My bicycle company Signal Cycles was fortunate to be selected by Portland design firm Ziba to collaborate on the task of building the ultimate utility bike. The seven month project culminated with the 65 mile Oregon Manifest Field Test, where our bike, the Fremont would be put through its paces. The entire project was chronicled by design super site Core 77 with monthly blog posts. Ziba used this project as the subject of a book titled Fremont that was used to show how their design process works.
Signal and Ziba exist to create beautiful experiences. The process of building the Fremont would be an opportunity to merge our specialties into something better than either of us could create on our own. The beginning of our collaboration started with getting to know each other. What is the brand of Signal? Of Ziba? How are we going to connect our user to our brands? It was informative to hear the perspectives of the designers on what makes our bikes, our brand special.
Our brainstorming kickoff started with a “bikestorm.” All of the designers had a chance to draw ideas for bikes on small note cards. Hundreds of sketches came back, some with real attempts at solving problems, and others like “pizza party”
We started describing the user of our bike as an “urban explorer.” They move around the city and love to discover the unexpected. Cargo will be an important part of the bike design for this person. They might discover the perfect chair at a garage sale, and want to take it home.
Some of the designs for the frame were on the edge of what we had done at Signal, and I wasn’t sure if they could be built. To test some ideas, we built two quick prototypes and assembled them into ridable bikes.
After a few months of thinking about how to address utility needs, seeing bikes like this on the street became a newly inspirational event. With our two prototype bikes we were able to quickly mock up potential cargo solutions and see how they might work, and what issues needed to be worked out. Using existing plastic containers, foam core and a lot of tape we eventually came up with a sidecar mockup. This is where everyone got pretty excited. There was something interesting and unique about this solution to carrying cargo that we felt would align with our user.
After settling on dimensions and a how the side car would be attached, I began building a steel version that we could experiment on further. When we added our attachment, the location hinted that we might be able to make the sidecar fold up when not in use. I thought this could be a really useful feature to maintain the maneuverability of the bike.
We refined our design and went into final fabrication. There were a lot of pieces of the puzzle that we were trying to assemble in the final month a few labor intensive projects were dropped in favor of showing a complete bike at the impending show. In the end I had the pleasure of riding our bike on the 65 mile course, because in the end, it’s all about the ride.
Our final bike project was featured in the New York Times weekend magazine and I left the project thoroughly inspired. Getting such an opportunity to work with an amazing team of designers left a lasting mark on me. Shortly after the project was over I decided to enroll in a masters of Industrial Design degree program at Savannah College of Art and Design. This project put me on a path to becoming a professional designer.