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Agnete’s “Who, Where, What” from the design competiton

Commuter, Guest Post 7 95

As I suspect is the case with many of you, I have been following Tour of California coverage on the web all week. Despite some nasty weather (or maybe partly because of it) this year’s race has been a pretty exciting one so far. For now though, I want to shift out of that racing bike mentality for a few minutes and talk more about some of the discussion and ideas that came out of the recent “commuter bike for the masses” design competition that was held here on Bicycle Design.

As I mentioned when I posted the winning entry, we as a jury had a hard time coming to an agreement. As a group, we all had different ideas, but one juror in particular, Agnete Enga, viewed the issue from a different perspective than some of the rest of us. Just to give a little background, Agnete was the only female on our jury and was also the only one of us who probably wouldn’t consider herself to be a “cycling enthusiast”. Agnete also happens to be a very talented, award winning senior industrial designer at Smart Design in New York. In addition to providing a fresh perspective, she really put a lot of thought and effort in the competition (which I greatly appreciate by the way).

Before we each made our individual top 10 lists, which I used to narrow down to the six finalists, Agnete wrote something to help the rest of us on the jury understand her thought process. I think that her “Who, Where, What” document is really great, so with her permission, I want to share it with all of you. You will probably agree that Agnete makes some really good points that bicycle designers (as well as marketing folks, retailers, etc.) should consider as they try to reach out to the majority of the population who currently never ride a bike at all. Read what Agnete had to say below, and let me know if you have additional thoughts on the subject to share.


I think we all agree upon that the goal of the competition is not a bike for a sport fanatic. How do you get a person that doesn’t necessarily like to bike – to bike? I doubt that we can come up with one bike that will appeal to every non-biking person, but here are a couple of things to keep in mind when thinking about who the non-biker potentially is:

As designers we are so used to designing for the average (read: healthy) user. However, many people, young and old, have something they are struggling with: poor vision, dexterity issues, obesity, back problems etc. The goal should be to design “For Everyone”, basic principle of Universal design (“Designing for all ages and abilities to eliminate segregation and adaptation”). As this group is probably not being accommodated by current bike designs, there is a huge opportunity to understand these needs, and to design accordingly.

Roughly half of the world’s population consists of women – so the trick is to also appeal to them. Many of them are working fulltime jobs and taking care of kids, so they have little spare time to do things for themselves. If they are not interested in biking in the first place, this will end up far down on their priority list. Also – the ladies usually have a longer prep-time in the morning, (I’m sure you all know that 🙂 So becoming sweaty from biking to work means the hassle of dragging on more stuff 🙁 Safety when biking around alone at night is also a major factor, which will in many cases make a woman choose other means of transportation instead. One other point here from an avid female biker friend of mine – apparently it is incredible difficult for small women to find a bike frame that actually fits well… Again, an understanding of the needs of a wide range of females, and designing accordingly presents a huge opportunity.


Where a person lives will undoubtedly have a huge impact on his / her willingness to give up their current form for transportation, whether it is car, train etc. The USA, for example, is a country built on convenience – wherever you go you have Drive through, Drive in and Drive by. A modern car is a moving living room on wheels – and a bike will never substitute that. In my home country I used to take my bike most places, but when I moved to the US years ago to live in LA I was soon driving wherever I needed to go – even short distances because of safety, timesaving and convenience on every level. I felt pretty guilty for doing so, but was still driving around…


We need to switch the focus from the bike to the user – sounds easy, but it is also very easy to get lost in an overload of features. Not all features add value to the bike, sometimes they can detract…What are people’s true needs and values? It’s about finding the right benefits.

I think it is hard to get non-bikers excited about the bike itself only – it has to promise an interesting LIFESTYLE. Companies can no longer rely on cost and features as a differentiation factor, they now have to appeal to users on an emotional level – how can you offer a meaningful experience, what is the reward? The big question is: What is the MOTIVATION FACTOR to get people to commute by bike? Yes the bike needs to be easy to use, comfortable, practical, efficient, but more importantly – FUN!! I think it will be hard to get people excited about fenders, chain guards and other practical elements alone. And exercising and speed may not be the main motivation to get them out of the car. What is fun for you is not necessarily fun for them… And commuting for them may not mean miles and miles, it may just mean part of their commute – like a short ride to the train station.

The bike itself is only one part of the equation – you have to consider the whole experience (advertising, store, brand message etc). Even entering a bike store can be a pretty intimidating for the non-biker not knowing the lingo and what the options are. You can do an incredible job on designing the bike itself, but if you can’t get people into the store…? To put it in perspective – consider yourself and how you would feel walking into, let’s say, a make-up store, looking to buy something for your gal – you probably feel pretty out of place… So store environment and service is pretty key. And if the messaging is off, the salespeople will never be able to sell the bike for its true value.

Also, a bike for a non-biker does not at all mean a dumbed down version of a bike. There is lots of complexity within a bike, but as long as it doesn’t look like a contraption don’t forget that the desire for having something that is well-engineered is important, (like with cars – it’s pretty satisfying to look under the hood of a beautiful car!). So don’t necessarily hide technical features completely – but balance it with a user-friendly experience – you want it to promise that it is safe, solid and reliable – it can get you places.

My personal favorite of the competition entries was the ReCycle Café concept. It offers a bike community to someone that is not a hardcore biker-dude. It’s about the PEOPLE you meet, it becomes a social and fun meeting place, and that would encourage a non-biker to ride more! I think in order to motivate the non-biker you need a combination of several things, such as: infrastructure suited for bike commuting, a social meeting place, (like Recycle Café), where a non-biker would feel at home, plus an online reward system, (inspired by Bikonomic), and a cool-looking, user-friendly, iconic, fun bike that you would feel proud driving around.

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  1. GhostRider February 19, 2009 at 11:19 pm -  Reply

    Bravo! I think she sums it up nicely — and points out very clearly how difficult such a design exercise can be.

  2. Conor C February 20, 2009 at 7:07 am -  Reply

    Hi James,

    I’m delighted and privileged to read Agnete’s clearly expressed, rational, considered and insightful thoughts on the competition and the issues it raises for the bicycle industry in particular and role cycling could play in society in general.

    Bravo from me too 🙂

  3. Anonymous February 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm -  Reply

    Agnete’s ‘opinion’ is motivated by the ideas in the submitted entries and it would have been much more impressive if it had been expressed before the competition started. Publishing months after the competition has closed makes it seem a teensy bit plagiaristic imho.

    A female perspective could have influenced the design away from the boys toys that the competition produced.

  4. James February 22, 2009 at 10:07 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for the comments Ghostrider and Conor C.

    Anon 7:47, as I stated in the post, she wrote that early on for the rest of us on the jury to understand the reasoning behind her picks. I am posting it after the competition simply because I thought it was too good not to share. I don’t really get your comment about the timing making it seem “plagiaristic” though?

  5. kai1968 February 23, 2009 at 5:58 am -  Reply

    Great statement. A lot of the thoughts were exactly the ones I had when I came up with my Bikonomic concept.
    After all I wish I’d put a little more effort into the final design of my idea to make it easier for the jury to vote for it…

  6. Ian Clewett February 23, 2009 at 4:58 pm -  Reply

    Great stuff – you rarely get to share this kind of stuff from the judging panel.
    I completely agree with a lot of the pointers to ‘focus the mind’ on the issues in hand. To me the ‘Who’ and ‘What’ were very much what I tried to focus on for my entry as the brief was essentially to come up with a ‘bike design’ for the non-riding masses. I feel that the real challenge of the competition was to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to address issues that don’t necessarily bother me about cycling but are enough to stop others – visibility, security, comfort, weather protection, storage, cost…

    I think the ‘Where’ argument is a WHOLE other issue – things much bigger about the infastructure right through to store environment or social interaction that would just get completely lost within this competition and the criteria for presenting those ideas.

    I really got a lot out of putting my ideas together, visualising them (a bit of a challenge in itself as a complex 3D object!) and equally reading all the feedback. I think the ‘Where’ argument may well be a fantastic next competiton James??

  7. V SHARMA February 24, 2009 at 12:20 am -  Reply

    I just wanted to let you know that I have added you to my Blog roll on my site Common Man Thinks. I hope you are okay with it. 🙂

    Vishal Sharma

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