4-dollar gas- a design opportunity?

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All morning I have been hearing the news that the U.S. national average for a gallon of gas topped the 4-dollar mark. Most people don’t seem all that happy about that milestone, but climbing gas prices are certainly something you won’t hear me complaining about. In light of the recent attention to 4-dollar gas, I thought I would revisit an old post; specifically my third ever post on this blog from September of 2005. Back then; gas prices were still cheap, but steadily rising, so I mentioned that those climbing prices were a great opportunity for the bike industry. Many commuter oriented bikes and products have hit the US market since that post was written, but I still think that designers in the bike industry have a great opportunity to design products that will introduce cycling to a new segment of the population. I don’t know what the magic number will be for most people, but at some point people will stop just complaining about high gas prices and will take the first step toward changing their driving habits. When they are ready to make that choice, it is important that they see bicycling as not just efficient, but as a fun and healthy way to get around; really a better user experience. It is up to the industry to portray that message, and the design of the products they offer is a big part of it.

For those of us who just love cycling and feel like there is never enough time to ride, it is sometimes hard to think like a “non-cyclist”. That is exactly what designers need to do though if they are to successfully lure new customers out of their cars and onto bicycles. Creating a user experience that is very different from that of the average recreational cyclist is one of the challenges that designers in the industry face. But of course, a challenge means opportunity, so I wanted to reiterate the message in that post from nearly three years ago (nobody was reading the blog back then anyway, so I am sure it is new to most of you).

While I am on this subject, I’ll point you to another post on the subject of gas prices and the industry from Bicycle Marketing Watch (aka Shut Up and Drink the Kool-Aid). It’s an interesting discussion on that site as usual, so check out the post if you missed it.

Photo credit: Fritz/Richard on Flickr

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11 Comments

  1. Ron June 9, 2008 at 12:35 pm -  Reply

    I didn’t read anything about 4 dollar gas this morning, although I did read an interesting story about the rise of gas thieves, who hijack unwary people’s cars, drill their gas tanks and run off with their gas. Incredible!

  2. thePig June 9, 2008 at 1:42 pm -  Reply

    Is certainly an interesting design problem…how to create the bicycle of the future to cater to for the majority of society.

    I guess the challenge here is that most people in the industry are very into cycling so their emphasis will be on bicycles for cyclists.

    I think it may require some bravery (and cash) to attempt to define and create a new bicycle market for the everyday person.

  3. bazza June 9, 2008 at 2:25 pm -  Reply

    FYI: Here in the EU/UK we price gas (petrol) by the litre. It’s approx £1.25/litre here in England.

    1 US gallon = 3.8L
    Therefore, £1.25 x 3.8 = £4.78/US gallon.

    Therefore, gas in the UK is currently £4.78 = $9.43USD per US gallon!!

  4. Fritz June 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for giving the credit, James. the gas station where I took that photo posted $4.46 for regular unleaded when I last saw it on Friday!

    My local bike shop is still focused very much on recreational cycling — high end mountain bikes and road bikes, but I think that’s because I live in a somewhat wealthy enclave. I visited a Performance store yesterday and they literally had rows of commuter or city bikes — things like the Schwinn Nancy and Sid, a lot of GT Transeos, a bunch of hybrids from Fuji, even the amazing SE Draft.

  5. Marla…O.A.F. with altitude June 9, 2008 at 5:52 pm -  Reply

    I’ve just realized lately that that’s exactly how I’ve started to think. I mean like a non-cyclist. And I’m really starting to enjoy my time on the bike. Thanks for a great post!

  6. Georg June 10, 2008 at 6:23 am -  Reply

    I certainly agree with your point as far as transporting a single person. When travelling alone I almost exclusively opt for the bike or pub transportation. But transporting two kids across the cityscape of a big city without a car is not always a viable option. I also have major saftey concerns pulling the kids in my bike trailer in between masses of cars.

  7. James June 10, 2008 at 4:03 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Georg, I have three young kids, so I know what you mean. I also drive a car (more than I would like to in fact) so I am not at all saying that people should never drive. I just think that cars are greatly overused in the U.S. because the cost of driving is too low. If gas were nearly 10 bucks a gallon, as bazza points out it is in the UK, people would drive less and we would see smaller vehicles on the road. As the average size and speed of vehicles decreases due to higher fuel prices, I think the roads will become safer for all users. As a cyclist I am happy about that and as a driver that is something that I don’t mind paying for.

  8. Social Network Web Design June 10, 2008 at 9:16 pm -  Reply

    The 4 dollar gas sucks but your idea is great but i think you cannot run with that gas if you have kids like what georg mentioned. I hope more non-cyclist try biking.

    http://social-network-web-design.blogspot.com

  9. bikesgonewild June 11, 2008 at 5:50 am -  Reply

    …this is becoming interesting as the gas prices rise…the positive side is that cycle commuting is on the rise in a lot of areas…

    …the downside seems to be some very reprobate behavior by customers in need of gasoline, at stations…& as mentioned by ron, (some) peoples true nature seems to be manifesting itself w/ the theft of gasoline from private vehicles…

    …& while there are legitimate reasons for a certain amount of large suv usage, as devil’s advocate, i say, if you bought the damn thing, perhaps you should have shown a little forethought & a little less ego…get off your lazy fat asses, america & wake up about this & a lot of issues you are blind to…

  10. surf-the-arts June 13, 2008 at 1:22 pm -  Reply

    Our bikes are out. $1.41 a litre in British Columbia, Canada today – peddling harder!

  11. Anonymous June 15, 2008 at 5:14 pm -  Reply

    Designing for the “non-biker.” and replying to the lady who bemoasns falling back to the car when its time to taxi the kids…thtas precisely the market I hope to get into pedald. I’ve got good responses on the concept. Now its time to do the fab and show the world you can go to the opera “in” a bike…can take a baby grand home on the trailer…and stay warm during winter commutes…”in” a bike

    memecaster@37.com if your interested…

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