I wanted the design competition to spark a conversation, and it has certainly done that. I had a feeling the winning entry might be slightly controversial, but I didn’t expect some of the really strong reactions that I have seen lately on my blog and elsewhere. I guess that is not all bad though. As I said in a comment to the last post, I would personally rather design an object that elicits strong emotional responses at both ends of the spectrum (love and hate) than an object that is viewed by the majority of people as just OK. There are a lot of mediocre products on the market that very few people really dislike (or like for that matter). The products and brands that have a loyal following are those that people feel strongly about.
I can’t address all the comments that were left in response to the last post, but I will at least try to address a few of the general comment categories that I noticed.
A number of comments came from people who feel that the basic design has been done before and is therefore not valid. I am certainly aware of enclosed velomobile designs going back 100 plus years. I am also aware of similar recumbent designs with open sides and a roof. The 1970’s Schondorf “Easy Muscar” trike, which can be seen in “Bicycling Science” is the first one that comes to mind. Over the years, I have seen other bike designs which feature roofs from time to time (take a look at a few in the Winter 1985 issue of the IHPVA journal if you are interested). Still, I stand by my statement that Torkel Dohmers’ ThisWay concept is the best looking one I have seen. Yes, that statement indicates that I believe the aesthetics of a bicycle, or any other product, are an important part of the design. “Styling” is not a dirty word in the auto industry, so why should it be disregarded when we are talking bikes? Sure industrial design is way more than styling, but let’s face it…aesthetics are important. It is undeniable that people are often drawn to products based on their initial response to the way those products look. The functionality has to be there to keep them interested, but first impressions are pretty important. Torkel’s design may be functionally similar to a 25 year old Easy Racer with a plastic roof bolted on, as one person mentioned, but show both of those options to a group of prospective users and I would bet that most people would have a clear preference. In my opinion, a design like the Cycle Sol, which was mentioned when the finalists were announced, does not at all take anything away from the “ThisWay” concept. Both designs have roots that can be traced way back, but I stand by my opinion that Torkel’s design looks better, and is potentially more marketable, than similar designs I have seen over the years.
Another group of comments (and for some reason several emails) came from people who believe that the standard safety bike is already perfect and can’t be improved on. Some people feel that the perfect commuter bike already exists and the very act of discussing a non-standard bike design amounts to heresy. A few people told me that, since they are already bike commuters, they know exactly what works and what doesn’t. One person was even nice enough to privately clue me into the fact that I know “absolutely nothing about bikes.” Man, all this time I thought I did, what a let down! Seriously though, it doesn’t bother me if someone wants to question my cycling knowledge. Argue that point all you want, but the facts that prompted the design competition are not really debatable. If only 13 million Americans ride bikes on a somewhat regular basis and 160 million NEVER ride at all, it tells me that we are not doing everything we can to share our love of cycling with the masses (more on that here). Don’t get me wrong, standard diamond frame bicycles work great for me, and for many of you, but there are a lot of people out there who they obviously don’t appeal to. I could take the attitude that everyone should ride to work, and that they should do it on a lightweight, fenderless road bike just like I do, but that would be pretty closed-minded and counterproductive. Instead, I would rather continue to ask the question- what more can the bike industry do to reach that “blue ocean” of potential cyclists? I don’t have all the answers, and I will readily acknowledge the fact that many bicycle companies are already trying hard to reach those people, but I still think the question is worth asking and discussing on this blog.
Many people who commented just didn’t like the chosen design or had specific issues with elements from it. That is fine, and I encourage all of you to share your opinions. Commenters like GeekGuyAndy and gsport george, just to name a couple, expressed their concerns and suggestions for improving the design in a thoughtful manor. Those are the types of opposing comments that add to the conversation and foster further discussion, both pro and con. Negative comments with absolutely no thought behind them, on the other hand, do nothing for the conversation. I allow anonymous comments because I want this blog to be an open forum for all. Criticism is fine, but I do ask that you keep it constructive.
Suggestions for improvement are welcome, but it is worth keeping in mind that the winning conceptual design, like all of the entries, is just that- a concept. I certainly didn’t expect completely engineered and developed designs to come out of a 5-week competition, so obviously all of the entries would need to be developed further to become real products. The entries that are closer in form to bikes currently on the market might require less development, but it should be noted that all are at the early stages of the design process.
Lastly, I want to quote from a comment left by jimmythefly:
“There are a few challenges to be addressed, but this was never meant to be THE bike for every situation. I’ve sold recumbents in a retail situation, and the non-standard saddle and seating position are not obstacles but invitations to potential consumers.”
I think he summed up something that quite a few people seem to be hung up on. There is no magic solution that will work for everyone who doesn’t currently ride. The point of the competition was to encourage creative thinking about ways to reach some of those “potential cyclists”. By its nature, a competition has to have a winner, and I stand by the one we picked (for the record, “ThisWay” was #1 on my personal top ten list). That said, there are a lot of good ideas in the concepts from the other finalists, and in many of the concepts that I have yet to post. I just ask that you view them all with an open mind and, if you chose to comment, please try to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. And, of course… thanks to all of you who have done that so far.
Image credit: Shown above is a rendering of “ThisWay” with a cargo module attached. If you are interested, you can see several more renderings of the concept on Torkel’s website.