Louisville man made his hobby safer with a device that detects when a motorcycle is slowing and activates its brake lights
By Amy Talbott
For BG Magazine
A publication of The Lane Report
Five years ago, on the morning of Thunder Over Louisville, Chris Bailey headed out on his motorcycle to buy a pair of sunglasses. He was less than a mile from home when he swerved on his bike to miss a car. The driver didn’t see him.
He was still going 40 miles per hour as he jumped off the bike.
“When I jumped off it, I was just like, ‘Well, this is it. I’m dead,’” he said. He rolled about 50 feet on concrete after he jumped off, but only ended up with a bad case of road rash.
“Finally, I got up and I was like, ‘Holy crap, I’m alive!’” Chris said.
Before the crash, riding a motorcycle was an adventure for Chris. He was a University of Louisville College of Business student at the time and loved pulling up to campus on
“I tried riding again for about six months after that,” Chris said, “and it just wasn’t fun because I felt invisible on the roads. Over the years, I tossed around this idea of how we can add better visibility to motorcycles.”
The idea for GearBrake came from another accident.
“I was on I-71, and there were two massive back-to-back, rear-end collisions,” Chris said. Both were 10-car pileups.
The accident didn’t involve motorcycles, but it got Chris thinking about brake light visibility, which is problematic for motorcyclists. In a manual transmission car or a motorcycle, you can almost come to a stop at a stoplight without hitting your brakes.
“When this happens,” Chris said, “you’re not telling the person behind you you’re slowing down.”
His solution: create a device that could detect a motorcycle slowing and activate the brake lights.
He built the first prototype of GearBrake himself, using an open source electronics prototyping platform called an Arduino.
“It’s basically a simple computer that you can program to do whatever you want,” he said.
He bought an accelerometer and plugged the Arduino into it. He then hooked the device up to his motorcycle and programmed the Arduino to activate the brake lights when the accelerometer detected deceleration. This meant drivers behind him could see that he was slowing down before he hit the brakes.
Bailey and the banker met a few more times to discuss business ideas, and the banker ended up helping Chris get a line of credit to start GearBrake. After securing funding, Bailey contracted Alex Frommeyer of Beam Technologies to help him build GearBrake devices.
This year, GearBrake was one of five startups in the business accelerator program at Velocity in Jeffersonville, Ind. The office space is part of an 1800s factory complex where train cars were built. Abstract paintings hang on bright red walls and beer from the New Albanian Brewing Co. is on tap in the break room.
On this morning, he drinks strong coffee from a stainless steel travel mug. Steve Jobs’ famous saying, “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is written in marker on it. Hardly anyone else is around at 9 a.m.
“Can you tell entrepreneurs aren’t morning people?” He laughed.
Part of the accelerator program involves seeking input and advice from others who have launched successful startups. They also talk with potential customers to get an idea of the demand for their product.
“The whole goal is to test things,” Chris said. “The tough part is going out there and saying, ‘This is my idea, what do you think of it?’”
He says he has had several people tell him GearBrake is terrible and there is no opportunity for a business in it. But he has also had positive reactions, enough that he’s quickly moving forward with the project.
In addition to working with Frommeyer for engineering expertise, he’s contracted a lawyer to help with intellectual property and licensing strategies, and a web designer. The initial round of beta testing the product with potential customers is complete, and Chris already has received pre-orders.
As he thinks about marketing strategies for GearBrake, he’s already tossing around new ideas.
“I see this as more than just a product,” he said. “I see this as a products company. What I’m really interested in is constant innovation— coming up with new ideas that can make our lives better, safer and more enjoyable.”
Chris is now ready to get back on his own motorcycle, made confident by a technology he invented.
He is now in the market for another motorcycle, he said, and is checking Craigslist every day.