How the Riderless Bike conquered the NSW Police and put rare diseases on the map

Before becoming an award-winning project - including the Mumbrella Award for Innovation and Pro Bono Campaign of the Year at this year's Mumbrella Awards - The Riderless Bike was just an idea on a page. Mumbrella's Abigail Dawson speaks to the brains behind the bike to unpack the challenges of bringing such a technically-complex idea to life.

Last year, former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh rode in his Captain’s Ride fundraising event beside a riderless bike, which was a physical manifestation and constant visual reminder of all the children currently living with rare diseases.

Partnering with Havas, Finch and Red Agency, the pro bono Riderless Bike campaign, which took the country by storm, began by addressing the business problems The Steve Waugh Foundation was facing in a creative and powerful way.

James Wright, chief commercial officer at Havas and CEO of Red Agency, tells Mumbrella Steve Waugh engaged the three agencies to do two things: raise awareness of his organisation in Australia and raise awareness of the rare diseases themselves.

With over 400,000 young Australians living with some form of rare disease, Havas, Finch and Red Agency were challenged with making the Captain’s Ride charity bike ride reflect the difficulties these young people face on a daily basis.

Wright: “We are very conscious that we never, ever want to produce a piece of work that is technology for technology’s sake”

“It’s all about building the strength of character of the people that take part in the ride, so it’s reflecting the young people who show amazing strength of character to live with the rare diseases, and their families, who are obviously managing those young children.

“So, what we’ve been trying to do is trying to create great, creative ideas and innovative ways in which we can tell that story, so that more people are aware of the challenges these families and young people face,” Wright says.

Describing the business problems the Steve Waugh Foundation faced as “double-barreled”, Seamus Higgins, executive creative director at Havas, says getting people to donate to diseases they don’t understand or haven’t heard of before was just one of the major difficulties.

“Actually making a difference in these children’s and their families lives” was the second biggest business problem they set out to solve, he says.

“The number one thing that we had to overcome was awareness, both for the rare diseases and those who suffer from them, and also what Steve Waugh and his charity are doing, and what the bike ride was trying to raise awareness for.

Higgins: “Adjusting the product and the story, and you’re able to grow something better out of that”

“Once we had raised that, then it was all about how can we help Steve Waugh and The Captain’s Ride, and all those taking part in it, raise money to actually make a difference in these children’s and their families’ lives.

“Because the things that they do, whether something like window tinting for a kid who’s incredibly light-sensitive, or a wheelchair, or special physiotherapy, all of those things are really tangible benefits, and those are the things that they’ve been able to raise money for to assist. I think it literally all comes back to awareness, in kind of two phases,” Higgins says.

Each of the three agencies played a separate role in getting The Riderless Bike on the road.

Emad Tahtouh, director of applied technology at Finch, was in charge of building, executing and supporting the bike and its 360-degree camera, alongside filming case studies and campaign assets.

Tahtouh: “Every real technical milestone presented a new challenge”

“When we set out starting to build this, we had absolutely no idea whether we’d succeed or not.

“Failure was a very likely outcome from the start, and it takes an enormous amount of trust with the development part and with the clients to be able to progress through that.

“Everyone says they want to be innovative, and they want to do things that have never been done before, but when the rubber hits the road, and people are developing things and trying to get work done, that obviously doesn’t cut it as an answer most of the time,” Tahtouh says.

Higgins says his specific role was “to drive the teams to genuinely come up with something that was unexpected” as well as developing something which would stand out in a cluttered market and environment.

“It’s like a little story book, it’s this little bike that is riding for these children who can’t. And just in that, it’s quite an emotive, powerful image,” Higgins continues.

Nick Day, senior account manager at Red Agency, says his major role throughout the campaign was “helping the network dig deep” and penetrate an already overcrowded market such as the charity sector.

Day: ” It was about creating something that was truly unique”

The first major hurdle the three agencies faced was the New South Wales police. The first conversation the group had with the state police concluded with officers telling them: “You are never going to put a riderless bike on our roads”.

Wright says this did not deter the group at all, only pushing the team to further develop the technology and idea to ensure it resulted in a viable and safe bike.

The New South Wales police were not the only ones who needed a lot of convincing, with the insurance company also requiring solid evidence the idea was a safe and viable one – worth taking the risk on.

“We stood firm as a team, along with Steve and the team at Steve Waugh Foundation, to continuously head forward with this idea. To convince the New South Wales police, the road traffic authority, and the insurance company to allow us to do it,” says Wright.

“It’s so easy to have just said, ‘Actually, this is too hard, let’s go and do something else.’ Actually, we all collectively said: ‘No, we really believe in this project.’ The client believed in this project, and everybody was really pulling in the same direction the entire time.”

Finch’s Tahtouh says these safety set backs meant a lot of work for the team at Finch, with copious amounts of testing and safety tolerances as well as a lot of documentation.

“We’ve dealt with road authorities before, with autonomous cars and all sorts of weird and wonderful things, but having an autonomous bike on the road that could travel at 60 kilometres an hour and potentially veer off into traffic wasn’t an easy thing to get over the line,” Tahtouh says.

Road safety constraints were not the only issues presented to the bike and the technology behind it, with Tahtouh listing tracking beacons, sunlight and steering as aspects which constantly needed further improvement.

“Every real technical milestone presented a new challenge. We had issues with the tracking beacons, and sunlight that we had to build filters to remove, and issues with the steering where we discovered that the steering was too robust, so if it did go off-track, it could just stay off-track, and veer into something,” he says.

The bike “took on its own personality” according to Tantough

The bicycle originally started as a regular bike which a triathlon rider would ride, however, due to difficulties with bringing this to fruition, The Riderless Bike was born.

“It took on its own personality. And turned into what ultimately became The Riderless Bike. But it was one of those small challenges along the way that really ended up shaping it,” Tahtouh continues.

For Havas’ Higgins, the challenges presented to the team meant they were on the right track.

“You know you’re on to something good when you’re facing challenges that seem insurmountable, because it just means you know that you’re on to something that other people haven’t been able to achieve before. That’s a great place to be,” Higgins says proudly.

Despite the challenges, getting the three agencies and The Steve Waugh Foundation to collaborate was “no challenge at all”, according to Red Agency’s Nick Day.

Wright concurs, adding: “It’s just a great group of mates willing to do great work”.

“I think that creates a really special environment whereby everyone knows their jobs, we’re keeping each other abreast of wherever we are and what we’re doing, and importantly, this is also a group that wouldn’t say no for an answer,” Wright continues.

The Riderless Bike was a brief which circulated the whole office, with ideas pinned to the wall, giving every person an opportunity to contribute or share their opinion, says Havas’ Higgins.

Mumbrella Awards judges said: “They took on something that was clearly not possible at the time and made it possible”

“We didn’t just brief to the creative department. We briefed it out to our design team, our digital strategists, the social media team, and the creative department. And we had well over 50 ideas back on a wall that we worked to.

“We opened it up to everybody, and we had everybody collaborating on it, or submitting ideas to it, before we sort of chose the ones that we felt had the most potential. And then we started talking to Finch about what may be possible with some of them,” Higgins says.

Concluding by addressing the project as whole, Wright says the team was always very conscious of not producing technology for technology’s sake.

“This was around the idea, and the idea being effective and capturing people’s imagination and inspiring people to want to engage with the campaign, to be able to support the ride, and then to support the charity.”

“It’s great to see strategic thinking, technology and creativity delivering a meaningful benefit for charitable organisation” said the Mumbrella Awards judges

The Riderless Bike campaign won the Mumbrella Award for Innovation and the Pro Bono Campaign of the Year Award at the 2017 Mumbrella Awards.


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