What if commuting on your bike could be more like commuting in your car, but without the hassles of traffic? COBI does just that by putting a dashboard on your handlebars. It’s not perfect, but right now we can tell it shows big potential. And, being app-based, COBI can update to add new features.
What is COBI?
COBI consists of a hub that mounts to your handlebars, a wired remote that mounts by your grips (either side for righties or lefties), and a phone case. The hub houses a large battery pack and an integrated LED headlight. You can also option a taillight that wirelessly syncs with the system.
Using your phone as the main source of computing power, COBI tracks speed and distance, estimates calories burned, and lets you control music, phone calls, and navigation all via the thumb remote. COBI also gives voice feedback so you don’t have to look down as you change modes – she’ll tell you you’re in music mode as you switch. The thumb control has four, directional buttons, an “OK” button, and a bell.
At the heart of the COBI system sits the hub. It’s not really bulky – it doesn’t take up much real estate on your handlebars – but it’s not small either. The hub holds a 20.88 Wh battery pack that powers the headlight and keeps your phone charged while you ride.
The hub can be a bit tedious to mount – it doesn’t balance in place while you screw it together on the handlebar – but once attached, everything is good to go. Having an extra set of hands certainly helps.
COBI includes a small LED battery life indicator on the hub to tell you if you need a recharge. Attached to the hub, you’ll find an integrated headlight. The headlight can run on an automatic setting – it will turn on when needed – or you manually adjust brightness via three settings: daytime running, low, and high. The high beam looks to be about 4-500 lumens, based on comparing with a 220 lumen-rated headlamp that we wore on a ride.
COBI’s case locks in securely. Our commute involves some singletrack riding and the hub didn’t move, nor did the case and phone jiggle around in the slightest. You definitely don’t have to worry about your phone falling off. For inclement weather, COBI offers a rain cover that slips over the phone and case. It’s not waterproof, but it will keep the rain/snow off your phone.
One cool feature, and something you should definitely add to the system if you buy one, is the taillight. It integrates with the hub, turns on automatically when you turn on the headlight, and uses an accelerometer to sense when you slow down. It gets brighter as you stop like a car’s brake lights. Safety first!
COBI’s app is the heart of the system. You begin your COBI experience by pairing your phone with the hub through the app. Once paired, no one else can use your hub. It’s locked to your phone. How do we know? Because we actually had two COBI hubs in house – we couldn’t get the first one to work because the previous tester forgot to unpair his phone. No one could track down who had the hub before us, so the hub became an expensive paperweight! That means that if someone does steal your COBI, they can’t use it or sell it to someone else to use.
The app looks great. It’s easy to read at a glance while you ride. Speed and distance appear prominently. We couldn’t get COBI’s app to set a destination because the app wouldn’t let us search for locations. But, the mapping software displayed well and was easy to follow. Mapping is based on Open Street Maps and COBI just released offline maps for navigating without data access.
Answering calls with the thumb control is easy. You can also select contacts and make calls with your thumb, but COBI does not have access to your contacts – you have to add favorites manually. That’s probably a good idea; it would be difficult to scroll through every single one of your contacts to find the right one.
Music controls also work well. A quick thumb press starts and stops your music and you have access to both streaming and locally stored tracks. We found it was easiest to set up what you wanted to play before starting a ride – selecting the app and tracks – rather than using the COBI app for everything.
COBI will also integrate with ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors to display heart rate, cadence and power on the screen like a normal cycling computer, so you can track fitness as you ride.
E-bike Integration – With a compatible e-bike, COBI will let you select your assist level and check battery level and range within the app.
Integrated Alarm – Activate alarm mode and your COBI will make an obnoxious sound and flash the lights if it senses that your bike is moving when it shouldn’t be.
Things we don’t like
COBI’s case is our one sticking point with the system. In order to work, the COBI case plugs into your iPhone’s Lightning port and redirects the pins to the back of the case where it connects to the hub. You no longer have access to the Lighting port when your phone is in the case. That means that you have to take the phone out of the case to charge. The case also has a protrusion on the back which, while necessary for securely attaching to the hub, makes pocket carry more awkward. So, your phone will probably not spend time in the COBI case unless you’re using COBI at that moment. We’d like to see the case redesigned to eliminate these issues, but we’re not sure it’s possible, given that the phone draws power from the main COBI battery while it’s attached.
COBI offers a universal mount that holds phones up to 6″ which eliminates this problem. COBI includes a cable that will let you charge your phone off the hub battery The only reason to use the COBI case instead of the universale mount is that, with the rain cover, it will charge your phone without exposing it to the elements. If it’sa raining, though, you can always keep the phone covered, skip charging during you ride, and plug it in when you get to your destination.
Also case-related – it can be a bit tough to detach the COBI case from the hub. The button that disengages the case gets pressed in the same direction the case slides off, so you don’t get any leverage. One more reason to use the universal mount that can stay on the hub.
COBI is a cool system with unlimited potential. As it sits, it provides enough value to justify the price of entry ($340 with the full system and taillight). You’ll spend more than that on a Garmin computer. With constant updates, COBI will only get better. Skip the COBI case and get a universal mount system so you won’t be constantly swapping cases. If you have an older phone that can’t take a splash, get a LifeProof case. Then get out and ride!
MSRP – Same price for COBI case or universal mount
COBI Sport (no headlight) – $249
COBI (with headlight) – $299
COBI Plus (COBI and taillight) – $349
Buy it direct from COBI. When they get more vendors, we’ll update with available purchase options.