IDEO's Adam Vollmer with "Faraday" at Checkpoint 2 of the Oregon Manifest
I suppose I was trying to be a bit coy with that last teaser shot from Oregon Manifest, which included the silhouette of the IDEO × Rock Lobster entry in the foreground, but savvy Googlers have most certainly turned up the full image sets from my fellow journalists Jay Greene of CNET and Jonathan Maus of BikePortland.
IDEO collaborated with Santa Cruz, CA-based Rock Lobster on an e-bike that can only be described as elegant: the frame itself is distinguished mostly by its double top tube and the beautifully welded front rack, but there's more to "Faraday" than meets the eye. Insofar as IDEO is involved, many of the key design features remain invisible: a custom algorithm controls speed based on rider feedback and internally-routed cabling runs connects the motor and lights to a discreet "brain" at the seatstay cluster.
Photo by IDEO
Photo by IDEO
Moreover, the signature aesthetic touches of the frame belie functional utility as well: the top-tube holds the Lithium ion batteries—reportedly the same as those in the Chevy Volt—while the front rack can be swapped out for other cargo units such as a trunk or child seat. (It's worth mentioning that the same is true of Fuseproject × SyCip's "LOCAL" design; in fact, Fuseproject is supposedly developing additional ideas for bringing their vehicle to market.)
By the time this post is up our bike should be 99% complete. Like most design projects, the energy and intensity of the work has ramped up exponentially over the last few weeks. Everything had to work like clockwork to get us to this point: Paul built up the frame over 3 days, and it came out beautifully. The last day was spent with the whole team working in Santa Cruz until midnight to get all the details and additional custom parts to fit perfectly. Fifteen hours of filing our fillet brazed lugs later, the frame was ready for powder-coating. Since then, our nights have been spent CNC-machining custom parts, steam-bending wood fenders, running wires through the frame, and painstakingly tweaking the electronics and controls.
All of this couldn't have been done without the help of many friends and our network of skilled craftspeople in the Bay Area and beyond. We'd like to especially thank: Pete Weber of Quiet Horsepower for the excellent tube bending and fabrication; Neil Macc and Jeff Selzer of Palo Alto Bicycles; Alan from Precision Powdercoating; Gary from SSSink.com; Light and Motion for providing us with the parts that evolved into our custom headlights, and all of the great guys in our Palo Alto shop for going the extra mile—Jim Feuhrer, Derek Goodwin, Andy Deakin, Peter Bronk, and Kayvon Shakeri. Last but not least, special thanks to Robin Bigio for returning fresh from Italy and helping pull the final design details together, including the beautiful logo and chainguard.
Rock Lobster headquarters in Santa Cruz: Paul has finished the basic parts of the frame and we begin the process of adding all the brackets, braze-on details and front rack components.
The freshly completed frame hangs in Paul's shop.
Paul and Adam tweak the geometry and balance of the frame to better handle heavy loads.
There's one month to go, and (like most design projects) as the overall direction is growing more defined, the production and detail work has increased exponentially. Paul whipped out a prototype test frame one afternoon so we could start integrating all the custom bits and pieces on something close to the final product. Thanks to Neil at Palo Alto Bikes, our wheels are built and rolling. Many nights have been spent tweaking the electronics algorithms, refining the mechanical interfaces, and unifying the various design details. Check out a few of the process shots below:
1.) Sketching, modeling, and hacking components at the same time.
2.) Our first test frame now hangs with a jumble of wires connecting to it as we start to build the final boards. You know cyclists love Italian parts—right down to the circuit board.
San Francisco is seven miles by seven miles wide—a postage stamp-sized patch of land that, despite its modest dimensions, can feel impossibly vast on a bicycle thanks to its innumerable hills, circuitous routes and congested tangle of cars, tourists and MUNI tracks. Nevertheless, there are countless reasons why SF is a great city for cycling, and we're proud of the thousands of cyclists, from the recreational to the die-hard, who make San Francisco's bike culture one of the best in the United States.
San Francisco Hill
In designing our incarnation of the ultimate modern utility bike, we were inspired by the "go anywhere, do anything" attitude of the Bay Area's cyclists who tackle staggering hills, haul massive vegetable loads from our prized farmers markets, sell us tasty food and drinks from their bikes-turned-food-carts, brighten our commutes with music blasted from massive speakers towed by their bikes and generally refuse any limitation to what can be accomplished while perched on the back of a bicycle. Faced with the impossibility of parking a car in San Francisco, our city's diminutive physical size, and the relatively fantastic weather we enjoy year round, we came around to a vision of a bike that could be a modern urban workhorse, rendering the car unnecessary, even "ridiculous" (to borrow a term from Malma, Sweden), for most any task within our city's limits.
Inspiration came from two unlikely sources: from a trip through Europe, Adam Reineck brought back images of vintage Swedish "trade" bikes that, despite their weight and antiquity, excited us with their uncompromising practicality. Here was a bike that could haul 150 pounds... while also being fun to ride. How often do you need to transport 150 pounds of stuff? It's a good question (that we hotly debated ourselves), but if a bike is meant to be a meaningful replacement for your car, then carrying more than just your briefcase is sure to be a necessity.
Meanwhile, from the far corners of the Interbike trade show, from the cheesy tourist tours over the Golden Gate Bridge and from the spirited debates on tech forums in esoteric corners of the internet, electric bicycles consistently and emphatically captured our attention.
Low-cost, high-efficiency hub motors and advanced new battery technologies borrowed from the electric vehicle industry offer exciting new possibilities to electrify bicycles with a minimum of compromise on weight and handling. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, the majority of e-bikes—certainly almost all of those commercially available—are painfully heavy, over-instrumented, poorly spec'ed designs that fall short of the performance of a motorcycle, while wringing the fun out of riding a bike.
We believe that in the marriage of the vintage trade bike and the "modern" electric bike lays a harmony that captures the best possibilities of each architecture in a design ideally suited to the diverse needs of the San Francisco—or Portland—rider. From those two inspirational starting points, our team has decided on a vision for our bike that we're extremely excited about... and we'll share it here:
June brought the arrival of sunshine, new ideas, and new people to the IDEO team. We stepped back from our feverish consideration of the bicycle and its rider to imagine the business and social context that the ultimate utility bike would live in. What innovative services, applications, incentives and businesses exist, or have yet to be developed, that make the ride easier and more enjoyable for those of us who ride on a regular basis, or lower the barriers to entry for potential new members of the cycling community? Chicago's McDonald's central bike hub comes to mind, as well as San Francisco's own Warm Planet Bicycles bike depot, used by at least half of our team members on a daily basis. In a brainstorm with IDEO's Bay Area business design community, we explored new markets, new sales models and new service concepts centered around the bike.
We also did some recruiting. As we pass the halfway point in the project and our concepts start to solidify, we're excitedly looking forward to a summer of tinkering, hacking, drawing, and prototyping (as well as riding). For a fresh burst of hands-on creative energy, we pulled one of IDEO's newest designers, Purin Phanichphant, into the team. Here's Purin's introduction to his crazy background, passion for design and love of all things bicycle:
The IDEO x Rock Lobster team has gotten lots of inspiration this month, right from the seats of our bikes. Here's a by-the-numbers breakdown of what we've been up to:
- One weisswurst- and pretzel-powered ride across Munich
- One two-day mountain bike camp in San Francisco
- Two mountain bike rides for fun with coworkers
- 15 trips across the Golden Gate Bridge
- Four night mountain bike rides
- One custom pink track bike created for a 10-year-old, designed and built in two weeks
- Two San Francisco to Palo Alto bike commutes
- Five hours spent cruising around the streets of London
- Countless potholes dodged in Ghana
- 200 miles ridden round trip to the Caltrain and back
- 20,000 calories burned on lunch rides
- 30,000 feet climbed
- One near miss with a driver on a cell phone
- Two winks from cute passers-by
While we were busy counting miles and tallying bike firsts, Rock Lobster's Paul Sadoff took to the dirt for Tom's Ride, an annual ride in honor of Tom Cuthberson, author of many books and probably one of the first people to bring the notion of cyclocross to Santa Cruz. Read more about the history of the ride and this year's trek on the Rock Lobster blog, and check out some photos below.
Quick exercise: What do you NOT like about bikes? At first, it's hard to see the bike as anything but positive. But what about those rainy days, when your pant legs look like you've been wading in the ocean? Or the greasy chain that falls off every time you drop a curb? We all have our "bug list" about bikes, but the fun of cycling generally overrides (groan!) the list of things that keep us from getting out there on two wheels.
This month, we found inspiration in ways to transform the negative: the theft, the flat tires and the clothing malfunctions. Check out a mind map from IDEO's Peter Macdonald of what we'd love to change about our rides.
And then we brainstormed to talk about how we could address those categories. Over pizza, we asked a group of about 15 IDEOers to gather for a brainstorm to address some of those irks:
-How might we increase rider safety?
-How can we design a bike that can help carry loads of different sizes?
-How can we deter theft?
-How can we make bikes sexy?
Paul Sadoff from Rock Lobster joined us at the studio for some synthesis, and now we're close to determining some of the categories of elements we'd like to incorporate into the final design.
Next steps: reduce the wild ideas, abstractions, and concepts to concrete design directions and start prototyping. The team's anxious to take pen to paper, get in the shop, and get our hands dirty.
This has been an inspiring month for IDEO and Rock Lobster. To wrap our minds around the possibilities for the urban utility bike, we observed all types of riders in different settings, scoured our archives for our favorite bike books, pictures, magazines and other bits of inspiration, and filled the formerly bare walls of our brand new project space with a colorful collage of tubes, wheels, shiny silver bits and photos of riders of every imaginable type.
We didn't just reach for our own cameras, though; we reached out to IDEO's network of offices around the world—there are eight total, not counting the places where our designers are out in the field—and asked our bike-loving colleagues to inspire us.
From the barrage of images and anecdotes, we culled 10 provocations that embody the most interesting opportunities for the next steps of the design process. We've accompanied each provocation with an image that captures what we think is its essence.
Share your feedback—what excites you? Which provocation inspires you the most? What's played out ... and what did we miss?
What if a utility bike could grow more valuable over time and positively reflect the many trips it's taken you on?
These leather saddles in Holland have had a lot of use over the years.
What if your bike was always ready to help you out, whether it's carrying a bag of groceries or a hundred chairs?
This gravity defying video was taking near our Shanghai office.
Rock Lobster Shop Tour. The builder's dream: a full Campy toolkit. This was one of Paul's first purchases while working as a bike mechanic. He took out a small-business loan to pay the $700 it cost back then for the set. All Images Courtesy of IDEO
We kicked off the IDEO x Rock Lobster creative collaboration in the way we'd start any project -- by getting to know the people we'll be working with. In this case, that meant inviting Paul (Rock Lobster) up to the IDEO Palo Alto campus for pizza, wine and a tour of the IDEO shop, then making the trip down to Santa Cruz to explore Paul's neighborhood in the best way possible -- by bike.
Our journey started in Paul's garden and brought us through farmers markets, and then finally to the Rock Lobster shop where we drank in the inspiration that covers every inch of his space. Bike plans are stacked in buckets just below photos of racers from the early '90s. Frames hang on pegs in double layers around the perimeter. We learned about the functions and personalities of the tools, and talked about similar processes from our work in the IDEO studio.
We learned that between the six of us, we are bicycle commuters, racers, tourists, mechanics, builders, designers, customers, salespeople, spectators and enthusiasts. These roles and experiences give us a diverse appreciation of the sport and an ideal starting point to begin understanding the opportunities for the bike we'll be designing. Over the coming month, we'll find ways to tap a broader community of riders and non-riders to put the challenge of the Oregon Manifest in better context.
Check out our bios and photos from our first team ride to get to know us a bit better...
From left to right: Paul Sadoff, Adam Reineck, Gina Romero, Anthony Piazza, Adam Vollmer, and Chris Cowart.
Calling the greater Bay Area home, IDEO Design, Palo Alto and Rock Lobster are teaming up to tackle the Oregon Manifest design challenge. The hilly city they call home has its own unique set of design challenges to overcome - from bike parking to separate bike and car lanes - this dream team is ready to face design and planning challenges head-on. IDEO's team of thinkers and designers are true cyclists, all of whom bike on a daily basis, some even making the 30+ mile ride to Palo Alto regularly! With over 30 years of frame-building experience, Rock Lobster is a one-man band who's custom steel and aluminum constructions are hand-built with a true dedication to the craft. The team will draw design inspiration from bike history, both personal and historical, to create a performance machine. Besides the obvious health benefits of biking for both people and the planet, the team sees biking as a lifetime pursuit. As they point out, "You loved it when you were a kid -- why stop?"