JRA with the Angry Asian: Celebrating silly products

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Koo — the eyewear-focused sister company of Italian helmet brand Kask — recently released a novel little widget called the Billy. This bit of plastic attaches to your stem or handlebar, and serves as a “dock” of sorts for your sunglasses when you don’t feel like wearing them. To use the Billy, just take your sunglasses off, clip the top of the frame into the Billy’s pincer-like prongs, and then happily keep riding on.

The Billy seems more than a little ridiculous, yes, but if it does what it says, it presents an interesting solution to a common problem. Even the best sunglasses aren’t totally immune to fogging when you’re slogging up a hot and slow climb in humid conditions, after all, and that fancy lens tint obviously isn’t terribly useful when the sun has nearly set.

Is it a must-have item, though? Hardly.

First off, it’s kind of ugly, like your stem sprouted some kind of plastic pimple. It also doesn’t work with all sunglasses, many helmets already provide secure eyewear storage, and if all else fails — hairstyles allowing — you can also just flip your glasses around and put them on the back of your head. And let’s not forget that it’s grossly overpriced at US$24 / AU$30 / £20 / €19 — for 4g of molded plastic and rubber.

The Koo Billy has but one purpose in life: to provide a way to securely hold your sunglasses when you don’t feel like wearing them.

Maybe most ironically, the Billy gets your sunglasses off of your face, but also seems to relocate them right back into the line of fire. The Billy doesn’t stop you from sweating, or keep that sweat from dripping. And although the glasses are no longer on your face, where does the sweat go now? Oh, right, straight down … on to your stem, where the Billy is holding your sunnies.

Color me skeptical.

I should be offended by this thing, and I imagine there will be a fair number of other people who might feel the same way: the ugliness of free market capitalism runs amok yet again.

But as prone as I am to be annoyed by product frivolity these days, there’s something about the sheer audaciousness of the Billy that I find to be kind of endearing. Koo not only provided its designers and engineers the freedom to pursue something like this, but actually saw it through to market, cut expensive tooling to have it made, crafted a marketing plan, and even sent to media outlets a very serious-sounding press release to go with it.

“Koo has been working on a project to add convenience and practicality to every cyclist’s ride,” stated company sales and marketing director Ylenia Battistello. “We so often heard tales of riders wanting somewhere dedicated to keep their sunglasses safely and conveniently, and Billy is the result of that project.”

Koo is a company that prides itself on cutting-edge Italian style. The Billy is not pretty. Nor is it remotely cheap. But is it useful? Maybe.

You know what, Koo? Have at it.

In fact, I hope every bike company considers extending at least some level of freedom to its designers and engineers when someone has an idea that might seem a little too “out there”.

Full disclosure: I haven’t played with the Billy yet, and maybe I’ll eat all of these words afterward. I doubt it, but some piece of me is happy regardless that things like this still exist in the bicycle world. The Redshift Sports ShockStop stem and the Coefficient Wave handlebar both seemed pretty goofy to me at first, too, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t end up seeing the value in them.

The bicycle world is full of all sorts of stuff that is just begging to part fools with their money (or, at least, people who clearly have far more cash to burn than the rest of us). If I see someone out on the road with their sunglasses safely clipped to their stem — passing me on a climb, no doubt — I won’t feel offended, or mock them internally, or sneer with disdain with how carelessly they toss their financial success around.

I might just smile warmly as they pull away. Because someone thought their goofy idea might actually benefit someone, some company gave them the leash to pursue, and then that product managed to find someone who saw the same vision as the nutty inventor who thought of it in the first place. Because there’s a good chance that person doesn’t feel like a fool who threw their money away; they feel like they found something they’d unknowingly been waiting years for someone to make.

Hard not to smile at least a little at that, no?

JRA is an acronym well known to bike shop employees, usually applied to customers submitting warranty claims that are clearly invalid (“I was just riding along when my top tube dented!“). It’s in part an homage to James Huang’s long tenure as a shop mechanic, but also the title we’ve given to the collection of random musings that will regularly be published here on CyclingTips. Most — but not all — of them will tech-related, but either way, they’ll reflect what’s been on his mind and what he’s been thinking about when he’s just riding along.

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