Design Lessons You Learn While Designing A Bike

Like any project, the successes and failures of creating a new urban bike lead to new learning.


Of all the parts in the design process, the final build has to be the most rewarding and nerve racking. It’s the point where we see all of the carefully considered and designed pieces come together and are either rewarded or set back. Will the execution measure up to our lofty aspirations and vision? It’s in this final phase where it all comes together. And specifically for this “build the ultimate utility bike” design competition; it’s where the literal rubber meets the road.


With the exception of our master-builder Taylor (for whom this is his livelihood) this has been an incredibly educational journey for the team at Teague. One of the big lessons for us was that a bike is a deceptively simple device. It’s only when you start to deconstruct all of the harmonious connected systems that the true complexity reveals itself. A good bike–much like all well-designed products–conveys simplicity by carefully tuning and balancing complex systems. In our previous journal entries, we said the best way to know a thing is to actually build it. I can’t think of a better example than this bike project.

To tackle the fabrication of individual systems, everyone had a task to own, a detail to perfect, or a process to implement. We started with our custom frame design (a contemporary take on the classic bike icon). We add to that our unique handlebar mechanisms, locking systems, cargo storage, power delivery, lighting and electronic systems, not to mention the color and materials finish, and the all-important cherry on the top–the bike’s name and logo.

At this point, its all coming together like the bike on paper; nothing has motivated the team like seeing the final frame take shape. Even the little things count. I remember the team’s excitement the day our custom-printed and machined components arrived. Nothing draws in designers quite like shiny tangible manifestations of early sketches. That’s a good day for any designer!


There can be a darker side as well, when not everything goes according to plan. In this process, and in particular this subject matter, there’s been a lot of moving parts in this fabrication phase. You try to anticipate what you can. But sometimes you encounter setbacks. Sometimes little things, like parts being fabricated in the wrong metal, or receiving the incorrect hardware and fasteners for the job intended, are easy issues to roll with. But other times there are major setbacks, like finding out at the last minute that an entire section needs to be redesigned, as was the case for our handlebar system.

Ultimately these things are all just part of the learning cycle of making. It’s an approach at Teague we call “thinking through making”–when you use the advantages of building to test, break, fail, and ultimately learn to fast track the design process. I once heard a college professor say: “If you always hit the bull’s-eye, you’re standing too close to the target,” meaning if you’re not failing at times, you’re not pushing hard enough. True innovation comes from the push. We’re through the rough patch now. But we’ll never stop pushing.


Come back soon to see exactly how our bike and our vision solved for the unique demands of Seattle.


About the author

A Senior Designer at TEAGUE, John Mabry specializes in high-fidelity design problem solving and execution. John believes in thinking though making, learning by doing, and that the best communication of ideas happens through physical creation.