It's a familiar entrepreneurial scenario: punter encounters problem, thinks up own way to fix it, sells it on to other punters with similar problems, stands to make stacks of cash.
A nasty fall off his motorbike a few years ago, and the resulting broken wrist, left Tom Maguire wondering just how safe the standard bike hand guard was. This being the 21st century, he turned to the internet to find out if he was alone in his thinking. As it turns out, it’s a pretty common problem.
“Standard hand guards are rigid and they’re there to protect your hands from frontal impact,” Maguire explains.
“At the moment they don’t protect you from impacts from the other side. If you crash into a tree or a ditch your hand comes off and punches the inside of the guard, which has been shown to break your fingers, basically. If you go over the handlebars, because they’re quite restricting, your hand can get caught in there and you can break your wrist. That’s what happened to me.”
The risk of getting one’s hand caught in one of these guards is such that they’re banned in motocross racing, Maguire says. So he set out to design his own take on a hand guard, one that retained all the positives of the original but without the flaws. A job easier said than done, really, given the twin priorities of protecting both a rider’s hands as well as the brake and clutch levers (which, if damaged, would put the kibosh on you riding out of whatever bush, forest, or ditch you happened to be passing through at the time).
The result: the Soft Hit Hand Guard, a viable aftermarket alternative to the industry default. It’s rigid in all directions yet it will release a rider’s wrist and hand in the event of a crash.
Maguire says there are two main design innovations involved. A smart locking system means it will fit handlebars of all sizes, while an elastic clamp gives way when enough force is applied from the rider’s side.
“It does everything a standard hand guard does and is designed to reduce the risk of you snapping your wrist or breaking your fingers.”
Maguire, who’s been riding since the age of 15, recently won the ‘best design’ prize in the Audacious student business challenge with the hand guard, earning himself $1,000, a research internship at Otago Polytechnic (where he’s finishing his engineering studies) and a package of services from WHK. Bike stores have expressed interest in the product and he’s confident there’s demand from riders like himself. While perusing 5,000-odd bike listings on eBay and Trade Me as part of the research process, one thing quickly became apparent.
“About 60 to 65 percent of bikes had them as an aftermarket product. There’s a massive market for hand guards.”
So, full speed ahead then?
Rather than rushing madly into the thick of it, Maguire is taking the slower route. With a working model under his belt, he’s got plans to refine the concept further before bringing a final prototype to manufacturers for a short production run – though he’s conscious that further down the track manufacturing would need to be moved offshore to keep a lid on retail costs. But that’s a hurdle for another day; first comes distribution to stores nationwide to test the waters.
In other words, market validation, which – like flossing – is one of those things you know you should do, but often neglect.