If you are reading this blog, chances are, like me, you are a bit obsessed with bikes. I realize that lots of people out there don’t love bikes as much as I do, but that doesn’t mean that many of those people would not like to own and ride a bicycle if it were designed to fit into their lifestyles. In an earlier post, I stated that I think the American bicycle industry as a whole is not doing a great job reaching those potential customers who would not normally walk into a bike shop (Yes, I know there are a few exceptions, but I am speaking generally). I also left a comment a month or so ago on the Masi Guy blog to a similar discussion about the impact of high fuel cost on transportation oriented bike designs. I think that the point about the popularity of Vespa scooters compared to less popular but functionally equivalent mopeds makes a strong case for the marketability of a bicycle that reaches the same type of style conscious consumer.
This pencil and marker sketch is a quick concept of a bike that might appeal to some fairly affluent non-bike people (don’t necessarily latch on to the details in this first rough sketch, but hear me out on the general idea). The idea is to blend some of the features from high-end enthusiast bikes such as a sculpted carbon frame and an integrated headset with the geometry of a traditional European commuter bike. Features such as integrated lights, rear rack, fenders, and an enclosed drivetrain with a internally geared hub would make this type of bike low maintenance and user friendly. In order to appeal to the target market, the bike would need to look good parked at the local coffee shop or sitting still in the owner’s house or apartment. The design of a bike for this market should be inspired less by the trends in racing bikes and more by the colors and patterns that are currently popular in home décor, electronics, and fashion. A few sources of inspiration that I would look at before designing a bike for this market would be design*sponge (one of my favorite non-bike blogs), Design Within Reach, West Elm, Cool Hunting, Material Connexion, and Angela Adams (I love her patterns and I bet she could design something that would look great on a carbon frame if an innovative company approached her). Magazines such as Dwell, Metropolis, Domino, Metropolitan Home, Abitare, and any of the other urban-oriented shelter magazines would be worth looking through as well. I believe that when designing a bicycle, or really any product, it is important to occasionally look outside of the industry for inspiration.
Marketing an expensive bicycle to people who are not bike enthusiasts would most likely require some different thinking. It would also require exploring new venues for advertising and possibly different channels of distribution (In urban markets, I can see people buying bikes in a high end contemporary furniture shop or a design oriented accessories boutique). I think that a bike company with a long-term vision could successfully add design oriented lifestyle bikes to their line. Furthermore, I think that these new bikes would nicely compliment their existing high-end performance offerings. The alternative is to focus only on increasing sales in a competitive market by stealing market share from other similar enthusiast based bike companies. OK, maybe I am starting to oversimplify things a bit, but I would really like to see the industry attract new customers and grow. The more people on bikes the better. I would love to hear thoughts from some of you on this, especially from those of you who disagree.