In October last year, the Bicycle Design blog hosted a competition called "Commuter Bike For The Masses". The theme of the competition was centered around designing a 'transportation-oriented' bicycle to try and reel in (or attract) the vast "blue ocean" of people out there who don't ride at all, and have zero prior interest in cycling. Design and form factors were entirely up to the designers. The idea sounded fun, and Cannondale sponsored the competition. Winners would get a grand prize equaling a free Cannondale Bad Boy Bike, valued at 1000 US dollars.
The 7 jurors were :
- James Thomas - Industrial Designer and the blogger at Bicycle Design
- Torgny Fjeldskaar- Director of Industrial Design & Advanced Products Division at Cannondale Bicycle Corporation
- Mark Sanders- Principal of MAS Design Products Ltd and designer of the Strida and IF Bikes
- Steve Zwonitzer- Principal/Founder of Propane Creative; a strategic brand + product design consultancy
- Agnete Enga- Senior Industrial Designer, Smart Design/ Femme Den, NYC
- Michael Illukiewicz -Automotive designer
- Carlton Reid- Editor at BikeBiz, Quickrelease.tv, Bikeforall.net, and BiketoWorkBook.com
Out of 65 total entries, it was announced that 6 made it as finalists. They had some interesting, and creative concepts from a bike that would become a lock when folded, to bikes that had a car like feel to them, both from a design standpoint and other specific elements such as the idea of using 'keys' to get something unlocked.
Yesterday, the winner was announced and it was the "This Way" commuter bike concept from designer Torkel Dohmer. Congratulations!! Man, I fail to see how you can't enjoy that grand prize!
Here are my thoughts on the design, and you can think about them too :
1. ALL CAR DRIVERS? : It appears it was taken for granted in the competition that all non-cyclists drive cars. How about those who take the public transport system in cities (many are happy with public transport) ? What about the many others who're much satisfied with walking? How about those who don't want anything to do with cars at all? Will a design that looks and feels like a car answer all the questions?
2. JURY : Close to 60% of the jury I mentioned before consisted of people who ride bikes or are in the bicycle business. How can you avoid a selection bias or be able to get information from people who don't ride, like through a survey?
3. SOLAR PANELS? : In the design rendering, there are no solar panels depicted at all on the roof. Just a mere glass like structure. That doesn't say much, does it? Moreover, while solar power isn't necessarily bad, it could be expensive. In 2005, the price of solar panels averaged about $3-$4 USD per watt of installed power. The designer of the bike has to calculate how much power all his electrical equipment in the bike would need and justify the costs of buying, and installing solar panels to run the calculated watts and amperage. Then compare those costs with batteries. Whats a better option?
4. WEATHER PROTECTION : By weather, I take it that this bike can be ridden in the rain. The bike has a roof, so it is supposed to have that weather protection. But does rain only fall directly vertical?
The bike also has solar cells on the roof, which, according to the designer must power the bike's built in LED lights. How do you protect all that equipment when it rains? Attention must be also put on the fact that the sun isn't directly overhead all the time. Solar panels in the real world are able to tilt and position themselves correctly relative to the sun.
5. SNOW : Conventional bikes can be ridden on the snow using different tires and many commuters ride to work in the cold. Due to This Way's low rider position and small wheels, I highly doubt whether it'll be possible to achieve this.
6. DRIVE TRAIN : The bike has a "belt drive". Belt drives don't work with multiple gear sprockets. You could, however, pair them with an internal geared rear hub but you probably won't be able to enjoy some things. That may also cost more than simple sprockets.
7. SAFETY : Will a rider be really safe with a low center of gravity? What if consumers think aerodynamics is not as important as safely getting somewhere. Will he or she be visible to the traffic? When its time to brake and stop, how do you get out without tumbing either way due to a loss of balance? And finally, a few things about the windshield :
1) I'm not sure how the designer aims to make the windshield. If it is some plastic or polymer, then the issue of scratches on it comes up.
2) If its going to be made of glass, there's no telling when the rider can impact his head on it in case of an impact or accident. My next question would be : Should a seat belt be provided to the rider? What would be the industry standards that have to be followed for vehicles with windshields?
3) The viewing range of the windshield can be restrictive to observation. Notice how its not only narrow, but the windshield frame itself can block the rider's view ahead. This may or may not be an issue, but still something to consider.
8. RIDING POSITION & COMFORT : I like the concept of a recumbent riding position for a commuter's bike for the masses, but it seems to me as if in this winner's concept, the rider's arms will be outstretched at the handlebars. How comfortable will turning and maneuvering the bike be in corners and in climbing on hills? In conventional bicycles, a rider can stand and pedal to generate more power on hills. However, no such provisions are on the This Way bike.
Also note that from the rendering, the design of the handlebars makes it possible for them to strike the windshield frame on turning.
9. PARKING : Without a stand or a stable support point, how do you park a two wheeler such as this? And what facilities are there on the bike itself to use with existing public bike racks?
10. BIKE TRANSPORTATION : Will this bike fit into a bike bag or an aftermarket vehicle rack for transportation? I don't see that happening knowing what exists in the market today. in high density urban areas, cyclists are seen placing their bikes onto trains or buses. Given the big dimensions of the This Way bike, I hardly think that's possible.
11. MATERIALS OF CONSTRUCTION : The concept is to be made out of carbon fiber or flax fiber, and hydroformed aluminum. We all know that bicycles and velomobiles made out of carbon fiber are not cheap.
12. PRICE POINT AND LIFECYCLE COST : The judges think that to keep costs down, this concept could borrow ideas from toy and boat manufacturers and be made to sell under 500 dollars if volume took off. Pay attention. "IF VOLUME took off". Otherwise, they think selling point will be around a 1000 dollars. Now, none of the judges have talked about a certain element called 'Risk Assessment'. By using composite materials and having solar panels on your roof, is it guaranteed to attract consumers? This isn't simple to answer in a day or two. Its all too simple to sit somewhere and say, 'My idea is going to be great. Lots of people are going to buy it. My competitors will be dum as well. They won't figure out a cheaper, easier or more innovative way to do things.'
Keep in mind that the materials of construction, solar panel and electrical transducer equipment, wiring and the extra cargo attachement that goes with the bike can all bump up costs. To rely on manufacturing methods for toys and boats can also have its own set of agendas to follow, such as having to follow different sets of standards or testing. Considering all this, if it can still be sold for 1000 dollars, great. But is 1000 dollars what everyone wants to pay for a commuter bike? And over a period of its life, how costly will it get for the average Joe to maintain, replace and buy new parts due to damage, wear and tear?
13. COPY, NO COPY OR JUST DESIGN IMPROVEMENT? : In the summer of last year, I saw a concept very similar to This Way. It was a solar powered bicycle designed by Miroslav Milijevic based at Z & Co. Design in London. It was called Cycle Sol (Sol may be short for Solar). The only differences I see are that Cyclesol has an electric assist motor, the handlebars are positioned at the sides, the seats look a little less comfortable and wheels look more solid. Even though such a design was shown months earlier, even it seems like it didn't transform into reality till now. Yet, the design renderings have substantial detail in them, which is how I think a proposal should be submitted.
14. WILL IT TAKE OFF? : For all the publicity that surrounded this competition, what I'm really interested in is will the concept see the light of day? Congratulations to the winner, but there appears to be a need to have a reality check put on the design. I hope you can work and build upon the apparent practical disadvantages I and many others see in this concept.
At the end of the day, ask yourself the question : Is poor bicycle design really the culprit in keeping people away from cycling, as opposed to safety problems, poor infrastructure, poor riding facilities and poor advocacy programs by governments and other authorities? If it indeed is, by how much (like a %) ? What amount of role does it play in discouraging cycling? Because if it is indeed a tiny % compared to other factors, then maybe the best efforts to get people on bikes can be achieved through strategies trying to improve those other factors.