Should designers stay away from bicycles?

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“Sometimes I wish designers would stay away from bicycles”.

Certainly I don’t agree, but “someone” posted that statement on the Core 77 discussion forum. Actually, the comment was left a long time ago in response to a thread that I started in an attempt to generate a few concept submissions to bicycle design. In recent days, the discussion has picked back up on that thread. Check out the second and third pages if you are interested in reading the most recent comments from industrial designers, myself included, about bicycle design. I can’t say that I like every bicycle design concept that I run across. Some are overdesigned and completely unrealistic, but it is fun to discuss them anyway (that is the point of this blog, right?). Occasionally though, there are bikes created by designers from outside the bicycle industry that I do really like. The Ibis Mojo comes to mind. Michael Young’ s Citystorm bike for Giant (pictured here) is another great example. Michael Young is a well known product designer who has designed a variety of objects from furniture to electronics. He is not specifically a bike designer, but I think he did a great job with the Citystorm. Certainly the results vary, but I love to see designers from outside the industry tackle the redesign of a bicycle. It is definitely a challenge because bikes are nearly perfect machines. So what do you think? Does anyone else believe that designers should just stay away from bikes?

While I am posting, I want to mention a few additional links (this first one came from the above mentioned discussion thread on Core). Check out these crazy neon 1980’s BMX inspired track bikes. Did I say something about overdesigned bikes earlier? So what. Some people really like flashy custom bikes that stand out in a crowd. I say more power to them.

Also on Core, check out this blog post about the recent Shimano marketing presentation coverage on Bike Portland. The author of the Core post doesn’t elaborate much, but he states that he doesn’t believe that the Coasting concept will actually get more people onto bikes. I disagree; as I have said before, I believe that these bikes will succeed in introducing new people to the simple joy of riding a bike as an adult. Many of the comments to the Bike Portland post that the Core post references came from people who are already very interested in bicycles. In general, people who comb the internet for bike content are not really the target market for Coasting bikes like the Lime. Don’t get me wrong, some of the commenters brought up valid points, but other comments reflect a general bias against bikes that deviate from the cycling community’s accepted norm. One thing is for sure; cyclists have very strong opinions about bikes and bike design. Sometimes it hard for someone who absolutely loves bicycles to put themselves in the shoes of the average person who does not ride or think about bikes at all. I think that has historically been a problem with design and marketing in the bike industry. Let’s face it; most of the people who gravitate to the industry do so because they are completely obsessed with bikes. Having a true passion for the products that one produces is a great, but sometimes it is good to get an outsider’s perspective. I am pretty sure that Shimano realized that when they teamed up with IDEO on this project. Do I think that Coasting is a perfect concept that will get everyone in the world on a bicycle? Of course not. Still, I see it as another step in the right direction for Shimano and the industry as a whole.

Finally, here is a link that has nothing to do with Core77. Bicycle Design guest contributor Michael Downes has a new blog to chronicle the progress of his latest project, the Portland Bicycle Barometer. Check it out. While you are at it, if you haven’t already seen Michael’s photo blog, you should take a look at that one as well. Have a great weekend everybody.

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7 Comments

  1. jorgensen March 24, 2007 at 10:33 am -  Reply

    As a reformed designer, which probably started when I told my boss, “I don’t do fluff design”… I scowl at styling exercises, I would like to try the Coaster equipment before passing judgement.

    From sales experience long ago, many customers are caught up in how they are projected to others when selecting a bike, stylish bikes that solve problems are good for the cause of getting those yet to ride a bike on one.

  2. Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 1:07 am -  Reply

    I’m behind coaster – I’ve got a wife and sisters in law who don’t ride, because they cannot find a bike suitable for tootling along while sitting bolt upright (they all suffer stiff necks).

    When I showed them the concepts they were very excited (one is now trying to find an importer)

    Personally, the concept I want is a pick-the-kids-up bike – fast, with infinitely ajustable stoker’s seat and plenty of storage for school bags, tennis rackets, hockey sticks etc etc. The only reason I take the car is because I have to shuttle the kids. And while I’m happy to play in the traffic, I’m not keen on having my 5 year old ride with me. Besides, she can’t sustain 30kph. :-)

    Stick your designer concepts into that!
    eg
    * disk rear wheel and shaft drive to avoid school-bag-in-the-derailleur accidents
    * coasting stoker so that the wee one doesn’t need to maintain my cadence.

  3. danomite March 26, 2007 at 9:27 pm -  Reply

    No way, we need input form all sorts of different angles including designers. Make it work, make it fun to work, make it look good while you are having fun working.

  4. Tyler March 28, 2007 at 12:32 am -  Reply

    Yes. Designers should stay away from bicycles, because, as we all know, the last things the cycling industry needs are fresh thinking and innovation.

    /sarcasm

  5. Thylacine March 28, 2007 at 1:41 am -  Reply

    Well, if you only look at the rubbish produced by Biomega, to the question “Should designers stay away from bikes” the answer would be a resounding “OH GOD YES.”

    However, us ‘reformed designers’ are everywhere, it’s just unfortunate that the ones obsessed with their own ego and self-promotion get all the publicity.

  6. Jamie March 29, 2007 at 3:39 pm -  Reply

    Yes, as a designer and a cyclist I struggle with how much design a bicycle needs. I’m definitely a “Keep it simple, stupid” designer. But just like any other product, there is a difference between excessive “styling” and actual innovative product design. I’m not a fan of the overly styled carbon frames that are coming out. From what I’ve seen the Coasting stuff looks pretty good, because it looks as though they really considered the entire system, not just a few new products mixed in with cheap old ones. Of course there is more room for design for components. IMO, some of the best product design in the bike business is done by Sram. Their products are just as beautiful in their function as they are in their appearance.

  7. Anonymous April 25, 2007 at 5:16 pm -  Reply

    The broad strokes have not changed. Those people who have been in the bike industry more than a few years can rattle off numerous ‘city, leisure, commuter’ products that came out over the years, that of course got the press all gushy. Specilaized Globe pops to mind. Coast is fine and dandy, but it changes little to nothing. It’s just another grouppo. You sill sit on a seat, in the elements, and go forth by your own power (or not). I don’t see this getting many non riders on a bike, as this is nothing new. Bikes, for the most part are fine. What needs to really be changed, worked on… designed… is peoples (Americans)attitudes.

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