Bike Labyrinth is celebrating its tenth anniversary! That means it’s time to start recording our stories for posterity. In this piece, I, Ella, co-founder of Bike Labyrinth, would like to take you through the past decade. Sometimes, I’ll leave things open-ended because, as is true of our routes, I have no idea where we would have ended up had we taken a different turn.
Bike Labyrinth has only gotten better, better looking, and more well-rounded over the past decade. And currently, Bike Labyrinth can now be found in over 2,500 institutions worldwide. Bike Labyrinth is becoming a go-to abroad. But we had to grow to keep up with that and get things done. We tried to do it gradually. A sudden deluge of new sales wasn’t something our production could handle. Stockpiling? That’s risky business, considering that we might discover a better piece of hardware a few weeks later. New ideas for product development? Those had to be cautiously tested and rolled out because we’re dealing with a vulnerable target group. The one thing we never spent less time on is creating new (and continually better) bike routes.
That turned out to be a serious roller coaster. In retrospect, it turns out that the first five years were the easiest, even though we didn't earn a single penny and mostly invested time. Five years down the road, we hired our first employees – a whole new phase. They were and are incredible, hard-working folk. And now, with over twenty employees, we're ready for the next phase. It’s a phase in which Job and I don't have all the answers, where departments are or are becoming independent, and where we no longer have a say in everything. And that’s a tough cookie to swallow; Job and I take turns suffering from bouts of [Founder's Syndrome] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder%27s_syndrome).
Our founderitis isn't exactly shocking; we were a start-up (without investors, so maybe we weren’t...) and a scale-up (according to our own definition). Let me tell you a story: How it started and How it's going.
It was January 2008 when an email from Annette appeared in my inbox. She'd seen Bike Labyrinth at the exhibition of our second-semester project for the Leiden University Media Technology Master's Program.
The email read as follows:
Cycling and video
Dear Ms. Keijzer, The Overrhyn Nursing Home has a Physical Therapy Department where clients improve their health by cycling on hometrainers (exercise bikes). These hometrainers are combined with wheelchairs. We think our clients would have a great time if we could combine cycling with footage from Leiden. We believe it would be stimulating and would help create good memories. And we'd love to start with a trial run. To be clear, we're talking about the equipment, not the bike itself.
Could you let us know if your equipment is effectively available for our temporary use? And could you let us know how you’d like to proceed? We were thinking of trying it out for a week, but a few days would also work for us.
We look forward to hearing back from you.
Obviously, my fellow students – Job and Giannis – wanted to lend Annette a hand too. However, we had to customize the hardware because the pilot version of Bike Labyrinth, the City Tour of Choices, looked like an art installation featuring a bike that we'd traded a four-euro bottle of rosé for on eBay... It wasn't something a nursing home resident could cycle on. Job, Giannis, and I (with my dad's indispensable hardware skills) joined forces to make something incredible for them.
It was kind of a makeshift solution, and the video footage was shakier than you can imagine (enough that it made one woman incredibly sick to her stomach during her session). However, our project still turned out to be a resounding success, due at least in part to Job's neatly mapped out route. He knows all the buildings in Leiden by heart.
In fact, it was such a win that the nursing home wanted to keep it all! But we’d hooked it up to our PC, and unfortunately, the nursing home didn’t have the funds to buy a computer.
And that, dear readers, could very well have been the end of Bike Labyrinth. And the end of this article... Job, Giannis, and I went on with our lives. We studied hard to graduate, acquired families and jobs, and Giannis moved back to Greece. We'd long forgotten one another when an email from Ilona showed up:
This may seem like an odd request...
Dear Ella, I got your email address (if it’s still the right one) from Annette. Annette no longer works at Overrhijn, but I still do, and in that connection, I’d like to ask you something. A few years ago, you and a fellow student set up an interactive cycling program at our facility. Your software enabled our residents to take a bike ride through downtown Leiden from a sitting exercise bike. In the meantime, we’ve lost all other related information (and Annette's working abroad!), but we’d like to make an effort to acquire funding for a pilot project! Of course, since we've already done a trial run, we know that our clients enjoyed it. So, we’re considering submitting it. But knowing that we've lost all the data ... is there any way that you could still help us out?
Hopefully, you’ll get this, and we'll hear back from you.
Kind regards, Ilona
I called Job. “Hey, Job! Remember me? It’s me, Ella, your old study partner!”. Job remembered me. I told him about the email, and we were both excited. Together, we drafted a plan for Ilona to give a presentation on the pilot project.
Ilona did such a good job that she won the most-original pilot project award!
But then it was time to get down to business. We aimed to film more routes, including the surrounding villages and a nature trail, since just biking through Leiden every day seemed boring to us. Later, we found out that there were nursing home residents who used to live in those villages. To create nice, steady footage (that wouldn’t make that lady from the nursing home want to toss her cookies), we did tons of research. We tried pretty much everything. We even positioned a cameraman on top of a stack of mattresses in an old-fashioned cargo bike, but the resulting footage felt like riding a rickety old roller coaster. However, new market developments in the world of photography and film came at just the right time with the advent of the first sports action camera. One of Job’s roommates had one that we could borrow. It was cheap, small, and equipped with internal stabilization. After just a touch of video editing, our footage was gorgeous enough to blow the competition out of the water.
A few months of development later, and we’d produced a great setup for Topaz Overrhyn...
Or rather, while I was giving birth, Job was constantly heading over to Overrhyn because something was always breaking. But sometimes, I’d go too – with a baby and toddler in tow on the train and bus, lugging a bag full of keyboards, cable ties, and screwdrivers.
At some point, the calls stopped; Bike Labyrinth had quit breaking down, and everything worked! That was the end of Bike Labyrinth. The location was happy, we packed up our cable ties, and Giannis remained in Greece for the rest of his days. Of course, you and I know that’s hardly the end of the story.
The above is just a teaser... Read the article “I've never done it before, so I'm pretty sure it's possible” now to find out what happened next..