Emily Brooke is not your archetypal urban cyclist. The founder of innovative bike-light brand Blaze didn’t even ride until six years ago. Then, in the summer of her final year of a product design course at Brighton University, she cycled the length of the UK, riding solidly for 12 days for charity. “And I fell in love with cycling,” she says with a smile. Yet Brooke found it too dangerous to cycle in the city. “I needed to identify and tackle the fundamental cause of cyclist road accidents,” she says. There followed months of research, looking at accident reports. She found that some 79 per cent of bicycle collisions occur when the rider is travelling straight ahead and a vehicle manoeuvres into them — most commonly caught within a blind spot or at a junction, where the threat is in front of the bike.
Her final-year college project in 2011 therefore involved designing a prototype for a laser-projecting light, so laying the foundation for her award-winning Laserlight. “I knew that the idea was valuable and it could potentially prevent accidents, but I didn’t think it would be me to take it to market,” she says.
That summer, sponsored by Santander, Brooke headed to the US for an entrepreneurial course. “No one had mentioned the word entrepreneurship to me, or the idea of launching it yourself,” she recalls. “There were many students from Latin America there, who had started multiple businesses just to keep their families fed. Meeting them gave me the confidence to come home and build it myself. And Blaze was born.”
A month-long Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to help launch the Laserlight concept received £55,000. Since then, Brooke has also raised £6.5 million through angel investors and other institutions. Blaze began with Brooke and her intern, William Dunk. Today, the company operates from bright headquarters in Shoreditch, East London, with a roster of 12 employees, including Dunk (now in charge of specialist projects). There’s a representative in Hong Kong and Blaze exports to around 65 countries, with an ongoing contract with Transport for London and Santander Cycles. The company is also running a scheme with New York’s public bike-sharing scheme.
Blaze has an intellectual approach to design. “Our concept is centred on design innovation,” says Brooke. The brand’s core products, the Blaze Laserlight and Blaze Burner, have been meticulously researched with an obsessive attention to detail. The front Laserlight combines a white light with a green laser-projected image of a “virtual bike” that beams out of blind spots, junctions and anywhere the rider is otherwise unseen. The rider can easily control the intensity of light from flashing to solid and from 100 to 300 lumens. The Burner is a rear light with sensors, which emits an impressive 100 lumens evenly distributed over 27 LEDs, so instead of projecting a light straight at the eye, it scatters. Both products are waterproof, easily mounted and charged by USB.
All current “Boris bikes” — the nickname given to Santander Cycles — come with the Laserlight. From August, the lights will be built into the next-generation London cycles, designed by Blaze and heritage British frame manufacturer Pashley, replete with GPS and Bluetooth to collect data, monitored by Blaze, to help with safety and bike maintenance.
Brooke admits she rarely uses her own bicycle in town. “I take the Boris bike everywhere,” she tells me, admitting that “I’m usually an aggressive cyclist, but the low speed of these bikes and the upright sitting position make me a more leisurely rider.” Does her love of speed extend to the motor car. “I absolutely love Aston Martins,” she beams, noting that her family have owned a DB9, Vanquish and DBS, and now drive a Vantage.
Looking ahead, Brooke sees mobility as our biggest challenge with the world’s population rapidly moving to cities. “I now see Blaze as a mobility brand,” she says. Blaze brings design, technology and innovation together to keep the city moving safely.