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To Design A Bike, Think About Space

An urban bike has to fit into lots of different spaces: between cars, in tiny apartments, up cramped staircases. How does that effect its design–especially if it also needs to carry heavy cargo?

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As always, we began our design and invention process by asking a lot of questions. Who is the New York City cycling commuter? What are his or her needs from a bicycle on a daily basis? Do those needs change from day to day? Or from week to week? What items are transported on a daily basis? What type of bike and what features and components are critical for the terrain? As always, we are never short on questions. Our team is comprised of bike commuters which has meant no shortage of passion and opinions. While this has been a great foundation, we also need to look at this problem objectively, and through the eyes of those cycling around us.

As our harsh winter has thawed into spring, the volume of cycling commuters has once again picked up. We have taken notice that there is no shortage of bicycle and riding styles. Through our riding research, inspiration gathering and immersion into the world of the urban commuting cyclist, we have identified specific insights which have helped us hone our concepts. Focusing on extreme conditions tends to be a good way to inspire solutions and we have no shortage of those extremes here. People think differently about space in New York City. We are a dense population. Tight living quarters (think 500 square feet shared with a roommate), no parking, crowded streets and sidewalks all have an influence on the bikes we use. Ever carry a bike up the narrow stairs of a fifth floor walkup?

We’ve been thinking quite a bit about space issues, from storage needs in tight living quarters to maneuverability in the narrow space between two cars double parked across a bike lane. Words like “efficiency” and “compact” have influenced our concepts. At the same time, we know our solution must help a cyclist carry their stuff and that amount of stuff can vary greatly. How much is too much cargo space? A large segment of the New York population doesn’t own a car, and many of those who do are not using them on a daily basis. There is certainly an opportunity for a bike cargo solution to empower cyclists and help them feel prepared to take on different types of loads as needed.


Juxtaposing seemingly opposite criteria can lead to exciting and unexpected solutions. We have been hard at work in our workshop, affectionately called the Think Tank, and also at the Horse Cycle shop; sketching and prototyping our way through our concepts. Design and invention are not linear processes. We all love getting our hands dirty and we are very excited about what we’ve come up with so far.

Much of our concept exploration keeps coming back to these questions: Is there really one ultimate urban utility bike for New York, or for any city for that matter? Shouldn’t you be able to ride your own way, even if that way changes from day to day?

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About the author

Mark is a partner and the design director at Pensa where he leads and mentors a diverse group of multi-faceted designers. Throughout his 15+ years in the product design industry, Mark has received numerous design awards and is an inventor on dozens of design and utility patents

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