It was a dark, damp day at the close of the 20th century. My brother Alan was riding his 1992 Honda Fireblade along a narrow country road in Warwickshire, with a car looming in his mirrors.
As an experienced rider on one of the fastest road machines available, he wondered why the car was closing in. This perturbed him. Was it a Ferrari? No, it was a normal car. Was there something wrong with the Fireblade? With his riding? With the road?
Reluctantly and with a bruised ego, Alan pulled over to let the car go past. It was then that he realised there was a thin film of road dirt covering his visor which had been hampering his progress.
It struck him then that while motorcycle technology had progressed rapidly in the past decade, visor cleaning technology was still stuck in the Dark Ages – in other words, there’s no point in having a fast and capable bike if the rider can’t see where s/he’s going.
The rider needs moisture to clear dry dirt from the visor just as the car driver needs screenwash. The problem is the same, and dry wiper blades are inadequate (or can make the matter worse) unless it’s raining.
So, he resolved to do something about it.
I understood the problem. I had been out one sunny day in the late 90s on my little bike (a delightful grey import Honda GB250 Clubman) and was heading home with a fly-covered visor. The dried-on dead flies were hampering my view of the road, but this became dangerous when it got dark. The flies produced that nasty starring effect – very hazardous.
However, it wasn’t until Alan and I both reached one of life’s ‘crossroads’ that we had the opportunity to turn his idea for a motorcycle wash/wipe system into a business.
We didn’t start looking into Alan’s idea seriously until 2009 – almost 10 years after the Fireblade experience! By then, Alan had made a rudimentary prototype, but there was a long, long way to go. Neither of us was riding a bike then, and neither of us knew how to develop and launch a product. And we didn’t have any money.
Undeterred by such minor details, we started by asking 75 motorcyclists whether they would be interested in buying a device that cleaned as well as wiped the visor while riding. We surveyed Hein Gericke customers in Edinburgh and Birmingham, and also visitors to the Scottish Bike Show. An impressive 90% of respondents said they were interested – and some said they would pay up to £50 for it.
I then contacted my local IAM group and conducted some more research. In 2010, I won a business award of £10,000 which enabled us to make some better prototypes that could be road tested. The prototype consisted of a glove-mounted fluid reservoir leading to an absorbent sponge, which was covered by a flap. When wiping in one direction, the flap opens to reveal the damp sponge. When wiping the other way, the wiper blades clear the visor. At last! Wash/wipe on your bike!
In 2011, progress slowed to a halt as I had run out of money again but in 2012 I attracted enough investment and grants to launch the product. And by this time I was riding again (a 2001 Suzuki SV650) and had passed my IAM advanced test.
Better prototypes were made, and were again road tested in October 2012 in Scotland. Fortunately, that month was a perfect testing ground and the prototypes successfully tackled early season road salt, dirty spray from other vehicles, soot from exhausts and even some end of season flies. One prototype was tested over a 7,600-mile period with no problems whatsoever, so, in February the following year, the Visorcat was launched and is now being used by motorcyclists all over the UK and elsewhere in Europe.
The IAM’s support for the product led to it being awarded the ‘IAM Likes’ accolade for road safety initiatives. Their reviewer, a former top police motorcyclist and riding examiner, said: “For anyone who rides year-round, the Visorcat is an essential and something I have come to rely on … it provides the rider with better vision, which leads to greater safety”.
A footnote: the Fireblade was later stolen and fortunately abandoned intact in a pub car park in Warwickshire – no surprise that the thief needed a drink after scaring himself silly on that legendary machine! The GB250 didn’t possess the typical Honda reliability and broke down several times, the final time also in a pub car park, this time in the Yorkshire Dales. But at least I could have a drink while I waited for the AA man to turn up.