Conservative Majority vs Innovative Minority – No Middle Ground in Bicycle Design?

by Sabinna on April 9, 2011

Bike Biz has just published an overview of the recent Taipei Cycle. The general idea is that trends are being reflected, not established, in keeping with the conservative nature of these sorts of trade shows. There are a few aspects to this. One very important one is commercial.

For example with regards to some new models I released this year I decided I would not be offering a BB86 option even despite the trend to threadless bottom brackets gathering momentum and a clear break with the past in design terms. My philosophy is that a small company like mine has to find space within existing boundaries to ensure sustainability. The trend is not yet so well established that I am justified in offering an integrated BB alternative right at this time.

An obvious comeback to this is that there are wide open spaces waiting for the small company that is willing to be adventurous. If you have a creative engineer or two who can translate great ideas into reality then the sky is the limit. That for me would be a, probably fatal, leap into the unknown. Brave but commercially foolhardy. Great ideas can be made into reality, but they have to capture hearts and minds in the markets to become meaningful.

Electric Assist Folding Tandem

As I pointed out in a previous post, the trick is to 1offer an answer to a question that the market is not yet asking and 2. be not too far ahead of your time. Otherwise you will have missed your opportunity and it may be someone else who cashes in due to a keener sense of timing.

While on one hand Taipei Cycle can be classed as conservative, on the other it also happens in conjunction with the International Bicycle Design Competition.

Opinion on this seems to range from apathy to not radical enough to a cuckoo’s nest of impractical monstrosities that have no relation to bikes that people would actually ride. What you are faced with is a gulf between conservative homogenization / commoditization and radical originality, physically coexisting under the one roof across the show’s four days.

The question then becomes where, or how, do we draw the boundary between the mundane and the innovative? Clearly the boundary shifts according to where you either see yourself positioned in the industry, or the category you find yourself to be boxed into. It can be seen as an “active” vs “passive” sort of thing — the second of these is what is the main source of regret for those whose opinions went into the Bike Biz article.

The designs offered up at the IBDC each year very much occupy that adventurous space which is seemingly absent from within the Nangang Exhibition Hall main display areas where the conservative majority rule.

Without taking anything away from this year’s winner of the competition, it could be argued that the judging has actually favored a conservative line in their support of the winning design since the design seems to be targeted to “roadies” keeping us trapped in the roadie/MTB division.

The second placed Somerset, however, fits well into a category of, let’s call them “blue ocean” designs. It’s this pool of potential cyclists that entries appear to be targeting.

In this year’s Bicycle Trend Forum, Tim Blumenthal of People for Bikes outlined the proportion of the population that form this potential pool, some 60%. These are people who are currently non-cyclists.  While the study is for Portland, a city with strongly positive views on cycling, which could account for such a large number, the point is there exists a large pool of potential cyclists.

The Tango - 2010 IBDC: two pivot point connections on the arcs/frame enable the bike to twist; tubeless tires. Interesting but probably more novel than practical.

They have issues that need to be addressed, not least the appropriate design for the specific use that they would feel suits their  purpose before they will be turned into actual cyclists.

Thinking along these lines is clearly a central wellspring for the majority of designs offered to the IBDC each year, and clearly a valid way to arrive at the necessarily diverse cycling — though primarily urban-focused — solutions that will see consistent conversion of that potential pool into confirmed cyclists.

This gulf between a business-as-usual, very conservative, safe, orientation, and what many view as the wonderland of bizarre bicycle designs does not appear to offer any middle ground with the choice being between the devil and the deep blue ocean.

However, as the gradual conversion of the pool of potential utility cyclists to actual cyclists occurs, becoming tuned into this environment for the conservative majority may well be the way a middle ground of “progressive” design is developed and overcomes the current choice between same old and the shock of the new.

The key to this is probably in the steady consolidation of the 12 trends as outlined by Bikes Belong or more generally, the further development and maturation of urban-based cycling cultures (The Walking and Bicycling Revolution: Fostering a Cultural Change in Our City).

The 9th of these trends, bikes and equipment that are specifically designed for shopping and short trips, is a key driver behind many IBDC designs at the moment. Good synergy there.Further advances in electric assist may be the decisive technical factor and, once again, its interesting to see a large proportion of IBDC entrants incorporating this into their designs.

A rebalancing, then, would appear to be well on the way in which the conservative majority serving a cycling minority will give way to the innovative majority working in the interests of a bicycling majority.



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