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Commuter bikes for the masses- any ideas?

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  1. sumadis October 6, 2008 at 7:59 pm -  Reply

    i think there’s plenty of well designed bikes for all manner of commuting – longtails, retro-euros, internal gears, most anything sky yeager puts out, flat bar road bikes, nice hybrids. there’s also better-made, more comfortable/user friendly components and clothing aimed toward commuters.

    what there’s not is an assurance that when commuting, you are safe from vehicular aggression, and if you are presented with a situation in which your safety is threatened, that you will be treated fairly by the law.

    we don’t need more clever bike designs clogging the market to meet commuter needs.

    we need sensible laws, fair representation, a better understanding of cyclist rights on both sides of the bike lane, and above all, some tolerance and common sense, again, on both sides of the lane.

  2. Anonymous October 6, 2008 at 8:38 pm -  Reply

    I think you’re absolutely right that the new tax credit (though unfunded like everything else in the bailout bill) could be he kickstart for transportation bikes. Sumadis is correct that we don’t need more clever bike designs flooding the market – rather we need better bike safety education AND enforcement. Ideally enforcement IS education after all.

    Currently several US mfgrs make commuter bikes for foreign markets (fenders, lock, rack, lights, etc). I’ve seen them selling at bike discount fairs for about half of cost. If a price like that doesn’t get people to buy them the tax credit won’t either. I wonder if a bike would need to have all the above PLUS fairing, weather protection, enclosed drivetrain and fold too for ~40 lb and ~$1000.

    I’m not wondering idly, I’m building such a bike at the moment. Just as a test marketing question, who here on the list would be interested? If there’s enough interest I’ll post a CAD sketch.

    Nick Hein
    Morgantown, WV

  3. Michael October 6, 2008 at 9:31 pm -  Reply

    Love this blog. I personally think a single speed freewheel bike is the best solution to get people riding. I ride an ’07 Cannondale Capo to work everyday. And although I have my gearing pretty aggressive (48/17) I still make it up the killer hills in north jersey no problem. But the bike is light, simple and easy to ride. Gears and complication can turn people off, especially when they got to get on it everyday. If your not a speed demon, get a moderately geared singlespeed freewheel. (Trek Soho S is a good example). But something like the Capo has comes with the flip flop hub so you can play with fixed riding once your commute gets too easy.

  4. Champs October 6, 2008 at 10:10 pm -  Reply

    I don’t pretend to know what other commuters want or expect everyone to want the same thing as me, but it’s going to be what the “cool kids” are doing that steers this.

    Few will pick up on my commuting bike’s schizophrenic mix of everything (it’s a cross bike fit like a road bike set up as a tourer. Right now it has a mix of the old 9s Ultegra and newer 10-speed 105, with a Tiagra crank arm on the drive side, with STI levers). But if you could pack enough of that load carrying functionality into a flat bar road bike frame with LX and Alfine at a price point somewhere near the Redline 925, then you’ve got something.

  5. jamesmallon October 6, 2008 at 10:18 pm -  Reply

    The new cyclist doesn’t know what bike is best for them and will stray to something cheap and flashy. Even though I’d been cycling for years, when I got my road bike, I did not make the best choice: my 2006 Lemond Croix de Fer Triple was a well considered choice, but I’d now be happier without the carbon fork, and the third ring. They have to be taught that less is often more.

    What is that ‘less’ bike? Consider the comeback that steel frames and fixed-gear have made. That’s not an ideal bike for a new rider (though is my 30km rain-bike commuter), but there is a more suitable old-style. What’s wrong with an old riser-bar steel roadster? I see decades old Raleighs on the road in a variety of conditions. It gives enough gears to climb hills, but few enough in a simple enough mechanism not to scare of the new rider. It’s the perfect commuter for less than 10km. You’ll never convince anyone but we enthusiasts to commute by bike further than that.

  6. Ron October 6, 2008 at 10:53 pm -  Reply


    I’m definitely with you on the advocating of cycling and improvement of our biking infrastructure to get people more comfortable with using bicycles amongst other beasts of the road.

    The question you have put forth is hard to answer, because cycling can get complex. Its definitely hard to pick one bike to suit all people, all needs.

    But having thought about your question, in a perfect world, I believe simplicity is key (think why TREK Lime’s are not selling a lot). And retro could very well be the answer.

    I visualize a single speed roadster/cruiser like bike that has the road geometry (very slack angles though), comfortable upright and plush seating with spring shock absorbers, wide tires (around 28-35c) mustache handlebars, side pull brakes, fenders above both wheels and a chainguard, reflectors and a luggage rack on the rear..and ofcourse, an integrated triangulated kickstand with a spring actuated locking mechanism in place.

    A ladies model will look like the above but it could have a compact geometry.

    In other words, a town bike! Yes yes…

    But my underlying point being that introduce bikes with all these above mentioned features built into them instead of accessorizing everything like the fashion industry does.

    Again, this model is not going to work for everyone like I said before.

    And as far as prices are concerned, don’t waste time and money on nerve wracking industrial design and marketing, because what ends up happening usually is that the costs involved with those activities get absorbed into the final price of the bike itself, making everyday Joe gulp hard at the price tag. How complex is it to engineer and design an ordinary bike without all the unneeded publicity and glitter and gold??

    I also feel companies making a plethora of bikes from high end racing to afforable commuter/cruiser bikes need to balance their image or at times even tip the point towards the ordinary people.

    Concluding, I firmly believe that the lazy, instant gratification culture we’re in, combined with ignorance about cycling in general and the unreasonable prices associated with cycling gear are whats putting people away from getting on bicycles more.

  7. kind1 October 7, 2008 at 12:29 am -  Reply

    It’s not simple because the industry does not make it so.

    Ron and sumadis are spot on with some of the issues at play, so I won’t repeat those but will address the product side of things.

    Bikes typical of urban transportation were less in number this year at IB (folding and electric were up) despite what the bloggers are reporting. After strolling for a morning, I hit the map thinking I must have missed a huge chunk of the show. All the big boys had a few new urban products, but comparing it to the rest of their lines, it paled in comparison. Given the data we are getting back from shops and what is hitting mainstream media, I expected IB to be overwhelmed with utilitarian bikes.

    While the Moots and Civia created buzz, the play they got is not representative of where we need to go. An $8300 commuter? a $1300 grocery getter? Cool and certainly appealing to those already in the choir. But even those who drink the kool-aid know its a little over the top to anyone looking in.

    The question is that if everyone knows it, why don’t we change? Interbike is so lopsided with high end product when compared to what really sells in shops. $350-$500 mtb’s/hybrid/comforts aren’t sexy, but like it or not, they are what keeps the doors open in a majority of shops. This high end, shiny bits thinking seems to have manifested itself in the urban market.

    To think we have a clean slate in which to work from and we still make the same mistakes – forcing what we think is cool down the customers throats at price points we as enthusiasts accept as being low. Addressing the issues we can control should help the cause, even if just a little.

  8. J. Tripper October 7, 2008 at 4:25 am -  Reply

    1. Upright position and intuitive handling of a modern all-mtn mtn bike. Suspension and disc brakes. Fun for anyone to ride, wheelie-able, and w/o the awkward and unbalanced roadie position.

    2. Belt drive and internal transmission- drivetrains are a huge pain the ass.

    3. Standardized and easy to install/remove accessories- lights, racks, etc.

    4. sub $1000.

    5. looks cool so people don’t feel like dorks.

  9. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 5:50 am -  Reply

    How about short travel suspension and built in turn signals.

  10. adf October 7, 2008 at 6:27 am -  Reply

    I recently helped a friend buy a bike predominantly for commuting and city riding. Even as a complete newcomer to cycling she quickly realised that a road bike or touring bike would be best. In the end we settled on a Ridgeback Voyage. This bike offers a stable and comfortable ride thanks to its wide touring tires, the ability to carry panniers and it still quick thanks to its traditional road design. The designers have added brake leavers on the tops as well as drops which make it very appealing if your not used to road bikes. In my opinion this is close to the perfect commuting bike for a newcomer to cycling.

  11. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 7:55 am -  Reply

    Hmmmm… The consensus here seems to be that we should find out what people will buy by asking them. Then limit them to versions of the bike that have been available for over 100 years that haven’t gained significant market penetration. This reminds me of a quote I just read by Henry Ford – “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said ‘faster horses'”. Most bikes are still designed to function as faster, lighter horses. I don’t think the bike has been designed yet that will get the 97% of non-cyclists out there to use a bike for the 80% of trips that are bikeable. I’m working on one that I think will – and I have to say that I’m not counting on using 100-year old designs to do so.

    Still, reading retro-prattle does serve as a reminder to keep things simple while at the same time being useful, attention-getting and innovative.

    One more (possibly) unrelated story. In the early days of aviation technology designers proposed the radical idea of a closed cabin for pilot and passenger comfort as a way of getting more people to fly. Old-line pilots (some with as much as 10 years experience) were outraged at the idea because they had been taught to depend on the wind on their cheeks to coordinate their turns. Someone invented a simple turn coordinator by putting a marble in a liquid-filled glass tube. Pilots still balked so the next generation of aircraft had the passengers in a closed, heated cabin while the pilot still sat in an open cockpit.

    We should get people to bike the same way we get them to fly and drive, make it comfortable and effective under all conditions.

    Nick Hein
    Morgantown, WV

  12. Art October 7, 2008 at 8:19 am -  Reply

    The most approachable commuter bike is a non-commuter bike. The problem with a lot of these commuter bike designs is that they’re coming from bike geeks like me who are willing to own as many bikes as we have the storage space and money for. The new cyclist does not have that passion.
    Any bike with wheels and pedals will get you to the grocery store and back, so if you only want to own one bike, it should be the one that you’re going to have the most fun with in your free time.

  13. Ron October 7, 2008 at 9:17 am -  Reply

    Nick Hein,

    You seem to be directing obvious sarcasm at the "retro prattle". Look, no one said here that the one solution is going to be a rusted safety bicycle from the 1900's. But if you're sitting there and thinking that nothing changed over 100 years, you're not very right. Infact, millions of ideas have already been tried out to make the bicycle more easier & safer to use, yet the classic shape and overrall structure of today's bikes match with those 100 years earlier simply due to the fact that this is what works, and this is what's practical. Count the number of oddball designs that we saw over the years and see how many made it. Then think about what they did to improve any cyclist's life. Or society in general. Not a lot. Unsurprisingly, the simple design that is the classic bicycle was chosen by BBC as the century's best invention. People chose the bicycle for its simplicity of design, universal use, and because it is an ecologically sound means of transport. And no one complained.

    A bicycle is a human powered vehicle, and it is its simplicity and ease of operation that makes it a timeless classic. I'm not saying that we don't need innovation, but really, the question is…will taking spokes off wheels, putting a couple of motors in places, or adding an automatic navigation system in it like as in a car make it a bicycle anymore? Will it be any more simpler? And whats the opportunity cost in dollars?

    History has taught us that not too many folks have been successful introducing "revolutionary" changes that have been nothing but far fetched ideas and really unnecessary evils that end up placing more strain on the user's pocket and adding another set of woes that no one wanted in the first place. Lets hope that we place more emphasis on getting rid of the institutionalization of vehicular travel, any social stigmas associated with cycling, education, and most importantly dumping the T.V remote control to make better use of one's time and health.

  14. Bret Moss October 7, 2008 at 9:18 am -  Reply

    The design solution for the masses is in the local transportation network. The speed needed to flow with traffic either foot or vehicular dictates the utility of the bike.

    For people willing to compete with cars for space on the road then a power assisted bike such as Giant’s Twist Freedom may help the masses commute.

    The real design problem in most U.S. cities is the transportation infrastructure. Sidewalks are for walkers and roads are for cars and bikes get to be the rebel without a cause.

    Now that we have reached some sort of oil tipping point maybe commuting by bike will become part of our national pride and we will begin to make bicycling part of our national interest.

    Designating roads and pathways as bicycle commute friendly is the design solution.

  15. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 10:24 am -  Reply

    Had to scroll all the way down to find someone with a comment similar to mine.

    When I ask people why they don’t ride to work, their primary concern is Safety … which has been pretty thoroughly discussed here.

    But another huge issue for those working in offices is Appearance/Hygiene.

    Most offices have a dress code, and most bicycle riders ride hard enough so they are in violation of that code when they arrive at work.

    Electric Assist I think is a critical factor in any commuter bike…and, of course, that electric bike would have to hit a particular price point.

    This, of course, will never meet with the approval of those for whom Bicycling must equal Pain. But I think that a practical argument can be made for this point of view.

  16. a October 7, 2008 at 11:17 am -  Reply

    Sumadis made half my argument for me: safety concern overrides bike design.

    Another related issue is that riding to work requires a completely different attitude about the commute than driving. I suspect many drivers view their car as a kind of sanctuary in traffic, listening to the radio and shielded (literally) by a protective barrier from the outside world. It’s an in-between time to themselves when they’re not at home or at work.

    Cycling requires them to be more engaged with the world (driving should, but often doesn’t). And while they might discover that they enjoyed the experience, commuters would need to get over the mental hurdle of viewing the commute as a certain kind of personal time.

  17. Darren October 7, 2008 at 11:37 am -  Reply

    As a college student, bikes are huge around campus. I am always looking at what people are riding. I think cost plays a huge issue. Most everyday people dont want to go to a bike shop to get their bike. They would rather have the convience of going to the big chain sporting goods store or the wal-mart to purchase a bike. They just want to get from place to place reliably.

    That said, a commuter bike should be very reliable and very simlple. A single or three speed drive train. More road bike oriented but still capable of snow/rain etc. I think a stripped down cross bike would make an excellent commuter. Maybe add fenders or a rack. Something under $300 for the masses.

  18. kind1 October 7, 2008 at 11:43 am -  Reply

    If you look at bicycle “cultures” around the world to see why they are successful, the main ingredients are safe routes, general infrastructure like parking and servicing and social acceptance. Nothing to do with bikes.

    Secondly, shops cater to the masses not the enthusias., Third the bike culture in the US is a counter culture standing on the soap box telling people they are dumb for driving SUV’s and being fat. Not condusive for getting people to change their ways

    In Amsterdam and Copenhagen people are generally riding rusted beaters in their work clothes. But those city centers are smaller, more dense (and flat) making them perfect for riding. Again, not about the bikes or the worry about arriving somewhere sweating.

    The infrastructure here will not change that radically anytime soon, so in order to attract riders, bikes need to be affordable comfortable and simple.

    I think that is James’ point – what does that mean and why haven’t we cracked it yet?

  19. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 12:10 pm -  Reply

    I've commuted for 56 years. During that time I've introduced many people to cycling. I've found that most of them don't continue after the initial enthusiasm wears off. There seams to be three main reasons for this. #1 is, of course, safety. Many new commuters just find it too daunting out there. But this is about bicycle design so we move on. #2 is that it's just not fun, or said another way, it's just too hard. #3 is it doesn't work for the job or occupation they have.
    Reason #2 is the one where bike design comes into play. I've taken many people who tried to commute & found it too difficult & got them into a light weight, road based frame where they found all of a sudden that it could be fun. That doesn’t address the safety issue but many of them did start to actively commute. I think the biggest mistake beginners make is they buy something to heavy, awkward, or difficult to ride. One of the faults of that is the bike store. They sell what they have to sell and until recently, they mostly sold mountain bikes for commuting. After cross bikes showed up the also sold them but there were not many of them that were fun to ride.
    So, finally, my recommendation is for you bicycle designers out there to make something that is not too expensive & still light enough to be fun to ride.

  20. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 12:21 pm -  Reply

    My $0.02:

    -A nice light rigid MTB frame. Whatever is least expensive to make (probably aluminum or Cro-moly) but it has to feel nice and responsive. One of the biggest turnoffs of Wal-Mart bikes is the sluggish feel of the frame.

    – 2.3 slicks or semi-slicks but a quality tire that can still keep good rolling resistance at lower pressures. With this you won't need the added complexity/weight/sluggish feel suspension can give and the bike will still be comfortable over bad roads.

    – Having never tried one of the 8 or 9 speed internal hubs I can't say whether I think they are a good idea or not but they do offer the advantage of being able to enclose the drivetrain to keep keep pant-legs clean… Single speeds might be the in thing right now but for a non cyclist I suspect they would be a turnoff. So either internal gear hub or something Deore level for the drivetrain – Way more than good enough these days. Maybe go with full length cable housing to cut down on maintenance.

    – MTB bars, flat or riser. Road bike bars are nice once you are used to them but they don't offer the same in-control feeling to the non-initiated. Bars should be a couple of inches below the saddle for aerodynamics.

    -Full fenders, rear rack and lights (good ones, front & rear powered off a generator hub).

  21. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 12:25 pm -  Reply

    Only one comment here reflects my thoughts, I believe it was Ron who asked how hard it is for manufacturer’s to add a line of practical commuter bikes to their model, with all commuting necessities integrated into the bike itself (mudguards, pump, racks, lights, disc brakes etc). And the bike itself could be made with good ol’ lightweight Al, instead of Titanium and the heavier cromoly steel. And keep the price sub 500 dollars.

    All other’s were good comments too.

  22. Human Amplifier October 7, 2008 at 12:27 pm -  Reply

    Great Blog James, and great comments.

    The bicycle AS A PRODUCT still has huge opportunities for improvement. Some of which are practical eg more intuitive for new users, safer, lighter, cleaner, drier etc. to name a few blue sky wishes.

    Other opportunities are more intangible … just like any (new) product … what will be a)cool ? and b)stay cool ? … that once in a lifetime ‘timeless design’ all designers strive for.

    By comparison to the blue ocean market place, being cool, at least for a moment 🙂 in a red ocean of enthusiasts is relatively easy!

    OK so what would such paradigm shifting product be like ? …. short answer is I don’t know – but the great thing about design cf engineering is there are MANY answers, not just THE one, optimal one. Here are some thoughts, more practical, but achieving ‘cool’ is harder.

    How about …..
    A Simple exoskeleton, low drag, stiff and light (due to massive 2nd moment of area cf skeleton frame) – a smooth invertebrate. Looking like a upright smoothed pebble … with low frontal area, and ultra-low drag.

    Something similar in the motorbike/scooter world was partially realised in the semi-enclosed C1 by BMW
    These are a lot safer in traffic, with front, rear AND side protection.
    It would have to be a lot cooler looking though – a pinch more ‘lambretta’, and less ‘heavy metal’.

    A roof section would be normally open (with say 2 carbon fibre pultruded rails), with easy rain cover that slides along these structural guides.

    Lower section would be a very thin, shaped shell, dividing the dirty wet road, and messy stuff like wheels and transmission.

    Also as many observers of non-enthusiast cyclists’ needs have commented, many enthusiast ‘gadgets’ and ‘optimal speed features’ can be ditched for simplicity … eg gears, chain, hunched riding position, shaved legs, lycra …….. 
    (see also … thanks James).

    Luckily in the design world, there are infinite product opportunities … lets see some more suggestions. Mark

  23. dcdouglas October 7, 2008 at 12:48 pm -  Reply

    I’ve now been commuting daily for the last five years or so. Before that, I was a hard core MTB-er on a hardtail Cannondale.

    After lots of initial research, I bought my first commuter bike–a Breezer Uptown. This had everything mentioned before: lightweight aluminum frame, riser bars, fenders, rear rack, chainguard, front and seatpost suspension, internal 8-speed hub, Euro-style rear tire lock, and a nicely-designed front and rear light system. It even came with a bell and kickstand. All of these components/accessories came stock on the bike. Despite the hefty weight, I put a lot of miles on that bike.

    Over time, I came to find that less would be better for me. For my next bike, a Jamis Coda Comp (flat-bar road bike), was going to be faster. The Jamis is one of the few inexpensive steel frames, so no front suspension would be necessary. It had faster 700cc tires, but I intend to purchase wider, puncture-resistant ones when these wear down. It came with a suspension seatpost, but I know enough now to add on a Brooks saddle. My kid’s bike seat has its own rear rack, but the Jamis came with adequate brazeon attachment points. It’s got an adjustable rise Ritchey stem, so I have been able to tune the riding position. The other things bike commuters usually need (fenders, lights, bell/horn) are better purchased aftermarket. Since I’m a bike commuter on my second frame, I was willing to shell out the $900.

    New commuters will not be looking to spend more than $500. They really need a simple hybrid bike with comfortable geometry and the capacity to be accessorized to fit their needs. If they ride in the rain, then make sure the bike can accept fenders. If they need to carry stuff, make sure you’ve got brazeons galore for a rack. Keep the drivetrain simple. Every commuter could use a decent chainguard. (BTW, why doesn’t anyone sell them in the US?)

    Despite the utility you get out of selling a masterpiece bike with everything a commuter could need (are you listening, Joe Breeze?), what people really need is a blank canvas upon which they can put their wants.

  24. Ron October 7, 2008 at 12:53 pm -  Reply


    Exoskeleton?? For a moment I was also thinking about the delta 7 isotruss frame.

    This BMW C1 design you have cited brings to mind a concept solar assisted pedal bike that was shown last month. Its called Cycle Sol, designed by Miroslav Miljevic. Solar panels on the roof. Not much side protection though, and a pretty unintuitive steering system. You can read about it here and herehere.

    As far as timeless cool looking designs are concerned, my general observation has been that most of these ‘retro’ looking bikes that show up bike expo’s are substantially pricey. I guess brand name matters, why else would such a price be reflected in the bike even though they dont have a whiff of carbon fiber anywhere?

    With all the multitude of designs that can be proposed to make the “ideal commuter bike”, one question remains – how can we keep the bike affordable, without sacrificing quality? The answer may very well be in China or Taiwan.

  25. steve October 7, 2008 at 1:16 pm -  Reply

    I think the bigger issue is feeling safe – bike lanes and an increasing number of bikers.

    Just looking at the bike it needs to be something that is low maintenance, looks good, is cheap, and is comfortable to ride. An internal hub probably makes sense and belt drive may too … I’m guessing an up-right riding position is probably best for many.

    Inexpensive is really important — that means less than $500 for most people.

  26. erik k October 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm -  Reply

    Hey James, great post. I liked it so much decided to dedicate a whole post to responding to it.

  27. Human Amplifier October 7, 2008 at 2:23 pm -  Reply

    Hey Ron,
    Thanks for the links yes a bit like that, but crossed with a bean like HPV – with more side protection, …. I guess the only way would be to get down and CAD it up 🙂

    Absolutely right about Taiwan & China …. most Treks, specialized, Dahons, mongooses (or is that mongi ?) etc etc are already made there.

    BTW .. love your Blog, 2nd daily click after James'

  28. Ron October 7, 2008 at 3:47 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for reading Mark.

    Coming back to the prime question of what a person who has not really gotten into cycling would like in a commuting bike, a more democratic decision making process would be appropriate (We’re not involving the person this bike is meant for, are we?.

    An in depth target audience survey could perhaps be put into effect because after all, the comments on the post surface from experienced riders putting forth their biased views (that includes me). Lets see what a newcomer has to say and desires, and lets see what price he’s willing to settle for in a potentially suitable commuter bike.

    But then the next question would be – how do we gather this audience in order to survey? And how will they know what they want when they don’t know much about cycling? I think we can answer those supplementary issues after we get their feedback.

  29. jimmythefly October 7, 2008 at 4:37 pm -  Reply

    As far as teh bike goes, I think electric-assist will be huge in getting more folks riding, especially in hilly areas. This helps take care of the sweaty/stinky issue for some, also. In addition, a transmission that can be shifted while at a stop is much more user-friendly.

    Shimano’s Coasting group automatic transmission is also on the right track. One if their mistakes was underestimating what it would take to get bike shop dudes to sell them.

  30. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 5:09 pm -  Reply

    Based on what Ron and a few others said, since there is no single bike that can satisfy everyone’s commuting circumstance, customization is the only way to go here.

  31. -p October 7, 2008 at 5:15 pm -  Reply

    You’re right, it’s easier to sell bikes to bike nuts than to the blue ocean. That takes work. Work as in going and talking to the Blue Ocean and figuring out what they want. The want elegant, non fussy things that look good, like iPods. They want to take them in somewhere and have them fixed in a relaxing environment. They want the Apple store of bike shops. Maybe that’s Mellow Johnny’s? Lots of test riding, helpful (non condescending) sales people. They want attractive things with high performance. Breezer comes to mind, so does the Specialized Globe.

  32. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 5:33 pm -  Reply

    To SELL it will have to look cool and be cheap.

    To be PRACTICAL it will have to be light weight and possibly power assisted to be useable by the broadest range of users.

    To be ACCEPTED as a form of every day transportation it’s going to have to provide weather protection.

    To be SAFE, and this is the most important part of this whole concept, it will need rear looking detection and warning of approaching vehicles.

  33. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 9:32 pm -  Reply

    I worked at a bike shop during the last “Oh my, how will I get to work without fuel” bike boom. Most popular:

    rear rack with extra bungee cords

    folding baskets on sides of that rack, (they were functional but heavy)

    lights, preferably generator.

    customers inquired about a rear view mirror, but were not happy with the options.

    It was Southern California, who needs fenders anyway?

    A year ago I recommended to an employee, (I have six, and three ride to work) A flat bar road bike with disc brakes that I had recently seen. He loves it, rides it no matter the weather, and it does rain in Southern Califorinia, puts up with the lack of fenders. Those brakes are darn good, I would suggest them over rim brakes, especially in the wet.

    So, needs some style or the reluctant. (how about… satin black, white tires, and tan saddle and grips) Baskets that fold and are light, think of those folding box baskets as seen at Target. Perhaps a front basket if the geometry is adjusted for the weight there…

  34. James October 7, 2008 at 10:00 pm -  Reply

    I appreciate the thought that you have all put into these comments. This is exactly the type of discussion that I was hoping the post would trigger. I wish I had time to respond to everyone, but I can’t at the moment. I will try to summarize in a future post.

    I agree with those of you who pointed out that safety concerns are the number one reason more people are not bike commuting (or riding at all). I actively work on bike safety and advocacy issues in my community and I would strongly encourage all of you to do the same. Infrastructure issues are extremely important also, and can be considered a big picture design issue, but for this discussion I would like to stay focused on the design of the bicycle.

    Again great discussion, keep the comments and ideas coming.

  35. Anonymous October 7, 2008 at 11:55 pm -  Reply

    Ron's ideas on integrated & designed in features are exactly whats missing on U.S commuter bikes. However, not very surprisingly they are the norm in Dutch contemporary utility bikes. Read this person’s viewpoints on how we can emulate the Dutch bike designs here in the U.S.

  36. Anonymous October 8, 2008 at 1:23 am -  Reply

    This is a very interesting discussion. A couple of points I’d like to add. First, I find it very ironic that the bicycle makers that are making practical, everyday useful type bikes that might appeal to regular people are esoteric brands like Surly, Swobo, Breezer, etc that only bike enthuseists know about while the more mainstream brands like Trek and Specialized primarily market $$$$ race bikes that utterly repell anyone who does not wear lycra or shave their legs. And that is, by the way, the exact opposite of how the auto industry works. Imagine if you went to a Chevy dealer and all they had were Corvettes? “Well, we can ORDER you a sedan, but you can’t test drive it and who drives those anyway?” Second is it seems to me that most major brands completely miss the boat when the only non-racing bikes they sell are primarily those hybrid/comfort bikes with the MTB handlebars on adjustable stems, low-end suspension forks and 26″ wheels. They are not particularly practical for serious transportion and, most importantly from a marketing perspective, are, in fact, really dorky. I do hope that the major brands with the marketing power to penetrate into the non-cycling world start to pick up some of the ideas from the Surly’s and the Soma’s and the other smaller companies with better ideas for genuinely practical, yet eyecatching designs with affordable pricetags. I think that’s the key to getting more people on bikes.

  37. Anonymous October 8, 2008 at 8:02 am -  Reply

    Great analogy !!!!

    Imagine if you went to a Chevy dealer and all they had were Corvettes? “Well, we can ORDER you a sedan, but you can’t test drive it and who drives those anyway?”

    ……I nearly blow my coffee at the keyboard. Spot on !!

  38. Andrew October 8, 2008 at 3:48 pm -  Reply

    Love the blog (fellow industrial designer, here), first time commenting.

    As far as personal choices go, I’m going to second dcdouglas here – I’m not a hardcore cyclist, by any means (though I’m rapidly converting), and a Coda Sport became my commuting weapon of choice this summer. Light, fast, robust, flat handlebars and all the braze-ons and eyelets needed for commuter gear.

    While I agree with most of the posters that simplicity is a virtue, I completely disagree with suggestions that a commuter for the masses should be a single-speed. Gears are absolutely essential – for acceleration, for top speed, for hills, and just for riding pleasure. If the costs can be brought down on internally geared hubs, they’re the answer – maintenance-free, idiot-proof operation, and effective.

    Cost is definitely a key consideration, though. I would say that anyone seriously trying to attract average people to commuting by bicycle needs to offer a fully-fleshed out option for under $500. It may turn out that people may love the experience and decide to invest in something better, but for the initial step, price is a key component.

    I do think that a lot of people are ignoring the possibility of new form-factors. For the average person, being on a bike is not necessarily a pleasure – your center of gravity is very high, bike saddles are uncomfortable for long distances, and you need to be bent over for an efficient bike posture. Recumbents are a bit too much of a stretch in the opposite direction, and aren’t exactly user friendly.

    So what about something that’s a combination of the two, like the RANS Fusion? I think if the bike was mainstreamized, simplified, and made cheaper and sexier, it could have winning appeal.

  39. Anonymous October 8, 2008 at 4:28 pm -  Reply

    Andrew :

    Sexiness has a premium. Sex, as you know, sells.

  40. mr carter October 8, 2008 at 4:45 pm -  Reply

    here are some of my thoughts…

    integrated speedo and gps – good information for new cyclists. maybe even something that displayed your local area bike paths/routes.

    heated grips – added comfort in cooler climes.

    automatic lighting and reflective sidewalls – carefree safety.

    full fenders – all weather riding comfort.

    wide 700c tires – roll smoother and are faster.

    internal shifting system – minimal service and adjustment required.

    lockable panniers/trunk – utilitarian ease.

    integrated lock – maybe some fashion of a u-lock?

    there are many bikes on the market now that fit my personal description of a good out-of-the-box commuter bike – however – to bring new cyclists to this mode of transport, we need to try and address some of the comfort and safety issues that non-cyclists perceive about commuter cycling.


  41. Anonymous October 9, 2008 at 7:06 am -  Reply

    Good morning,
    Judging by the response to my comments, I’ll stop wasting my time here. Yes, there have been been lots of innovations up until now. Based on the fact that bikes only have 3% market penetration, we still haven’t stumbled onto the ones that matter.
    Signing off from here.

    If you want to see what I’m up to from now on google “nick hein hpv”

    Nick Hein
    Morgantown, WV
    LCI #1761

  42. Ron October 9, 2008 at 9:59 am -  Reply


    Apologies. I didn’t mean to drive you away. Love your raincloud design!

  43. jamesmallon October 9, 2008 at 5:35 pm -  Reply

    “The bike culture in [N. America] is a counter culture standing on the soap box telling people they are dumb for driving SUV’s and being fat.” Good point, and funny. I have been plenty guilty of that, but it’s so hard not to…

    Seems the general consensus is something simple, rideable in work wear and $500. I like steel and internal hubs for this. How about:

  44. Jay Coleman October 10, 2008 at 11:03 am -  Reply

    I’m going to admit that I’ve not read the other postings in “comments” as I’ve had to go my own way for most of these years but I’m intrigued to offer you my far out takes, that is to say, over the horizon views. What I’m working toward is to make it fun, and more efficient to ride.
    And, I agree with you that having to have more than one bike to fit the occassion is more of a committed cyclic’s cature than one not currently riding.
    My view is – what would I like?
    I like recumbents. I like the uprights. I like faired bikes. All of the designs have their moments, but they don’t combine. I want one that combines, and tranforms on the fly.
    Some days, I want a partial fairing and on other days, all or none. But, I’d like to be able to make that choice when I have to start home after work when the weather forecaster is wrong.
    Drivetrains? Multiple speeds versus single? Gear ranges? Front chain rings? Derailleure versus internal gearing? I’ve found that having an intuitive system where the rider can adjust the crank length(vary the leverage) can go a long way toward having to not change gears all of the time. This varies the muscles used(aerobic versus anerobic) and allows for fuller use of more muscular systems. The equations back this up.
    Up to date inclusion of technilogical advances in metallurgy using coatings such as TIN and others being applied to wear parts.
    Maintenance? I want to just to have to wash off my bike, and maybe pump a little fluid into it to “flush” out the contaminants once in a while or maybe “change” the viscosities for summer/winter riding.
    Now, I know that something like this would have to probably weigh quite a bit in the design stage, and would probably be quite a large project for one to undertake but not for multiple designers working under an umbrella agreement. Of course, getting multiple designers together under a vision would probably be like herding cats, or democracy, but such are visions? It’s blue sky stuff for blue ocean people, is it not?
    Oh, and less I forget, one has to separate compressive elements from tensional elements and assign them proper materials to put together a dynamic frame.

  45. Brian Park October 10, 2008 at 11:09 am -  Reply

    There are plenty of awful ideas in this discussion. People have mentioned suspension, heated grips, generator lights, mountain bike bars, road bars, etc. etc.

    Seriously, the biggest problem with bikes is that people can’t TRY OUT riding on an inexpensive bike that wont discourage them. How many times have the shop employees in this thread heard “I don’t want to spend a lot of money, I don’t know if I’m going to be riding a lot yet”?

    THOSE are the people that need to get on a bike. The people in this discussion who have targeted sexiness and simplicity, light weight, 700x32ish tires, PRICE, etc., are right on the money. Here are some added suggestions:

    -No accessories. They add cost, and even if the customer buys a bike for $300 and puts $100 worth of accessories that HE/SHE chooses on it, that customer might balk at a $350 bike with the manufacturer’s accessories of choice on it. Not everyone rides in the rain or at night, not everyone needs a kickstand. Most of all though, EVERYONE loves accessorizing their bike, so why not let them do it? It makes the shops more money and it’d sell more bikes.

    -Easier gears. How many bikes have I ridden with a 3spd where the middle gear is the one for riding on the flats. That’s just stupid. If you’re on a CITY bike, gear the hardest gear towards the flats, the middle gear towards the flats if you’re carrying a case of beer, and the easiest gear for getting up anything. NOBODY needs to pedal downhill in the city; just relax and enjoy the ride.

  46. atomicsmith October 10, 2008 at 11:53 am -  Reply

    Two things that a commuter bike has to have:

    Carrying capacity.
    silly baskets and panniers aren’t good enough. the recent trend for porteurs (which I would love for this blog to address) are a start, but they’re not quite there.

    Compact storage.
    Bikes want to be stored inside, and as such the smaller they can store the better. It doesn’t have to fold, but it should sit flat against a wall.

    Other than that, ditto all the comments about simple, light and stylish.

  47. Jay Coleman October 10, 2008 at 12:27 pm -  Reply

    Now that I’ve read the other comments, might I offer this observation? As one that has lost a loved one to a bike/truck accident – safety is an issue for riders but more so for our society at large. The biases encountered from officialdom down to jurors is just too overwhelming for a bicyclist to ever get a fair hearing in this country and to design to infrastructure or making HPV tanks is too expensive. Fully faired vehicles offer hope for inhabitants but price and other considerations make this into a limiting factor for blue ocean people.
    To me, finding that sensation of “fun” that we had when we were kids when we first went down that hill with the wind in our face and our adrenaline flowing – kind of like going on the roller coaster rides(which go around thirty MPH). As bikes go, I got that feeling riding a lower recumbent down a long steep hill. And, yet, going up the next one, I wished for an upright.
    Then, one day it happened. I flew up the side of the hill passing my recumbent buddies having to “spin, spin, spin” while down shifting.
    The long and the short of it is this, unless through advancement and of rethinking designs of what is a bike and what can we make this form do – as a dynamic form – it is still just a bike, or a series of bikes – none of which grab the excitement of the group like the introduction of the safety bike. We need to see past this device and remember that we are trying to make humans more efficient in their movements, not a redo for the bike. We need to rephrase the problem. And, if we are to offer something new to the community, something to grab their imaginations, it has to be something which “is” new. But, this something has to be proven technology which will appeal to the conservative producers and not incur huge costs. The downside of my thoughts and findings in the designs I’m working toward are less die costs for the accountants and higher engineering costs for testing.
    As to safety being a hinderance for new riders? This is a societal problem to protect current riders and new riders from powered vehicular traffic. Education and enforcement of laws already on the books would actually be an improvement over the automobile permissiveness and bias in law enforcement and the court system.

  48. Bike_Boy October 10, 2008 at 5:03 pm -  Reply

    Good point by Atomic Smith.

    The ideas for an HPV like design, with reclined seating, gears and enclosed protection may be all good, but if people dont have space to store the thing when not riding, whats the point? I would believe a fair number of people don’t have garages.

  49. Boomer Biker Babe October 10, 2008 at 11:59 pm -  Reply

    I am a member of the masses, so I will contribute a few small thoughts. I agree that many people don't commute because of safety issues; planning roads with dedicated lanes and providing dedicated trails will help with this. I also think that many people don't perceive bicycling as something that is practical for them – they perceive that it is something only young people do, or that they don't have time or the physical capacity to bike. I'm guessing, too, that a lot of people, especially those with families, don't think they have the time. I often tell others how easy and enjoyable it really is to bike, and I count the extra time it takes as exercise (gym) time. PR will be important for this, and I rarely hear or see ads in my city promoting biking, although we do have a bike-to-work day annually. I am a boomer, not too far from 60. I've ridden around town recreationally for several years, and a few months ago began commuting to my job. I am fortunate that almost all of the 8 miles is on a nearly flat urban bike trail. When I bought my current bike a couple of years ago, I did a fair amount of research and road-tested several styles. I was looking for comfort, relatively light weight, and some of the benefits of good engineering. There does seem to be some elitism in bicycle sales (and some blogs I've seen) for my type of customer, although I have found some great shops who respect and respond to my needs and questions. They will get my business the next time I buy a bike. So I think that a positive attitude toward new, perhaps what might be called non-traditional customers, is important. Not everyone wants or needs to ride at maximum speed nor do they want to have aching backs and butts. They don't want to have to become experts about bicycle engineering to know that they've made a good choice. For many people, dropping a few hundred dollars for a bike is a signifant investment, especially if they're not sure how it will work for them over the long haul. I purchased a Novara with 700cc tires and I am generally pleased with it, although I fail to understand why it is so hard to find a comfortable saddle and why they didn't add a chain guard! When I'm commuting to work, I ride at a nice, moderate clip and I just want to be able to wear my business casual attire without worrying about getting grease on them and not having to change clothes when I get there. Specialized clothing has its place, but it isn't really necessary for a lot of people except for weather & safety options – we need more of an Everyman mentality about it. I love the idea of turn signals! An around-town bike should have a good kickstand and gear/shopping rack for those trips to the neighborhood store and library. It would be nice if someone could figure out a built-in u-lock mount or other kind of theft-prevention system – apparently it isn't possible to purchase replacement mounts separately (and what's up with that, anyway?!). Probably no big revelations here, but I hope it gives you some feedback from the heartland.

    Keep up the good work.

  50. kind1 October 11, 2008 at 11:47 am -  Reply

    Summing it up so far, specifically about design, I am seeing 2 distinct camps evolve here.

    The first wants simple, none cluttered bikes that are affordable and the second (bigger) group wants a bike with every imaginable accessory on it – and then there are a few in between.

    This is this key difference between casual riders and enthusiasts. It seems we can all agree on the affordability piece though.

    The bike shop model prohibits selling “affordable” bikes. Most shops require 40% margin or more on any bike they sell. Generally, the retail price is about 3X what the bike costs to produce. It is getting tougher for a shop to even carry kids bikes from the big guys at a price lower than $200.

    Affordability to enthusiasts and James’ Blue Ocean types mean two different things.

  51. Brian Park October 11, 2008 at 8:43 pm -  Reply

    Kind1, I totally disagree: the only thing that is stopping the production and sale of an affordable, simple, practical bike, is the north american bike industry. Also, how do you get 3x the cost? Does anyone know what landed wholesale usually is? I thought it was about 20% below dealer wholesale, and retail is usually 40-50%. Anyways, a long, LONG way off of 200% of (3x) the price.

    You CAN’T convince me that Giant or Trek can’t produce a simple 3spd citybike for $200 landed wholesale (that’d end up around $360 retail).

    As for the people in here who are going on about creating a new breed of human powered vehicles… Good on you, but lets be practical. The bicycle industry model works, it just needs a lot of refinement. And, you’re a lot more likely to actually get something done if you stick to practical ideas instead of recreating the wheel.

  52. kind1 October 12, 2008 at 7:39 pm -  Reply


    I was quoting the production (or FOB) cost of the bike itself to come up with the 3X number, not the shops cost.

    Let me back out of the $360 retail price you noted to support the 3X claim (for mass, its about 2 – 2.5).

    $360 Retail – Shop requires 45% markup (lower retail, higher markup) so they are buying the bike for about $200, as you noted.

    $200 Wholesale to dealers – Supplier has 25% markup, making landed cost $150.

    $150 Landed Cost – Includes FOB factory price plus shipping/duties etc

    $150 minus $15 (shipping from Europe/Asia to US) minus $14 (11% duty in this case) = $121 FOB Factory.

    FOB cost to supplier/brand is $121 vs. $360 retail (3X)

    Taking this a few steps further:

    Factory marks up about 10% or $12

    Production cost including assembly = $109.

    Assembly costs vary, but figure another $10 – $20, leaving frame and component costs of $90-100. 3SP hubs are about $20 OE. The rest of the bike is now a $70-80 first cost – that is mass pricing in the current hierarchy of pricing.

    I agree with your point about the NA bike industry, I was only pointing out that shops are taking the largest slice (granted on lower volume) of each bike and believe this contributes to some of the bigger issues.

  53. Jay Coleman October 13, 2008 at 10:32 am -  Reply

    James and Mark,
    There are two major compressive elements on a diamond frame. One runs from the rider to the cranks and the other runs between the front and rear wheels. This forms and “X” with the two intersecting. The tensional elements run from the rear dropouts to the crank housing and then to the bottom of the steering tube on the bottom of the frame. On the top of the frame, another runs from the top of the rear dropouts, up to make a connection to the top of the seat tube, and then to the top of the steering tube. These “tensional loops” have turnbuckles in them.
    On a single tube LWB recumbent(the original breakthrough prototype) the compressive element is arranged similar to a wishbone design with the two rear wheel tubes joining the main tube and extending under the rider to the crank. In our (IV) prototype, this crank housing was then attached to the steering tube by two vertical tubes extending forward. The tensional elements run from the bottom of the rear dropouts to a floating connection point joining to a single just in front of the rear wheel which then runs to the bottom of the center of the crank housing, with a turnbuckle device located along this single line. In this rendition, this single tensional element runs through a small tube connected to a vertical tube(upside down T) which connects under the rider around or through the main compressive element to the rider’s seat.
    The main tube(compressive element) is a large diameter, extremely thin walled tube. The tensional elements are composed of exceptionly high strength stainless steel cables but can be formed from synthetic cables with appropriate coverings and connections. The frame is TENSIONED by the turnbuckle and has suitable strength to not be overcome by forces applied.
    The rider, therefore, is over and supported by the tensioned cable while being positioned by the main tube. Furthermore, the force vector of pedaling cannot overcome the applied force input into the cable which eliminates frame twist and allows for an efficient transfer of power into the drivetrain and on to the axle being held in alignment with the rider and the front bike assembly. Horizonal flexure is eliminated and vertical flexure is taken up by the tensioning cable which is dissipated into the compressional tube and rider.
    The bike frame becomes a “tensegrity” structure as theorized by Buckminster Fuller and artifacted by Snelsen.
    The key to this type of structure versus the regular bike frame is “static” compressional or tensionally integrated frame around a compressive member. Frames can be “tuned” by the rider by the application of input tension via the turnbuckle. More “give” in the frame simply means less tension. A stiffer frame is simply more tension.
    As to manufacturing, the costs will come down simply due to less die expense and other factors.
    A frame can be constructed of “parts” at a retail outlet or shipped directly to a buyer. A “user” can deconstruct their frame and ship it in a much smaller box than ever before.
    One other thing, before I send this off. The original prototype was constructed of salvaged steel of dubious origin but it was thin walled and definitely not an expensive product! It was found that the cheaper steel worked better than the chromemoly as it was a more flexible compressive member. The larger central tube of this recumbent design might fair better with two smaller diameter lightweight tubes. Substituting different materials will give slightly different outcomes but the tensional frame can be constructed cheaper and serve more efficiently than the compressional frame.
    The tensional frame also opens more doors to variation and innovation than the compressional frame. But, that is just my personal belief and I’ve been working on this for years. The pathways from this frame are by far not envisioned with a compressional frame simply because a compressional frame is statically balanced and a tensional frame can be changed at will.
    Now, I’m putting all of this out there fully realizing this is open sourced. These “discoveries” are the results of appication of workday experiences and “serendipity”.
    I look forward to any discussion.

  54. Brian Park October 13, 2008 at 10:41 am -  Reply

    I think you're confused about markup vs margin. Shops usually only take a MARKUP percentage of 50%, not a margin percentage of 50%. That's why you'll see [retail x 1.5] as the most common markup for bikes.

    Just look here to have that explained:

    Shops do take a much higher markup on P&A, but usually under 50% markup, or a 33.33% margin, on complete bikes.

    Suppliers that have a 25% markup you calculate by going [their cost x 1.25 = dealer cost].

    I don't know much about the factory side of things, so I'll take your word that of a landed cost of $150, about $70 of that is in labour, factory markup and shipping. Assuming a $150 landed cost, 25% dealer markup = $187.50, and 50% retailer markup = $281.25, a long cry from 3x the landed wholesale.

    And yeah, landed wholesale is legitimate, no matter how your retail structure works you're going to get bikes built in asia and shipped over here.

    Am I totally out to lunch here? I don't think the retail model is that unworkable.

  55. Human_Amplifier October 13, 2008 at 4:11 pm -  Reply

    Hey Jay,
    I love tensegrity structures.
    Have you got any pictures or links to them – words just dont do elegant structures justice.
    I also like alternative bike frames such as the Dursley-Pederson
    it was the betamax of its time vs the diamond frame (VHS). Some versions were very light.

  56. Gerry Lauzon October 13, 2008 at 9:55 pm -  Reply

    This may sound weird, but my perfect commuter bike would be a stretched Electra Townie. Something like a permanent extra cycle, light (as light as big bikes can get) and affordable. I saw the Scargo bike that answers that wish of mine, but at $5000 for a frame set, it’s a bit too expensive.

    Gerry 🙂

  57. Brian Park October 14, 2008 at 11:36 am -  Reply

    Townies are simply too inefficient to be a practical commuter. Commutes are generally 10km+.

  58. kind1 October 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm -  Reply

    Hey Brian,

    My apologies on the markup/gross margin. I meant GM. Was being sloppy pulling from an old spreadsheet.

    The math still stands though based on the $360 bike.

    This is based on how shop calcs their sales price and an average margin for the brand. Shops look for that 40-45% GM which is closer to 67% markup, not 50%.

    If you wanna take off line, email me, you can get my address from my profile. would love to further the conversation.

  59. Anonymous October 15, 2008 at 10:51 am -  Reply

    Interesting how there are no coments regarding the practical issues relating to commuter bikes, except 1 mentioning that they can be stored in a corridor.

    Frame design: For a bike that will not be cleaned as often as a race bike, nooks & holes are not good; so a monocoque style frame could be better?

    Frame material: Al doesn't corrode, & rust 'kills' most inexpensive steel bikes.

    Wheel size: 26" rims with high pressure fat tyres have more suspension & can run over potholes without much problem (& still be fast)compared to 700c. Their greater air volume allows them to go longer without re-inflation which is important for commuters.

    Handlebars: In town flat bars are more practical than drops, as hands are always by the brake levers. Bar-ends can be fitted to provide more hand positions if required(and protect hands from scrapes).

    Gears: One correct gear ratio may be enough in most cases (if no heavy loads need to be carried), but how many shops will be able to convince a novice of this (and be able to choose the correct ratio)? 7-9 derailleur ratios or hub gears are probably the best compromise.

    Just a few observations.
    Jam ess (England)

  60. Anonymous October 15, 2008 at 12:23 pm -  Reply

    James from England :

    All comments here and reflecting one or or another aspect of practicality. Maybe you didn’t read the comments enough.

  61. Ron October 15, 2008 at 9:45 pm -  Reply


    Clever Cycles in Portland,OR deals in exactly the same kind of bikes people have been talking about here. Check their amazing utilitarian options and read their philosophy.

  62. Anonymous October 17, 2008 at 12:19 am -  Reply

    Bianchi Milano. I bought one for my wife. Chain guard, mud guards, flat bar, comfy seat, internal hub. All the basics.

    But more importantly, it is classy and beautiful. Great color, great lines, and she gets compliments. Her lycra/speed bike friends mock her, but everyone else thinks its cool.

  63. Anonymous October 17, 2008 at 12:33 am -  Reply

    After safety, Practical Function.

    While long an avid cyclist, I did very little commuting before I gave up the day job. Why? Practical issues. Like rain. Night. Being timely for meetings. Carrying wads of clothing.

    So bicycle (and infrastructure design) that focuses on practical issues will be key.

    As in, very small so it can be stashed in an office, carried part way in the back of the carpool van, etc.

    As in, some protection from the weather.

    As in, no flat tires, lights that always work, and other things that let it always be on schedule going to work, and be a safe reliable way to come home from work.

  64. Patrick October 17, 2008 at 11:25 pm -  Reply

    Some great comments here, especially the Corvette piece. Adding on to a couple of things.

    There’s a big distinction between what folks will need as their entry-level commuter and what folks will want (and be willing to pay for) after a couple years of commuting.

    For entry level, I agree that cost has to be $500 or below.
    Storage, esp. for rowhouses and apartments makes folding bikes attractive, but new riders are skeptical about their ability to last.

    Everything should be in a single package. Expecting a new rider to purchase add-on lights, panniers, etc. is ridiculous. Fenders, lights, generator, chain guard, internal hub, rack (pref. with a set of panniers that can be carried and look like a messenger bag), and lots of reflective material should all be included in the base package.

    I’m riding the Bianchi Milano and it’s a good start, but the lack of braze-ons for a rack is confusing and a generator and high-quality lights would be great.

    Someone mentioned turn signals and for a lot of riders to lift their hand off the handlebars (and brakes) when approaching a turn is discomforting. Maybe something worth exploring.

    As for more experienced commuters, I think there’s going to be a big growth in the demand for cargo bikes (with electric assist), but that requires a much bigger commitment of money and storage space.

  65. Jay Coleman October 22, 2008 at 10:17 am -  Reply

    An apology for not getting back to you sooner. Yes, I did run across the Pederson design early on back in the eighties, and it always stuck back in my mind as to why it worked, and why did it work so well? My background is “varied” – very “varied”. So, I lead you to Snelson, who first articulated (artifacted)what Bucky Fuller was speaking about and once Bucky saw what he’d done he coined the term “tensigrity”. Speaking with Terry O’Sell recently, he told me of someone trying to use a tensional cable on a mountain bike but the market place said no. He thought the concept worked well on what the designer had done but,,, You might note that both Bucky and Kenneth used static structures but I believe Kenneth when on to do some dynamic scultures but that just seems to float back in my memory. Serendipity. Contact James directly.

  66. Anonymous October 23, 2008 at 1:21 am -  Reply

    How about making bikes less likely to get stolen, huge concern in many countries. Can they be chipped, alarmed or else made in a way to discourage stealing.

    The major factor is the commuting environment (namely bike lanes) and lack of showers at offices. Sort that out and there would be a big change.

  67. Mark October 23, 2008 at 11:06 am -  Reply

    Just found the blog and I love it. Being a part time bike commuter I have been testing various frames and formats, all singlespeed and fixed gear to this point, but I am making a transition to gears next week.

    Cheap and durable is what I would focus on. Also, another point is body positioning. I think the bike should be a comfort styled bike where you ride sitting almost upright with the bars half way up your chest. Because not everyone has a shower at work, this position is probably the least competitive of riding positions there are for biking. Thus, I would think it would promote more casual cruising than racing.

  68. Mark October 23, 2008 at 11:12 am -  Reply

    Guess I forgot to finish my initial thought about the cheap and durable. The bike needs to be priced so that it makes purchasing a no brainer and it has to be able to withstand the elements, at least the rain. Sealed hubs, 3 speed drums, and as much aluminum as possible.

    As someone mentioned, theft proof would be smart as well, so some sort of built in locking mechanism that would be hard to defeat, probably best achieved with U-bolt styled lock, however, the wheels and seatpost should be locked down as well so that the owner only needs to worry about securing the frame to something that won’t allow the bike to be dragged off.

  69. Human_Amplifier October 24, 2008 at 8:56 am -  Reply

    Hi Jay, Thanks for the info on tensegrity – yes got it … there is a tensegrity sculpture hanging in Hong Kong airport (and many dotted around USA). The designer/engineer Andrew Batchelor has also researched them for more structural applications, in his case furniture. But his conclusion was that they are fine as sculpture but getting structural stiffness is difficult. Having said that, i am still intreged by their open, airlike elegance.

    Check out the span bike – us pat 4400003 by Cornelis F. de la Haye; a dutch designer (look it up on It was made (and collapsed done to a thin bag of straight tubes (plus 2 wheels and a bunch of tension wires 🙂 ) a highly inspirational design.

    The Sling shot uses a wire downtube which handles vertical loads perfectly.

    Puma take a different view – cut the cable (which is also lock) and the bike will self destruct – designed as a good theft deterant.

    Then there is the Graham Herberts lovely pure truss design the airframe:..

    But my favourite (prototype only – but we can hope) is ..The Italian ‘Beli’ bike as shown on Larry Lagarde’s excellent folding bike blog see link: which aims to be THE lightest folding bike using injection moulded compressive elements and tension wires. Details are sparse – I think most can be found on a plastics suppliers web site … get searching (and please post here).

    The conclusion … as designers, if we think we have designed or invented something new, then we probably have not looked hard enough !!

    Anyway – to turn all these ideas into ‘products for people’ head over to …. pens (or CAD) where mouths are 🙂

  70. PhilZone77 October 24, 2008 at 2:33 pm -  Reply

    Good afternoon all – I’m new to this site, but you have definitely peaked my interest with this discussion! I am a professional designer in CT who commutes to work 2 – 3 day a week, approx. 12 miles one way. My first question for this assignment is how do you differentiate a “commuter bike” to the non-cyclist? It seems that a lot of us who ride regularly and are even light gearheads have a laundry list of things that WE would want in a commuter. We probably all have road bikes, mountain bikes, free-ride bikes, etc. but it is all the same to someone who doesn’t ride on a regular basis. How do you create a “commuter bike for the masses” without it being just another bike? Is it as simple as integrating all the features of a typical commuter (fenders, appropriate geometry and rider position, cargo space, lights, etc.) or is it something COMPLETELY different? Maybe it’s not a “bicycle” at all by it’s traditional definition – Perhaps it is a “human-powered vehicle” for the masses.

    It seems like there are so many factors involved in getting people out of their cars. Weather, safety on the road, tight schedules, physical ability, and the list doesn’t end there, but you get the idea – It’s tough! It’s a challenge that I’m definitely looking forward to contemplating further!

    No matter what, this thing has to be simple and intuitive, bottom line. When the consumer approaches anything, if they can’t figure it out, they’ll walk away. I think a lot of thought has to go into the emotional aspects of the non-cyclist purchasing an alternate mode of transportation. Our economy sucks right now, and people are spending a lot less. Consumers need concrete reassurance or incentive that purchasing a “human powered vehicle” is going to be worth the price of admission, not to mention SAFE!!! I think people love traveling in their cars because of that feeling of safety that you get when you’re surrounded by 2000 lbs of steel, aluminum, plastic and glass. That’s going to be a tough hurdle to overcome.

    Regardless, I hope you will welcome these comments, and I look forward to hearing yours. I’ve got to get back to the drawing board! Peace,

    West Hartford, CT

  71. Jay Coleman October 24, 2008 at 3:04 pm -  Reply

    Thanks, Human_Amplifier for the sites. I’ve visited them and I wonder if you’ve read the descriptions on the patent? It was interesting reading for me. On the surface, it looks like a duck but is a different animal – even in the description, than the one I’ve described so far. I’ll give you that some of the features are the same but the area of non-continuous compressional elements between tensional points may seem like a small point but the fact is alluded to that Heavy rods are used in place of lightweight tubes and the rods fit into a matrix node for the sake of loads. The title description also says a “demountable” bike, not a tensional frame. It is not as if the use of the terms, tensegrity and tensional integrity in 1983, the year of issue, didn’t exist. So then the question for that type of design is, does it do what I’ve already described as far as routing all forces throughout the frame, and being lighter in weight as proposed?
    The other designs you pointed to were intriguing. Thank you. I’ll look forward to our further discussions.

  72. Todd October 30, 2008 at 3:12 pm -  Reply

    I’ve been leaning towards this type of bike as the perfect bike for a while now.

    Surly Big Dummy with a Stokemonkey electric assist.

    Found at Clever cycles in Portland. (mentioned previously)

  73. Andraž November 4, 2008 at 8:55 pm -  Reply

    I like most of you love the most common bike design (safety bike) it is simple and effective design, which have proved itself during a century, but we should not forget before its existence it had to be invented! We should think outside the box, there is more than enough bikes to choose from, but 90% of them differs only by brand names.

    I have asked on some MTB forum: “Why or when they do NOT go to work on a bike?” Here are the answers from most to least common: rain or snow, cold (less than 0°C), cargo or taking children to school, sweat, danger of bike being stolen, laziness, ice or snow on roads, time (being late), broken bike, long climbs, sickens, grease on clothes… The group was small and they were all biking enthusiasts, but it can give us the general picture.

    Most of these problems can be solved, not necessarily in one product. Danger of bike being stolen is solved with folding bikes all shapes and sizes or with cheap bikes or good locks or even with urban furniture. Sweating can be reduced with proper and intuitive gearing, electro motors can help in difficult climbs. Problems of rain and weather can be solved with making enclosed bikes or clothing to put over regular clothes or some mean of deflecting rain using airflow.
    The safety could as well improve, we now have disc brakes, but some people now fear of falling over the handlebar, I have heard of electro motors being brakes so ABS and such could also be easily implemented on bikes, these brakes could also charge batteries.
    The elderly have poor balance so trikes are more appropriate for them.

    Now I see the commuter bikes becoming more of a statement than a tool (I expect in the near future commuter bike being a choice of educated and wealthy people leading the way) We should remember, how cycling started among aristocracy (ridiculed by others), without pedals, on wooden wheels, and gained wider popularity as it has improved with inflatable rubber, gears… as always innovation is the key to make human powered vehicle more popular on todays free market. As the market will grow more affordable and better the products will get as it is with the cars today.

    In response to different needs (in the blue ocean) we shall see different designs from recumbents, fixies, ordinarys, MTBs, BMXs, trikes, chopper bikes, folding bikes and other stuff that is hardly called a bike … because we must not primarily search for the bike. We should try to solve problems.

    PS: I totally agree. “If you look at bicycle “cultures” around the world to see why they are successful, the main ingredients are safe routes, general infrastructure like parking and servicing and social acceptance. Nothing to do with bikes.”

    student of product design
    Ljubljana, Slovenia

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