’ll still see a little arrow and a distance indicator, but the app will now plot all the waypoints you’ll need to reach your destination.
In practise, on my test ride around Dublin this seemed to work really well. The routes plotted were logical and following directions was easy. As I was reaching my next waypoint, the device would redirect me in time to make a turn. I also knew a turn was coming up, because I could see the distance counting down.
I had to send the device back to Beeline before I could perform some more thorough testing on this, but it seems the route assistant functionality is a great addition.
London Cyclist Review
I really enjoyed using the Beeline. It has a joyful simplicity. Setup is quick and easy and I had a lot of fun using it to discover a new city.
The device is small enough to be unobtrusive. Unlike when I strap my iPhone to my handlebars and I feel like everyone can see it, the Beeline could easily be a quirky looking bike light. The silicone mount feels really solid and didn’t budge.
The battery life is excellent – in fact, it’s far more likely your iPhone or Android phone will run out of battery long before the Beeline does.
Whilst aimlessly cycling around a city is a lot of fun, I believe the only way you can really justify the cost of a Beeline is if you’re going to use it for practical, day to day directions. At least in my initial tests, the device performed well. Given a choice between following cycling directions on Google Maps with my iPhone strapped to my handlebars with a Quad Lock or a Beeline, I’d go for the Beeline.
Overall, I’d give the Beeline the thumbs up! 👍👍👍👍👍
Also, with gift season around the corner, the Beeline will make a really interesting gift for a fellow cyclist (I’ll start dropping some hints now for my girlfriend…)
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.