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Shifting up a gear with Bike Valley for safer, healthier and faster cycling

When you say cycling, you say Flanders. The region is famous for its cobbled climbs, classic races and cycling legends like Eddy Merckx. Bike Valley adds to this booming cycling ecosystem by uniting researchers, industry players and governmental organizations in one community. “In a way, it’s like a Silicon Valley for cycling,” says Bert Celis, co-founder and coordinator of the cluster. “It’s an innovation hub where members stimulate each other to raise the bar in tandem.”

Founded in 2013, Bike Valley is one of the first bottom-up clusters in Flanders. The cluster stimulates innovation in 6 major areas: sports, safety and healthcare, mobility, science and technology, industry and government, and tourism.

The ‘Yes, together we can’ attitude at Bike Valley

“Together, we can:

  • make cycling faster, safer and healthier – by bridging gaps between science and industry to facilitate innovation;
  • help implement smart mobility solutions – by acting as a middleman between government and business;
  • increase the success rate of start-ups – by giving them access to a wealth of market knowledge, a network and state-of-the-art infrastructure;
  • boost cycling tourism in Flanders – by showcasing impressive research sites and cooperating with existing tourism infrastructure.”

Riding the winds of change

Bike Valley’s most famous project is a low-speed wind tunnel where product developers, scientists and athletes can test gear for aerodynamic optimization. “Building the tunnel was time intensive and expensive,” Bert explains. “Several organizations had dreamed of one for a while but couldn’t afford actually building it. They decided to join forces, pooling needs and resources in one community. That’s how Bike Valley was born.”

The aerodynamics tunnel is the eyecatcher of the cluster’s work on increasing cyclist performance. Bert: “It allows product developers to optimize their solutions so that athletes can bike just a little bit faster than they already do today. Those are marginal gains, but in long distance races, they can make a difference.”

Bike Valley brings individual organizations together, pooling needs and resources in one community.

Bert Celis
Co-founder and coordinator, Bike Valley

Science and industry pushing the pedal together

A telling example of how science and industry connect through Bike Valley is the Cold2Gold project. Bert: “The idea is to develop cooling clothing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Just like wind, high temperatures also impact a cyclist’s performance. Of course, Bike Valley doesn’t actually develop this clothing: our role is to unite like-minded organizations so that they can.”

That’s where our dense network really proves its value,” Bert goes on. “The members of the cluster know each other quite well. Some meet at events and some of them even work side by side in BikeVille, our incubator in Flanders. So, when an organization has an idea but needs additional research, funding, or specific expertise, they can easily partner up with other members.”

“This network approach also boosts the success rate of start-ups. They can build on the knowledge of fellow members and learn from their successes and mistakes. Contrary to many other clusters, Bike Valley does not focus purely on technology. Rather, we put market knowledge at the forefront. The reason? Insufficient market knowledge is one of the main reasons why businesses fail.”

International members in the saddle

“Flanders has a performance-driven culture that is reflected in the popularity of the wind tunnel and the numerous projects focusing on speed,” says Bert. “But cycling safely and healthily is just as important. Scandinavian countries emphasize this much more. They’ve even developed clothes with inflatable collars – resembling airbags – for cyclists.”

“Their different approach to cycling innovation inspired us to cooperate with foreign organizations to investigate how electronics can enhance safety, not only for top athletes but also for recreational cyclists. Helmets with heart rate monitors, posture sensors in clothing, solutions for blind spot accidents … the possibilities are endless. While Flanders excels in performance, we acknowledge that we can learn a lot from other countries too. Looking beyond Flanders’ borders and welcoming foreign members to the cluster broadens our scope. It pushes us to get out of our comfort zone.”

Those international businesses have good reason to join the cluster. “They gain access to our state-of-the-art testing infrastructure and the thriving cycling ecosystem of Flanders. We are, without a doubt, leading the worldwide race to innovate in the field. Foreign firms that join the cluster can test their ideas in a stimulating environment that’s buzzing with retailers, engineers and start-ups. If you want to develop a SaaS solution, go to Silicon Valley. If you have a bright idea for cycling, come to Flanders.”

If you want to develop a SaaS-solution, go to Silicon Valley. If you have a bright idea for cycling, come to Flanders.

Bert Celis
Co-founder and coordinator, Bike Valley

Bike Valley HQ in Beringen, Flanders

Future-proof mobility solutions that lead from the front

Mobility is another key innovation point for Bike Valley. “As cities get crowded, parking spots become scarce and environmental issues take over political agendas, more and more governments are banning cars from urban areas,” Bert explains. “Bicycles become the main way to move in and around cities, but the infrastructure is often unfit for two-wheelers.”

“But developing mobility solutions means taking risks. We aim to resolve this in three ways. Firstly, by helping our members to develop prototypes of their ideas, we lower the risk for the government to finance innovative mobility projects. Secondly, we operate as a neutral party between government and industry, eliminating conflicts of interest for tenders. And finally, we organize conferences where cities can pitch their challenges and businesses and academics can start thinking of solutions to further bridge the gap between industry and government.

Developing mobility solutions means taking risks. We tackle this by helping businesses develop prototypes of their ideas, lowering the risks for cities to finance innovative mobility projects.

Bert Celis
Co-founder and coordinator, Bike Valley

“This goes beyond Flanders,” Bert adds. “Most European cities have similar needs. They all struggle with optimizing mobility hubs – places where people switch transportation modes to get from suburban areas to city centers. Within the cluster, we’ve developed a shared vision on this issue, resulting in a European project that focuses on installing bicycle highways from city fringes to centers. Antwerp and Ghent are already convinced, but cities outside of Flanders, like Frankfurt, have also shown interest. The effects of well-organized mobility hubs go beyond the biking industry: the sites quickly become retail and office hotspots.”

And there’s more: Bike Valley also organizes training courses for governments around the world as part of our Cycle Highway Academy. “We support cities in numerous ways, by introducing them to new concepts, sharing opportunities, helping set up campaigns … This helps them get on board with our vision on future-proof mobility – an absolute prerequisite for any innovation to occur. We even got requests Australia and the US to set up academies there.”

Pushing Flanders’ bike tourism to the top

A final focal point of Bike Valley is tourism. “Flanders already has a flourishing cycling tourism industry,” Bert says. “The cluster gives the sector an extra push to get to the top. We gave impressive infrastructure that’s worth a visit – like the wind tunnel – and cooperate with foreign organizations that do the same, like the Shimani Experience Centre in the Dutch town of Valkenburg. Tourists can also rent bikes in our Ride Lab and go on tours of various innovative companies around in Flanders. Even more, we work closely together with hotels, restaurants and existing activities in the region, like the ‘biking through water’ route.”

“Biking is intertwined with Flanders’ culture. The enthusiasm and ambition is already there. All we do is connect the dots and match the right people to drive innovation – and help Flanders stay at the head of the race.”

Cluster ID

  • Founded in: 2013
  • Consortium: Flanders Make, BoiRacer, Lazer Sport, Ridley Race Productions, Voxdale
  • Services: support for start-ups and business development, community building, government interaction, facilitating innovation projects, and more.
  • Innovation domains: sports, safety and healthcare, mobility, science and technology, industry and government, tourism.
  • Websitewww.bikevalley.be

More info

Bike Valley
16 September 2019

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