Jack Merlin Bruce

Jack Merlin Bruce is a Sussex Psychology graduate who, after leaving university in 2015, created his own brand of urban cycling products: HikariBike (“Hikari”, being the Japanese word for “light”).

Jack Merlin Bruce (Psychology 2011) profile image

Jack's story

His first product, VeloHalo bike wheel lights, is designed to make commuting in the city safer, less stressful, and more fun. It’s Jack’s belief that cycle safety is all about human psychology: British roads are cluttered, chaotic and dangerous – so what, then, is the best way to get road users to pay attention to cyclists? That’s where Jack believes psychology comes into it.

What was your first job?
As a kid, every summer we’d go to my family town of Fowey, Cornwall, where my uncle owned a seaside fish and chip restaurant. One summer he offered my cousin and I a job washing dishes in this small and humid upstairs kitchen. It may have been an unglamourous one, but at that age (14) the very thought of earning my own money was so new and exciting, I actually enjoyed it. By summer’s end I became a fully-fledged fish fryer, chip blancher and ice-cream scooper!

What's the best piece of advice you’ve had?
Be careful who you take your advice from. 

What's the skill you'd most like to have?
Speaking multiple languages fluently. Sadly, English is all I currently speak.

What are you passionate about?
I’m super interested in how and why certain ideas go viral and others just don’t. Is there some secret sauce in everything that’s become super popular? Is it down to the technologies used to spread the ideas (i.e. the printing press, telegraph lines, the internet)? Is it purely chance? I’d love to know. My other passion is funk music.

Who's your hero/heroine?
Chic's Nile Rodgers. Without him, modern hip hop and dance music would be unrecognisably different.

What's your favourite pastime/relaxation activity?
Attending free events I find on Meetup.com – whatever your interests are, you’ll find something to explore. The last Meetup event I went to showcased a whole bunch of brand new virtual reality experiences. It was stunning.

What can't you live without
The internet. 

Tell us about a turning point in your life
Two things come to mind. The first was when I made the spontaneous decision to do Sussex’s Study Abroad scheme in Canada – it made the world a much bigger place (or smaller, depending how you view it). The second was 9 November 2016 – the election of Donald Trump. I was in Key West, Florida at the time and remember feeling utterly floored and bemused, thinking something along the lines of: “History, clearly, is still being written – and I’m living through it!

What was your worst job?
Dressing up as the plump, yellow Haribo Bear to hand out free packets of Tangfastics in an inner city shopping mall. It turned out the company I was working for mistakenly sent me to a wholesale distribution warehouse, not a shopping mall. I flounced around with all these cornershop owners staring at me like, “What on earth is he doing?!” This was the morning after I graduated with a first in Psychology!

VeloHalo bike lights on a bike on Millenium Bridge, London

What was your worst mistake (and what did you learn)?
It’s probably something to do with putting all my eggs in one basket. And by this I mean thinking that my current situation was fixed and unchangeable. It has happened many times in my life, and it always gets me down!

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with ChildReach International.

What attracted you to studying at Sussex?
Interdisciplinary study (shout-out to Sussex’s Polymath Society!). I could never decide if I wanted to do something purely scientific, like Physics, or something more liberal and arty, like Philosophy or Music. Psychology at Sussex seemed to stand at the intersection of these two domains, like the overlapping part of a Venn diagram. I think this is Sussex’s unique selling point; it’s incredibly valuable. The seaside is a plus, too!

What are your favourite memories of Sussex?
Lying on the beach at 6am watching the sun rise and listening to the waves after a full night out, Fatboy Slim’s Praise You playing in the distance.

In our world of intelligent machines and ever-expanding technological automation, cycling remains a uniquely human-powered activity.” Jack Merlin Bruce
Psychology 2011

What part of the Sussex experience has helped you the most?
The Study Abroad scheme. You literally get a free opportunity to live in and experience a different country, all the while representing your home uni. The Startup Sussex scheme is also a fantastic opportunity for anyone interested in entrepreneurialism.

What sowed the seed for your bike light inventions?
I’ve nearly been knocked off my bike so many times when cycling in London – even Lewes Road in Brighton is pretty sketchy for cyclists. One night a cabbie drove so close to me that I got completely shaken up and had to walk home, confidence destroyed. So I thought, why not light up a bike so that it can be seen from all angles? And VeloHalo was born. 

Is entrepreneurialism something you’ve always been interested in, or was it a necessary by-product of a good idea?
Honestly, no. I never thought of entrepreneurialism as something I could or would ever do. But looking back, I see that everything I had been interested in all led me to that point. For example, I’ve always had a wide variety of interests: psychology, graphic design, advertising, communication, mathematics and music, among others. And all these play a part in business and branding. I think the key thing for me was realising all these things could be combined into a single, cohesive stream. I’m always a little sceptical of people who say, “Do one thing, and do it well.

What’s next for VeloHalo?
We’re partnering with a startup called VonCrank (the ‘Uber for bike repair mechanics’) to get VeloHalo wheel lights on their mechanics' bikes. We’re also rolling out a whole new load of products. VeloHalo Sun is like the original VeloHalo, except it lights up the centre of the wheel, not just the rims. VeloHalo Sunset Strips are long, skinny bike lights which attach to the front and back forks of the frame. We’re also working with a German cognitive science team to help bring to market a cycling navigation device you can use without your hands, eyes, or ears. It works with vibration, so you never have to take your eyes off the road. It’s super secret for now so you’ll have to check back in six months!

Cycling has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Why do you think that is?
In our world of intelligent machines and ever-expanding technological automation, cycling remains a uniquely human-powered activity. People love to feel the burn in their thighs, and that’s something you can’t get from an Uber.

What qualities do you most admire in other people?
1) Open mindedness. 2) Genuine curiosity. 3) The kind of people you can see after months or years of little contact without there being a sense of awkwardness or animosity – you’re both just happy to see each other.

Favourite book / film / album?
Book: Better Angels of Our Nature by psychologist Steven Pinker (non-fiction) / A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (fiction)
Film: The Matrix.
Album: Either Daft Punk’s Discovery or The Beatles’ Revolver.

What is your Achilles heel?
The internet. 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you so far?
When in doubt, ride a bike. Or at least take a walk.

Describe your perfect day…
It’s 22°c and sunny, but not too sunny as to bother you, more like white and hazy. I’m cycling at a decent pace along a coastline somewhere in Europe, with two panniers on. After severely struggling to cycle up an incline, I get to a small pub that serves ice-cold wheat beer, which I happily drink before I set off again.

Visit the HikariBike website, or follow HikariBike on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

You might also be interested in: