How To Build A Bike For SF’s Weird Cycling Culture

The San Francisco design firm Huge considers the challenges of building a bike for riders in an unfathomably hilly city who still like tooling around on fixies.



When Oregon Manifest approached us to represent San Francisco in The 2014 Bike Design Project our team was stoked. After closely following the 2011 competition, we jumped at the opportunity to put our point of view on the ultimate urban utility bike. Our studio consists of a small team of 13 most of whom are industrial designers; all are, to some extent, cyclists.

While our office is located in the elevated Potrero Hill district of San Francisco, most of us brave the steep grade and embrace the daily two-wheeled commute. When the competition kicked off in late November, we had the privilege of meeting skilled builder Tom Schoeniger of 4130 Cycle Works. With his background both in product development as well as frame building, it’s been a smooth and fruitful collaboration. Over the next five months we will be chronicling our journey to let the public in on our process and working style, which we normally keep behind closed doors.

The Team

Huge Design opened shop in the summer of 2010 to solve design problems in a straightforward, no-nonsense way. We have collaborated with companies such as Samsung, Microsoft, Nike, Google, HP, Sonos, and GoPro.

Tom Schoeniger of 4130 Cycle Works has been fabricating bicycles since 1988 when he started working with some of the first-generation California bike builders, IBIS and Salsa. In 2008 Tom started building under the name 4130 Cycle Works, where he specializes in classic looking bicycles made using the highest quality, modern materials fabricated with traditional construction techniques. Along with building frames, Tom who is a trained industrial designer, is currently a prototype machinist at the high-end product development firm, Lime-Lab.

For additional support 4130 has also tapped Tom James a talented frame builder, Stanford grad, and current product development engineer also at Lime Lab. We are extremely lucky to have this team, so experienced in frame building and development, as well as state-of-the-art fabrication facilities at our disposal. The team is driven to push the envelope on design and fabrication with our concept while keeping in mind real-world implications as if this were headed into production.


Biking in SF

Built on both counterculture and entrepreneurship, San Francisco is one of the most unique cities in the world. The diversity in lifestyle is matched by the complexity of the city’s terrain, fostering a dynamic, one-of-a-kind bicycling culture. The mild Bay Area climate coupled with San Francisco’s compact seven-mile-by-seven-mile footprint make all the city’s wonderful assets easily accessible by bike, year round. The steep inclines of San Francisco’s terrain make some bike routes pretty challenging, but they don’t seem to discourage riders from hopping on single speeds or even fixed-gear bikes. The city’s cyclists don’t stop where the pavement ends. Riders can trek across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, the birthplace of mountain biking. Hardcore riders can even be found within city limits, pounding the single track trails under the shadow of Sutro Tower, this one of the several mountain biking networks located within city limits. Cycling in San Francisco isn’t just a way to get to and from work; it’s equal parts utility, recreation, and political voice.


The problem spelled out in Oregon Manifest’s The Bike Design Project is pretty straight forward: Design the ultimate urban utility bike. The bike must have cargo capability, carrying at least a bag of groceries. Our design also needs fenders, integrated lighting, and a lock. Going into the project we set some of our own internal objectives. Our team unanimously felt that our submission needs to break the mold of current commuter bikes, both functionally and visually. We also strongly felt that our design should have built-in flexibility to satisfy the different usage patterns and lifestyles of SF cyclists.

Our approach with any program is to leverage our team’s knowledge and intuition to arrive at the best solutions. It was relatively easy to get our heads into the problem as the majority of us are daily bicycle commuters. There were a couple areas were we felt it was necessary to dig a bit deeper. First we talked to a coordinator at one of the city’s bike delivery services. He gave great perspective on cargo loading, maintenance, and ride quality. Secondly we took to the Ferry Building farmers market to observe how cyclists were carrying groceries home.

Before putting pen to paper, Tom from 4130 gave the team a full download on proper ride geometry and build techniques. While we want to push the envelope with our design, we decided early on that we should not sacrifice the quality of the ride just to be different.

About the author

Chris is Co-founder and partner at the San Francisco-based design firm HUGE Design.