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Design at Specialized and Orbea

I had a nice “unplugged” beach vacation last week, so the blog has been quiet for a while.  While I was enjoying my week offline, I did get a chance to put quite a few more miles on the Tern Verge X10 folding bike that I have been riding for the past couple of months. It is time for me to begrudgingly send that bike back to Tern, so look for a full review here soon.

Today, I just want to share a couple of bike design related videos that have been brought to my attention lately.  I have mentioned Specialized Creative Director Robert Egger quite a few times in past posts, but I missed this short documentary about him and his concept bikes until now. It is an interesting and funny glimpse into his creative process. Nice job with the video Steve Olpin!

Orbea-Ordu-III-1Ronan Bariou, a designer for Orbea, recently had his Ordu III design featured as a transportation category runner up in the 2013 Core77 Design Awards (I am not sure anyone actually uses time trial bikes for transportation, but that is beside the point).  There is a video that discusses the design a bit, but be sure to download the full 47 page pdf for a detailed look into the development process. You can also check out Ronan’s Behance page to see more of his design work for Orbea.

Orbea-Ordu-III-2Oh yeah…back to the Core77 Transportation category awards. The winner was an electric scooter and a few of the notable entries were bicycles.  You can see all of the designs selected by the jury here.

Posted in Concept, Road.

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Handcycles of the 2013 Para-cycling Open

para-cycling-open-36Just over a month ago (yeah, I know…I am slow to post sometimes), I had the opportunity to watch the 2013 Greenville Para-cycling Open time trial. Next year, the UCI Para-cycling World Championships  (time trial and road) will take place on the same courses here in Greenville, SC, so this was a great opportunity for the world’s top athletes with physical disabilities to get a feel for the 2014 Worlds courses. The racing was exciting, and the athletes were inspiring, but since design is the focus of this blog, I’ll leave the race reporting to others who can better tell the story.

In para-cycling events, athletes race in different classifications depending on their level of amputation or similar impairment. Due to the differences in rider ability between the different categories, you see a wide range of equipment including standard road and TT bikes, modified upright bikes, tandems (for blind athletes with a sighted captain), upright tricycles, and handcycles. You can see the variety of bikes in my photos from the race, but in this post I want to focus on just one type… the handcycles.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I am definitely not an expert on handcycles. The limited knowledge that I have comes from watching the races and talking to a few of the athletes. I’ll share a few of my observations here, but I would love to hear comments from any of you who really do know something about the design of these machines.  In fact, if I can get hold of any designers or engineers who work in this field on a daily basis, I think it would make a great topic for a guest post here at Bicycle Design.

handcycle-typesBased on my observations, the handcycles used in races fall into two categories- full supine position machines like this one, or seated/kneeling position cycles like this. The majority of the handcycles at the race were the first type, with a low, aerodynamic fully reclined rider position. The athletes on these reclined handcycles lie flat against a backrest, and seem to primarily use the muscles in their arms to turn the cranks (which have arms that are parallel to each other, rather than opposed 180 degrees as on a bicycle). On the seated/kneeling handcycles, the athletes obviously also use arm muscles, but also rely on the the back and torso. The motion is very similar to rowing, with the body moving forward and back with each revolution of the cranks. Though these designs were less aerodynamic that the supine handcycles, they seemed more efficient to me…at least for certain racers.

para-cycling-open-3The parts used on these handcycles are just what you would see at any world class bike race- drivetrain parts from Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, wheels from Zipp, HED, Enve and others. In addition to the standard components, there are plenty of custom carbon bits like this crankset and these foot holders. Custom handcycles did not seem to be the norm though. The vast majority of the handcycles that I saw at this race (and at previous Para-cycling events) were made by an American company called Top End. In addition to competitive and recreational handcycles, Top End produces racing wheelchairs and wheelchairs for sports such as basketball or tennis. They had a tent at the event with a few of their models on display ranging from a carbon fiber road racing model (which appeared to be built in collaboration with to an off-road model with knobby tires and a BionX electric hub. They had a lot in between too, so check out the competitive and recreational handcycle sections of their website to see the different products they offer.

para-cycling-open-76The handcycle that was getting the most attention before the race was the custom carbon, upright style machine belonging to Alex Zanardi. If you are not familiar with Zanardi, check out his website and read a bit of background here.  He was a former F1 driver who lost both of his legs in a crash during a race in 2001. A few years after the crash, Zanardi made a brief return to auto racing with prosthetic limbs and modified cars, but it has been in the sport of handcycling where he has been extremely successful in the last 5 years or so.

zanardi-front-backFormula 1 is a sport that is very equipment intensive, and Zanardi seems to have not lost that focus in his handcycling career. His handcycle looked nothing like any of the others, with its cambered rear wheels and mono-stay rear frame support. His positioning and rowing motion (for lack of a better term) seemed more extreme than that of any of the other athletes too.  He was using long cranks, and on the forward stroke, he leaned forward with his face very close to the front tire.  As he brought the cranks back around, his body moved to a more upright position.  His style was quite impressive to watch, and it was obvious that he was using his arms and torso to propel his handcycle as fast as possible.

As I was taking pictures of Zanardi before the race, one spectator mentioned to me that there was some controversy regarding the design of his machine.  I asked him to elaborate, but he didn’t really have anything specific to say… just that some people didn’t like it. There is no doubt that the design is quite different, and Zanardi obviously has a higher equipment budget than many, if not all, of his competitors. This was a UCI race though, so his handcycle had to pass the same equipment inspection as all the others. Obviously, it fell within the rules and they didn’t feel like it was giving him an unfair advantage.

para-cycling-open-84As I watched the race, I wondered if there was any truth to the rumor I had just heard about a controversy in the sport of handcycling surrounding the unique design.  Zanardi won his H4 division race, and immediately afterward he was congratulated by the other racers. If any of them felt like the design had given him an unfair advantage, they certainly didn’t show it. In general, the handcyclists seemed like a tight knit group, and I didn’t see anyone who looked angry or displayed anything resembling unsportsmanlike conduct (something that I have definitely witnessed at bike races before). I suspect that any “controversy” about the design was just something to mention in passing. The same kind of equipment talk that you hear at any bike race…or in any sport in which gear plays a big part. That is part of what I love about the sport of cycling though. Sure, at the core it is about athleticism and tactics, but you can’t ignore the fact that equipment is a factor in every race. The para-cycling events are no different… great athletes competing on a variety of different (and interesting) human powered machines.  Again, I encourage you check out my pictures from the handcycling events, and all of the races, to see that variety…and if you ever get the chance to attend a para-cycling event in person, don’t miss it. I am already looking forward to the UCI Worlds here in Greenville next year.

Update:  After I posted, I found this article about handcycle setup and design by Seth Arseneau. He obviously knows much more than I do on the subject, so I encourage you to read his article for a better understanding of the reasoning behind the different handcycle configurations.

Posted in Events, HPV.

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Helios LED bars and a roll-up mudguard

Helios-LED-bar- prototypeAfter a public debut at the Bay Area Maker Faire over the weekend, the smartphone controlled LED Helios handlebars are getting a lot of attention on the web (well deserved attention, I believe).  The tagline on the website is, “transform any bike into a smart bike with Helios Bars.” That is a pretty big statement, but these bars include much more than a 500 lumen front light and integrated turn signals. Once the bars are installed, you can download an app and connect them to your iPhone via Bluetooth 4.0 Low-energy (hopefully an Andriod app is coming soon too). The phone becomes the control center for the Helios bars, allowing the user to vary the color and intensity of the lights, and set several other smart features.  The rear facing lights can function as a visual speedometer, changing color as you speed up or slow down.  They can also function as turn signals, operated by tactile buttons on either side of the stem.  In addition to light features, there is a GPS that allows the owner to see the coordinates and Google Maps location of the bike from anywhere in the world within seconds.

helios-LED-handlebarThe bullhorn version of the bars will come out first with a $199 pricetag.  A drop bar version is in the works to be released soon after. The project will launch on Kickstarter tomorrow, so check the website for a link and more information.

Plume-retractable-mudguardAnother bike accessory on Kickstarter at the moment is the Plume recoiling bicycle mudguard, designed by Dan McMahon, a Brooklyn based designer, and Patrick Laing, a designer in London. Plume is a simple and elegant design for a mudguard that is there when you need it, and out of the way when you don’t. If you have seen those slap bracelets for kids, you know the basic concept… and you may have the same concern that I did initially. Will this thing coil up unexpectedly and spank the rider in the rear after the first big bump? I was glad to see that Dan and Patrick addressed that concern in the video, and they show a rider descending stairs with no movement from the Plume at all.

Apparently I am not the only one who likes the idea. They have already surpassed their funding goal and still have about a month to go on the Kickstarter campaign. You can find out more about the product there, and jump on the bandwagon to back the project if you are so inclined

Posted in Commuter, Concept.

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Velomobiles from Piximatic and GeoSpace

ultima-velomobileIt has been several years since I mentioned Christophe Sarrazin’s velomobile designs.  Since that 2009 post though, his website has evolved quite a bit. The site is more than just a source for news about velomobile design. To encourage others to get involved with velomobile construction projects, Christophe offers free downloads of many of his 3D concept models. The files (.fbx, .obj, and .stl formats) are free to use for non-profit and commercial purposes. He just asks that you credit the source,


Another velomobile project is the FireFly, by GeoSpace Studio (pictured below). The shell of the FireFly connects to the front of a recumbent trike to create an “all weather, self-illuminated, human powered vehicle.”  Check out the website for additional pictures and information, and be sure to watch the video of the Firefly in use at night.



Posted in Concept, HPV.

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A GrabCAD contest and a bit of HPV history

I briefly mentioned the engineering website and community GrabCAD last year, when they ran a crank weight reduction challenge for Tern and a bar tape fixing challenge for Flying Machine Bicycle Design Studio.

Velodroom-bike-lightThey have a new design/engineering challenge underway, in partnership with Velodroom, to “create an accessory that solves a problem cyclists face in their daily trek.” The brief is fairly open ended, with one of the major requirements being that the design fit within the design language of the current Velodroom lighting system. See the challenge page for complete rules and requirements. The deadline is May 29th and there are awards for the top ten entries, get to work if you have an idea in mind.

Update 5/2: I will be participating as one of the jury members for this competition, and I am looking forward to reviewing all of the designs at the end of the month.

Switching gears from Velodroom to velomobiles (and HPVs…and other speed machines). I was pretty excited last week when Richard Masoner, of Cyclelicious, clued me in to the fact that the complete archives of Human Power , the technical journal of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association, are now available on the IHPVA website. The issues, dating back to 1977, contain a wealth of information from guys like Chester Kyle, David Gordon Wilson, and Mike Burrows (just to name a few).  I could, and probably will, spend hours poring over these old issues.  These archives are definitely a great resource, and I highly recommend that you all bookmark.


Ray at Core77 has been posting a lot of good bike related content lately, and his latest post is no exception. He picked up on the IHPVA archives link that I tweeted last week, and ties it in to the Tom Donhou speed bike, complete with a 104 tooth chainring, that was recently spotted at Bespoked Bristol.  Lots of other good HPV and speed record content is included in that Core post too, so be sure to check it out.

All this talk about HPVs and other odd bikes reminds me that SPEZI 2013 took place this week. I haven’t seen much online coverage of this year’s show yet though, so I would love to hear from any of you who were there.

Posted in Concept, HPV.

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