This weekend saw the unveiling of the collaborative bicycle designs that are going head to head in the third edition of the Oregon Manifest, in which five teams in as many cities set out to create and craft the best urban utility bike. As of Monday morning, the public is invited to vote on their favorite one, which may well be produced by Fuji Bikes in the near future. We are pleased to present exclusive Q&As with each team so they have a chance to explain why their bicycle is the best before the voting period closes this Sunday, August 3.
Did you and Sizemore know (or know of) each other before the collaboration? What was the matchmaking process like?
Roger Jackson (Creative Director, TEAGUE): Oregon Manifest did a great job pairing us with two incredible potential bike partners; we visited and spent time with both of them at their workshops. That alone was a privilege. To see true craftsmanship in the flesh, both makers had their own unique style and preferences for bike building. But this project was going to be a longterm engagement (nine months), so it was important that there was the ability to meet up regularly and a shared vision for what we wanted to achieve. Taylor Sizemore was a natural fit for our team, but was also excited to go beyond his own comfort level with the build, which excited us.
By its very nature, the design-fabrication relationship for this collaboration is far more intimate than your average designer's relationship with a contractor or manufacturer. To what degree did you educate each other on your respective areas of expertise? Has the collaboration yielded broader lessons?
Intimate is right! Taylor is now part of the TEAGUE family! We've been fortunate with just how much time and energy he's put into this endeavor. From the first brainstorm, he was there, sparing and inspiring us. As for the education, he was fascinated with just how quickly we could get into 3D CAD and spit out prototypes on our 3D printers. I would also say from a technology stand point, being able to quickly mock-up and test lighting and haptic feedback concepts using arduinos, was also something we offered Taylor. As for us, the advantage of Taylor building custom bikes is that he knows exactly what works and what doesn't from an ergonomic standpoint. Something that may look cool or unique could negatively impact the ride comfort and quality. It was truly a mutual learning experience.
Was there a single 'eureka moment' when you arrived at a concept that would direct the rest of the bike design? Or was it an iterative process of adding to and subtracting from the classic diamond frame?
With a subject matter like bikes, designers typically don't need any encouragement. So we let everyone run wild with their own bike design for a couple of weeks. We have a very diverse team (Dutch, Korean, German, French and American) and each person brought a unique lens to the experience. While everyone was able to express themselves, they also gained a solid education from Taylor on the mechanics of bike design. Rather than cherry-pick the best features, we instead took all of that learning and focused it around the true brief of getting people to consider a bicycle as their mode of transport, by creating the ultimate utility bike.
Another galvanizing moment was seeking the advise of our Trend Analyst, Emilie Belis. With this being a competition and two of the competitors coming from the west coast in Portland and San Francisco, she did a great job of identifying the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between the cities, their riders, the cultures and needs, even down to how that impacted the color, materials and finishes.
A "utility bike" can be task-specific or open-ended. Did you set out to address the established routines and use cases of an idealized rider, or are you hoping to expand a bicycle's utility to new, unfamiliar uses? Alternately, who, exactly, is the bike designed for?
At it's core we believed in Oregon Manifest's mission. Their desire for this utility bike to challenge 'non-riders' to consider a bike as an alternative mode of transport for their commute rang so true for us in Seattle. Last year, Seattle grew faster than any other American city. But the nature of the city's geography means expanding the roads to accommodate that growth is a major challenge. If we've managed to get commuters to rethink their options about how to get around the city—because we made it safer, more secure, and ultimately more fun to ride—we've achieved what we set out to do.
Besides environmental factors such as weather and road conditions, how did the backdrop of Seattle inform the design of the bicycle?
Seattle is a very diverse and unpredictable city, the DENNY bike was purposefully designed to flex to its demands. We wanted to create a bike that could just as easily support an impromptu visit to the farmer's market, or a quick escape down a local trail, as it could ease the lung-busting grind of getting around Seattle's hilly neighborhoods.
More importantly, though, DENNY is focused on the three core tenets—safety, security and convenience—that we believed riders and non-riders were looking for. For safety: the bike uses integrated day-light-running lights, brake lights and turn signals that react to the ambient light conditions for their brightness. We also included a 'halo' light that projects a barrier of light down on to the road around the front wheel. For security: DENNY's handlebars act as a U-lock system, either as a quick lock (around a post), or being completely removed to secure the wheel and frame to a post. Finally, for convenience: all key components (like gears, lights, storage and securing the bike) have been fully integrated so that the rider never has to think about accessories, or the more complex functions of riding a bike.
Bike nerds will be interested to learn about the materials and componentry; what were your criteria for customization versus off-the-shelf parts? Do you think you could develop any of the specific innovations as standalone products, or is the sum greater than its parts?
Certain aspects of a bike just don't need fixing, so we definitely leveraged great off-the-shelf parts like the Brooks Cambium saddle and the Shimano Alfine Di2. There were definitely others areas where we saw opportunity, like making the lights smarter, or modifying the gear hub to shift automatically based on the effort exerted by the rider. As for stand alone products, the fender design is unique in its approach to water; rubber bristles remove the water at the base of the tire, rather than shielding the rider from the spray. I think the thing we're most proud of is that the bike has so many features, but they're integrated so well that you don't really see them, you just experience the benefits.