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A look back… and ahead

Miscellaneous 7 2039

A single top tube shifter on a well-ridden vintage Peugeot. I love simple, functional design…and it doesn’t have to be new and shiny. Grant Petersen’s term “beausage” was the first thing that came to mind when I spotted this bike recently on the streets of Paris.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I made the decision to resume blogging here at Bicycle Design because I really missed it. That is absolutely true, but today I want to delve a little deeper into my reasons for starting the blog, for ending it, and then resuming it again. As I pointed out in my final (not so final anymore) post, things have changed quite a bit since Bicycle Design started in 2005. Back then, any information about the design of bikes was scarce on the web and fairly quickly this site quickly became a hub to connect designers in the industry, design students, and the many cyclists out there with an interest in bike design and technology. As a product designer with a pretty diverse cycling background (road, mountain, track, racing, commuting, touring, you name it), I felt like the blog gave me a voice (a very small one at the time) to influence the bicycle industry that I had come to know and love…but still felt needed some direction.

Before I continue though, I should jump back a bit. In college (late 80s, early 90s), I worked as a bike shop mechanic. Like many other 20 something shop employees, I was obsessed with racing, and therefore with racing bikes (especially Italian steel at the time).  I also rode for transportation, and as a bike nut, I was happy to use my road, track, and mountain bikes as shoppers and commuters. It didn’t take long to realize that those types of bikes didn’t really appeal to the average people who occasionally walked into our shop (in contrast to our regular customers… lycra clad dentists who wanted to spend big money to make their Kestrel  200s a few grams lighter).  If someone wanted a bike for shopping, or just casual riding, the only option we could offer was an entry level mountain bike. Everyone who I met in the bike industry at the time had good intentions, but I quickly discovered that their obsession with bicycles and cycling prevented them from seeing that the companies they worked for had serious design and marketing problems. For the most part, they were enthusiasts selling products that they personally loved to other enthusiasts, but they were completely ignoring a huge untapped market…the people who felt intimidated when they walked into a race focused bike shop (which was pretty much every shop I knew at the time).

So fast forward back to 2005, and the start of this blog. Even though no one was reading initially, I suddenly had a place to share a few bike sketches and write whatever I felt about the collective design and marketing efforts of the bike industry players. Very early posts, like this one, were my attempt to politely express the opinions that I had developed working in a sport-focused bike shop. Since college, I had traveled to other places in the world where bikes were not viewed solely as recreational playthings, and I wanted to see that kind of diverse bike culture here in the US.

Eventually, the blog grew and I really did have a voice to reach people in the bike industry. At Interbike in 2009, I couldn’t believe that almost everyone I spoke with said they were a big fan of this blog (including industry legends like Gary Fisher). It was great for a while at the peak of Bicycle Design’s popularity, but at some point I just seemed to lose the passion.  I got busy, and felt like I was just going through the motions by passing along design concepts that people sent to me without giving them too much thought.  I tried to take a short break late last year to rekindle the fire, but it just didn’t seem to work. It didn’t bother me so much that Bicycle Design’s traffic had peaked in 2011/2012 and was slowly declining, but I was tremendously concerned that the quality of the blog was declining as well. That is why calling it quits seemed like the only option in February of this year.

So why resume the blog now? As I mentioned, things have changed a lot since 2005. You can’t open any of the big general design blogs/magazines these days without seeing posts about concept bikes or new designs for a bicycle related products. The industry has changed too. In most any US city today, you can buy a specific commuter bike with lights, racks, and fenders … or a cargo bike… or an electric bike…or some other bike that was designed specifically for transportation and utility. You can still find shops full of egocentric young racer types who would rather scare off potential customers whom they feel aren’t part of the tribe than actually listen and try to sell them a bike that might meet their needs. Luckily though, there are fewer and fewer of those places as bike shops diversify and  cater to different, and in some cases growing,  segments of the market. I am definitely glad to see all of those changes, but in retrospect, I am not so sure I should have used them to justify (in my mind at least) the end of this blog. It is true that designers have many more options for sharing their bike related work on the web than they did 9 years ago, and that the popularity of cycling means that more and more of them are doing so, but I think this site still serves a unique purpose. Unlike the general design blogs, Bicycle Design is a community not just for designers, but for cyclists in general who are passionate about the bikes that they ride (and I use the term cyclist to describe anyone who rides a bike, whether they are doing double centuries or slow rides to the corner store). To me, that diverse community still makes this site the best place to share, discuss, and even challenge new ideas and concepts. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but that is why I have always loved seeing smart discussion in the comments following my posts.  Honestly, that is probably the part I missed the mostduring the six months that I stopped.

If you read Bicycle Design in the early days (and have made it this far into this post), you may be reminded of the long diatribes that I threw out every so often.  Don’t worry…I won’t be publishing long, rambling, unedited posts like this on a regular basis, but I do sort of like messy, unpolished content occasionally. It is a good reminder (for me and all of you) that this is not a slick professional website, but a blog that is fueled by passion.  If that wasn’t the case, I never would have brought it back.

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  1. Conor August 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm -  Reply

    Welcome back James, good to hear you’re back in the saddle if you excuse the pun 🙂

    Can I give a mention to 2 brothers making really tasty bike frames from ash wood. They’re also helping a group of cycling advocacy organisations (who I’m involved with) at an eco-village in a music festival next weekend!

  2. Dan August 21, 2014 at 8:01 pm -  Reply

    Welcome back James . Luckily you never left my feedly feed.

  3. elektrofietsen August 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm -  Reply

    Welcome back James . Luckily you never left my feedly feed.

  4. Mackey August 22, 2014 at 12:52 pm -  Reply

    Welcome Back! Glad I never took you out of my feed reader.

    I totally know what you mean about bike design being featured everywhere these days. The truth though is that most of those outlets aren’t really equipped to critique a bikes functional design. Also there isn’t really much of an outlet for discussing the things that end up driving bicycle design: components, materials and processes. I think if you focus on all of the above it won’t matter that other people are blogging some of the same things.

    As an example I read the core77 coverage of the Oregon Manifest and while it was OK, the interview was very touchy feely and didn’t really get into asking them about specific decisions and why they made them. I think you could interview them and get some real bike nerd info out of them and lots of us would eat that up.

  5. Brandon August 22, 2014 at 8:19 pm -  Reply

    Welcome back! I’m not sure if I was just too lazy to remove the feed from Pulse or that I just left it knowing you’d return. I’ve enjoyed your blog greatly, and I’m super happy you’re back.

  6. ricky September 12, 2014 at 6:51 am -  Reply

    Glad you’re back as I have always found this blog particularly interesting

  7. pierre September 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm -  Reply

    It is just fantastic that you are back James, I really missed Bicycle Design all this time; it really left an empty space…

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