Wednesday, September 12, 2012

3 Manufacturing Opportunities To Meet The Rise Of The Bicycle

The complaint rings all over the country now from anyone driving on the roads:  "where did all these bicyclists come from and why won't they leave?"  After a brief decline in 2008, bicycle sales are back with a vengeance, in no small part because of the financial advantage one has in navigating the increasingly more robust urban landscapes of US cities. 

 Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, and many other cities have begun altering their infrastructure in an effort to accommodate the growing number of bikes on the streets.  As much as automobile owners may hate it, any city worker will tell you it's a welcome alternative in dealing with overpopulation on the roads.

But this newfound surge in bicycle enthusiasm also means manufacturers have an opportunity to improve designs to make the bike more exceptional and affordable for more buyers.  As Paul Humphreys touches on in a recent article of Product Design & Development, a middle-class earner who wants to buy a bicycle will probably have the disposable income to purchase what he wants, but not splurge.  This means he or she will be looking for something cost-efficient, while at the same time safe and long-lasting; and certainly not something that's going to need multiple parts replaced as the years go by. 

While the industry has been around since the 19th century, there is still, amazingly, room to improve the quality of the bicycle so that its performance and complexity do not outgrow the budget its owners must assumedly have.  The following are three areas of innovations that can clearly be improved upon for this burgeoning market:

#1. Make them easier to store:

            Graham Hill, founder of teamed up a couple years ago with Schindelhauer Bikes  to design a very simple, yet effective model for a "Thinbike" that, when its pedals and handlebars are folded, pretty much disappears behind your open door.  It's a tiny and indirect characteristic of riding but one that is crucial to be solved for the urban owner.  Space utilization drives the purchasing power of any resident in a major US city and storing your bike indoors without having to move around furniture or sacrifice a few belongings will heavily influence which future designs survive and which do not.  In keeping with this, the Cycloc , a very advanced domestic wall hanger for a bike is another design

#2.  Improve night riding.

            If there's one thing that freaks me out when I drive at night, it's coming across a bicyclist on the road ahead of me, not really as far to the right as they could be, with one, measly, dimly lit red light taped behind the seat.  And if that's enough to make me grip my wheel tighter as I pass, I can only imagine how the bicyclist feels.  A step in the right direction is a concept bike wheeled out by Seattle-based Teague .  The Pulse , as it's called, has LED lighting embedded in the handles and pedals, which function as signal lights (if you pause here, you can hear auto drivers everywhere collectively throw their hands up and shout "Finally!") to let travelers behind you know when you turn.  In addition, a chemically altered paint on the body of the bike glows in the dark, improving the overall visibility of the rider.  Aside from this design, Boston-based Mitchell Silva created a similar concept, using the handlebars exclusively as signal lighting sources, but making them extremely intense.  This field is clearly a hotbed of experimentation and an ideal model can still be hammered out for real-world use.

 #3. Onboard entertainment.

            No, I don't want a bunch of bicyclists riding around watching blu-ray DVD's, but, as we've learned countless times with auto drivers, if you deprive the vehicle of any entertainment or communication accessories, people are just going to add their own, rather crudely, and sometimes dangerously.  If I had a dime for every bicycle rider I passed with earbuds jamming their auditory canals (you know the ones you need to hear cars passing behind you?) I'd have enough to buy a pair of wire cutters so I could make sure they stayed home.  That being said, there's no getting around music as a perfect riding partner, and iHome has found a way around the closed off option of earbuds.  Their Bike To Beach Speaker can be fitted onto any bike, and has iHome's patented sound technology that provides a rich sound covering a wide enough area for the rider to hear their favorite song in optimal quality.  However, this is not tech that comes with the bike, yet, and it's perfectly reasonable and feasible that bicycles of the next decade could feature systems like this to further entice buyers.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

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