Monday, 4 August 2014

Designing a better utility bike in developing cycling cities

Summary: Outside of the few northern European countries where utility cycling is mainstream, "Dutch bikes" are not the dominant utility bike of choice. In developing cycling cities in North America, the U.K and Australia, various types of bikes are used for transport that haven't been designed to optimise usefulness. Initiatives to design better urban/utility bikes and equipment in these countries are increasingly common. This post will provide comments and guidance on some of the key needs and challenges being addressed.

Oregon Manifest Bike Design Project 2014 - Seattle "Denny"

Related Posts:
> See the "buying a bike and gear" category of this blog.

Details:
1. Features of the most useful and practical Urban Utility Bikes for developing cycling cities
- The rest of this post goes into detail on the various aspects that contribute to the most useful and flexible utility bikes. Below is a summary table of these key features:

CriteriaFeatures of the most useful and practical Urban Utility Bikes
Affordable for everyday cyclistsAs inexpensive as feasible given the extent of features added. Typically less than $800 and within the bike budget of 70% of potential cyclists
Protection from theft- Allows a U lock to be easily attached; Ideally allows a secondary lock (e.g. chain) to be carried
- Can be safely parked outside in most locations for at least 8 hours
- No quick release on wheels and seat. Built-in locks even better
- Unique serial number stamped onto top tube and visible in any photo (e.g. Craigslist)
- Bonus if it optionally incorporates a robust, inexpensive wheel or frame lock
- Massive bonus for an inexpensive way of incorporating an optional GPS tracker in a component that isn't easily detached
Ride safety and comfort- Frame wheel clearance allows tyres of at least 35mm width to be used
- Facilitates an upright riding position. Ideal if also supports a more aerodynamic position (e.g. via bullhorn handlebars).
- Handlebars should have a reasonable degree of adjustable height
- Brake levers should support multiple hand positions
- A range of comfortable, appropriate looking saddles should be available
Can use everyday clothes- Frame clearance and fittings allows full fenders or mudguards
- Chain guards can optionally be fitted
Low maintenance- Single speed or 3-8 speed internal hub gears
- Bike must allow using puncture resistant types like Schwalbe Marathon Plus and Durano Plus
- Even better if such tyres can be bought with it at a reasonable price
- No dependencies on charging batteries, smartphones or technology
Weight (excluding cargo bikes)- Less than 13kg so the bike can be carried (e.g. onto public transport, up/down stairs). The lighter the better.
Storage- Frame allows a rack to be readily fitted at the back and ideally facilitates storage at the front
- Multiple frame mounts allow bottle cages and other equipment to be attached
Attaching backpacks- Baskets and panniers are great for shopping but not flexible for other utility trips. A bike that you could easily attach your backpack to would be very useful.
All weather useBike facilitates usage all year round. E.g. Fitting winter tyres and mudguards.
Trip flexibility- Can use bike for all types of utility trips
- Can also use bike for some types of recreational and exercise trips
Public transport friendlyBike is optimised to be carried onto public transport and fit available space
Agility- Narrow handlebars are an option for filtering safely in bike lanes and beside cars
- Turning, braking and accelerating are quick and stable
Speed and distance- Top speed on a flat road is at least 30km/hr
- Appropriate for riding at least 30km in one trip
LightsInexpensive, damage-proof dynamos or facilitates common types of rechargeable lights at front and back
Durability- Weatherproof steel or aluminium frame that won't crack or rust easily. Aluminium is better for climates with snow, rain and salt.
- Strong rims that won't buckle or go out of true easily
Understated aesthetic appealBike is enjoyable and appealing to ride and does not imply low status. However, it shouldn't stand out too much so as to be a theft target
Effective brakesReliable, durable brakes in all weather conditions are highly desirable if not too expensive.
Convenience and access- Facilitates the most common types of kickstands being attached
- An optional step through frame may better suit older cyclists or women
ModularFacilitates modular usage of 3rd party components. E.g. Helios smart handlebars

- There are other features often included or suggested for utility bikes that aren't justified or practical (unless optional extras), primarily because they aren't necessary and make the bike unaffordable or too high a theft risk:

Other FeaturesWhy unsuitable for the most useful and practical Urban Utility Bikes
Electric power assistAdds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for most cyclists in most cities so should only be an optional feature
Special materials (titanium frames)Adds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists
Personalised components (3D printed)Adds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists
Auto-activated lightsAdds unnecessary cost to the bike and is not a significant safety improvement
Turn signalsAdds unnecessary cost to the bike and is not a significant safety improvement
Automatic gear shiftingAdds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists
Haptic GPS navigation feedbackAdds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists
Smartphone appsAdds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists
USB chargerAdds unnecessary cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists
Embedded GPS trackerGreat if inexpensive and optional but currently would add significant, unnecessary cost
Disc brakesGreat if inexpensive and optional but currently would add significant, unnecessary cost
Expensive drivetrains (Gates belt drive, Alfine 11 speed hubs)Adds significant cost to the bike and is unnecessary for all cyclists

2. Dutch bikes are the norm where utility cycling is mainstream; Developing cycling cities have some additional challenges and desires
- The traditional "Dutch bike" in use in the Netherlands is still the benchmark for daily utility cycling for short to medium distance local trips in most cities where cycling is mainstream. These bikes are very reliable and low maintenance for everyday use in normal clothes, especially when you need to carry things. Though my post below will focus on improving other types of bikes or on revising the Dutch bike, if your circumstances and needs suit a Dutch-style bike, you should certainly consider them.
See:
A view from the cycle path: Anatomy of a reliable, everyday bicycle
In Praise Of The Upright Bike

- Outside of Europe, Dutch bikes from many retailers have tended to be heavy, slow, represent poor value-for-money or prioritise style over practicality. The lack of accessible, inexpensive Dutch bikes has been one reason for their limited use. However, the range, access and affordability are changing and the lower end of these bikes can now be bought for $250. See the "Classic", "Cruiser" and "Vintage" categories on retailer websites. E.g. Bikeexchange - Classic & Vintage category. An example of a low cost bike range is from Nixeycles Bikes.

- In cities like Melbourne, Portland or London, utility cycling is developing but these car-centric cities have some different challenges that have pushed bike choice and design iteration in a different direction:

(a) The range of affordable bikes offered and promoted has been dominated by sport (road bikes), recreation (mountain bikes) and urban sub-cultures (fixies).

(b) Cycling for transport is dominated by commuting to work (not local trips around home) hence the hybrid, flat bar road bikes and city bike categories. Urban design around many cyclists homes does not facilitate using a bike for most practical trips.

(c) Cyclists often wear special cycling clothes/shoes (even for commuting) and often don't want the extra weight of chain guards and full fenders.

(d) Cyclists often choose to ride to get exercise or for recreation and want to go faster and have lighter bikes.

(e) The urban cycling environment requires mixing with traffic (few segregated routes) and narrow handlebars, light bikes, agility and quick acceleration are priorities.

(f) Bikes often have to be picked up to take up/down stairs or onto public transport. The urban design of apartments, workplaces and routes requires carrying a bike much more than in the Netherlands (e.g. where residents have convenient bike garages at ground floor level).

(g) Urban cycling is still often dominated by sub cultures and popular fashion/trends rather than practical considerations and this affects both the options available and the choices made.

3. The majority of potential transport cyclists need practical bicycles yet the big manufacturers keeps pushing sports, recreation and fashion/sub-culture designs
- Outside of the few countries with a mainstream utility cycling culture, the bicycle industry does not focus its product range and innovation on utility cycling, usefulness and solving practical issues of cycling for transport:
British industrial designer Mark Sanders is one of the pioneers of the folding bicycle. He believes that innovation is desired. ’Design and innovation are vital to change the usefulness and image of the bicycle,’ he says, suggesting that if the bicycle is to become our cities’ principal form of transport - as it is in cities in Denmark and in Amsterdam - then designers must start to focus on the ’blue ocean’ of ’non-enthusiasts’. More bicycles are now produced than cars, yet ’the bicycle industry still continues to fuel trends towards using unsuitable sporty and racing bicycles around town’, says Sanders.
Design Week: Peddling new ideas
4. How can non-Dutch bikes be made more useful and practical?
- The unique challenge for cyclists in developing cycling cities is how to make more useful their bikes that aren't designed from the bottom up for utility. These cyclists currently ride city/commuter/hybrid bikes, fixed/single speeds, road bikes or mountain bikes but need to solve problems of storage, low maintenance, lighting, theft, keeping clean and handling varying road/seasonal conditions. But additionally they want the solutions to be flexible (e.g. taking off storage or fenders when not needed), the bike to be as light as possible, speed to be maintained and the bike to look attractive and modern.

- In the rest of this post I'll discuss each of these aspects with respect to a recent design competition - the Oregon Manifest Bike Design Project - which set out this challenge to design teams in five U.S. cities:
The two-wheeled revolution isn’t going to roll out on niche or speciality bikes. It’s going to be born on the streets, and it will be spread by the urban rider. Most people want to lead healthier, more sustainable lives, yet they don’t consider themselves “cyclists”. The Bike Design Project is aimed at these citizen riders – inciting the creation of new bike designs that meet their everyday needs and provide a better transportation experience. 
Design Execution:
- Quality of design, feature integration and final execution should be exceptional.
- Integration: Individual design solutions and features should be integrated into a complete, harmonious aesthetic and functional whole, rather than a checklist of details. Each design element/feature should meld seamlessly with the entire bike.
- Flexibility: Flexibility in features is highly encouraged.
- Quality of Execution: Fabrication reļ¬nement and quality of execution should be evident in each detail.
- Aesthetics: Bikes should reflect fresh, new and original thought appropriate to a modern audience. Bikes should visually attract viewers.
Mandatory Features:
- Anti-Theft System: System should prove to be secure and easy to use.
- Lighting System: System should aid rider vision and provide high visibility on the road.
- Load-Carrying System: Entries should be able to carry a variety of loads through a variety of conditions. System should accommodate a typical user load, such as a bag of groceries, commuter or gym bag, etc.
- Free-standing Under Load System: Bike must free-stand under a variety of loads on a variety of surfaces.
- Fender System: Fender system must keep bike and rider clean.
- Road-tested: Bike should be road-ready and tested.
Oregon Manifest Bike Design Project - The Project
- The style of the bikes produced from Chicago, New York, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle tells you about the current bikes many existing urban cyclists choose to ride in these cities but also something about the priorities of both the target audience and the designers chosen (essentially dream bikes for hipsters by hipsters if money was no object). Bike Snob NYC got in for his usual licks:
Okay, so now you've got the proper context for this contest: it's a parallel universe in which everyone wears plaid shirts and expensive denim while drinking hand-roasted coffee, yet somehow practical bikes don't exist. Fine. Well, it's in this imaginary vacuum that these five bikes were born.
Bike Snob NYC: Just when you think nobody can improve the bicycle, someone proves you right
- Patrick Brady, the chief judge for the North American Handmade Bicycle show, has also critiqued the 2014 Oregon Manifest entries. See:  The major issues Patrick identifies with some of the frame designs are correctable but the bigger problem is creating a design that can be affordably produced at scale:
- It needs to be quick to weld together in a factory setting. To keep costs low, the frame design should require a minimum of new tooling for production. Wild curves and bends can be difficult to reproduce consistently and increase production costs, so most of the tubing should remain straight.
- The bike must be reliable. It needs parts that will last through daily usage, but that’s not all. The parts should be widely available so that if one breaks, you don’t have to wait two weeks for a new one to arrive.
- The bike must use no more tubing than is necessary. It needs to be light (see #4 under rider needs) so that it is easy to pedal. More tubing means more weight and more welds and more to align and more time spent in production, and more cost.
- The bike must be no more expensive than is necessary. Look, a great utility bike that can carry kids and groceries, and has gearing enough to get a rider home will never be cheap, but getting millions of people on utility bikes means making sure they are as affordable as possible, and right now that means overseas production, not some dude in an industrial space in Brooklyn.
- The bike must fit as many people as possible. While it’s possible that multiple family members might use a single bike, the greater reality is that the more one-size-fits-all a bike can be, the easier production is and the easier stock control and planning are for the retailer.
Bikehugger: Oregon Manifests Nothingness

5. A better utility bike is affordable for the majority of city residents
- Unfortunately, most bike designers and builders making innovative bikes miss the most fundamental requirement - an everyday bike needs to be considered affordable by the everyday, city resident. Critically, this includes those who haven't taken up cycling for transport and would not yet be eliminating most of the costs of cars and public transport. See: Actual cycling expenditures prove how cheap cycling can be

- All five of the competition entries failed this requirement completely by creating customised frames and parts (not readily available cheaply) or using expensive materials (e.g. titanium) or using expensive manufacturing processes (3D printing parts) or packing in unnecessary, expensive features (GPS navigation/tracking, smartphone apps, USB charging ports, self-regulating light sensors, etc.)

- In these cities I would set the maximum price most potential, everyday residents might be prepared to pay at around $700 to $1000. I'd estimate most of the Oregon Manifest bikes would have to sell for $1,500 - $3,000 even when scaled back by Fuji. (Update: A designer of the winner - Seattle's "Denny" - estimated the retail cost at $3,000). The Portland design is the most unaffordable and would cost $3,000 - $6,000. The Portland video is a great summary of this self-indulgent, impractical conceit so many designers fall victim to.

"Solid" - Portland bike design by Industry + Ti Cycles

- Interestingly, the owner of Vanmoof bikes agrees that affordability, reducing theft-risk and simplicity are fundamental starting points for better utility bike designs. See: Youtube: Behind the scenes at Vanmoof

6. A better utility bike is easier to protect from theft
- If your bikes keep getting stolen you won't just be riding for transport less but will give it up altogether. And if your bike or its attachments are so expensive and desirable that you don't feel comfortable locking it up outdoors you won't be using it for most of your city trips. Hence, the number one rule of protecting your bike from theft is to not overspend on your bike. See: How to prevent your bike being stolen

 - Yet all of the five bike designs are very expensive, attention-getting and are full of inessential but theft-attracting features. None of these bikes could be parked unsupervised outside on these city's streets and therefore none can be used for the diversity of common trips city residents have (e.g. shopping, eating/drinking out, going to the movies). As an example, the Faraday Porteur is a beautiful and very functional bike but even if it didn't cost as much as $3,500 it stands out as very valuable and desirable.

- If there is potential for security innovation in bike design it is to integrate a quickly-enabled, wheel to frame lock of similar strength to a U lock and provide a solution (e.g. metal eyelets) so that detachable parts (e.g. seat posts, handlebars, etc.) can be locked together if the owner chooses. Instead some of the designers provided useless features like retractable cables which are easily cut.

"Merge" NYC bike design by Pensa + Horse Cycles

- Seattle's "Denny" was the one exception which provides a detachable handlebar that doubles as a U lock. This type of dual-use innovation could be valuable, though the handlebar would need to have similar theft-resistance to a traditional U lock which seems unlikely. On the plus side, if breaking the handlebar lock meant you couldn't use it to ride the bike away that is a definite advantage.

"Denny" Seattle bike design by TEAGUE + Sizemore Bicycle

- It would have been much better if the designers had leveraged the rare ability to innovate with the frame to be more creative in integrating a really strong lock into the frame itself. A super tough chain lock like on the Vanmoof F5 would have been one option:

Vanmoof F5 integrated Abus chain lock

7. A better utility bike is equipped with cheap, theft-proof, integrated dynamo lights or enables detachable lights to be more readily attached
- Dutch bikes typically include integrated, dynamo-powered lights (for at least the front) which don't need to be removed and aren't reliant on batteries. However, these lights can be stolen or broken if a bike is left unattended for lengthy periods and theft risk is high. If such bikes were parked in U.S. cities the dynamo lights would be stolen or damaged often.


- An integrated, efficient, theft-proof, inexpensive dynamo light is desirable but somewhat problematic given it would most likely need to be a hub dynamo and be working all the time (thus causing some drag during daylight). The five bike designs did include integrated lights but none appear to be inexpensive and most include redundant lighting at the sides and for indicating. The NYC Merge seems the best of the lot with a hub dynamo and recessed front and rear lights.


- Excluding dynamos, a good bike design would at least facilitate detachable lights being able to be flexibly fitted to the front and back accommodating the common attachment designs and the fact that saddle bags, mudguards, racks and other attachments (bells, bike computers) may be used.

- Small, detachable, rechargeable USB lights can be had for $20-$50. However, urban cyclists often struggle with them being designed for the seat post only or requiring a certain handlebar size or space. If saddles had well-designed clips to support the common types of detachable lights this would help. See: Essential gear for cycling and what type to get

8. A better utility bike facilitates all common types of storage and attachments
- While Dutch bikes typically have built-in racks, most riders in developing cycling cities want the flexibility of adding and removing different types of storage attachments as they use the same bike for different purposes (commuting, local trips, recreation). This is one unmet need that the Oregon Manifest designers got right - note the flexible, detachable configurations highlighted in San Francisco's entrant, the "Evo":

"Evo" bike design by HUGE Design + 4130 Cycle Works

- Creating new attachment systems (like the Evo does) is useful if they are widely adopted by other attachment/storage makers. However, unique, proprietary systems lock in cyclists to using only the types of attachments that match that bike.


- A useful method for all frame manufacturers to apply is to incorporate more standard frame mounts (typically used for water bottle cages) on both the top and bottom of all of the tubes. These frame mounts can be used by any attachment that the cyclist wishes to add and greatly enhances flexibility depending on needs for that trip. Proper frame mounts also enable greater loads to be carried. E.g. Many front bike racks connect to the down tube but are limited in load capacity due to not having a solid attachment.

9. A better utility bike should not require a kickstand but should enable one to be added
- Some cyclists (myself included) think kickstands are pointless as anytime I am parking my bike I have to lock it up securely anyway. Other cyclists find kickstands very useful for things like loading the bike. A better bike frame would facilitate adding the most common types of add-on kickstands.


10. A better utility bike should include space and attachments for full fenders and detachable mudguards
- Some cyclists will ride in all seasons in ordinary clothes and don't care about a little extra weight and so will want full fenders. Others may strongly prefer not to attach full fenders (due to weight, looks, noise or simplicity) but would appreciate a simple way of adding effective mudguards when they are necessary.

- The problem is that many urban bikes (e.g. single speed/fixie, road bikes) don't enable most full fenders to readily be fitted as they lack the clearance or attachments. Some bikes also don't make it easy to attach rear mudguards to the seat post given other attachment needs.

- Finally, if you can't or don't want to use a full fender at the front, it is very difficult to find a detachable mudguard that extends low enough to protect your shoes and lower legs from spray from the front wheel. Seattle's "Denny" bike design has come up with a minimal fender design for the front wheel. If effective and readily attachable/detachable on most bikes this may be a valuable innovation. Another option would be to attach a brush and guard device to the down tube. See: Finding effective fenders that fit your bike

"Denny" Seattle bike design by TEAGUE + Sizemore Bicycle

11. A better utility bike enables a chain guard to be readily attached
- A full chain case or a partial chain guard protects the cyclist's clothes or gear from being accidentally caught in the chain and also protects the chain from water and dirt. Dirt in the drive train wears down the chain and gears more quickly. If you have multiple exposed gears, cleaning the drive train properly can be cumbersome and time consuming. Hence, a low maintenance utility bike should enable a chain guard to be fitted.

- Many urban cyclists ride single speed bikes which are very easy to clean and where the chain/teeth wear doesn't really lead to chain slippage as the chain distance can be easily adjusted. Other bikes have internal hubs with gears that aren't exposed. Hence, a built-in chain case/guard isn't desired by many of these cyclists as it allows a lighter, more minimal bike.

12. A better utility bike has only the essential gears (single speed or internal) which are low maintenance and not too expensive
- Urban, utility cyclists do not need more than 8 gears, let alone the 24 gears provided by many hybrid, road and mountain bikes with three chain rings at the front and 8 at the back. Bikes with 24 gears also tend to require unnecessary gear changing as the gear ratios are not set up for the individual rider.

- In mostly flat cities, single speed bikes can be easily set up with a gear ratio appropriate to the needs of each rider. You simply need to choose the size of the rear cog. Single speed/Fixed gear bikes are by far the lowest maintenance bikes and the chain ring, rear cog and even chain can last 10,000 - 20,000km. The drive train of single speed bikes needs simple wiping occasionally and only monthly lubrication.

- While geared bikes can be converted to single speed bikes their frames usually have vertical dropouts which then require a chain tensioning pulley to be added which isn't very desirable. See: Sheldon Brown: Singlespeed Bicycle Conversions. Hence, it's much preferable to decide on whether a single speed is suitable upfront and get an appropriate frame, typically with horizontal dropouts. If selecting a single speed bike aim to get one with considerable adjusting range in the horizontal dropout. This may allow you to change rear sprocket size (e.g. by using a flip-flop hub with different sized sprockets) without needing to adjust chain length. It would also be desirable if manufacturers of single speed bikes increased the horizontal dropout range.
See: When is a Single Speed bike most suitable and how to make the most of one

- After single speed bikes, the next best are internal gear hubs, usually containing between 2 and 9 gears. Compared to derailleur gears, internal gear hubs are much more reliable (don't require adjustment), are protected from damage, have much longer lifetimes and the rider can shift gear when stationary. See: Montague Bikes: Why Use an Internal Gear Hub?

- In the Oregon Manifest competition this is one aspect all five bikes get right - four use internal gear hubs (between 3 to 11 gears) and the NYC Merge is a single speed. However, internal gear hubs that are too expensive will simply make the bike a greater theft target than it needs to be. Portland's "Solid" bike comes with a Shimano Alfine Di2 11-speed internal hub that alone costs $400. All of the bikes with internal gear hubs use more expensive options than they need to.

"Solid" - Portland bike with Alfine 11-speed internal hub

13. A better utility bike avoids expensive or uncommon alternatives even if slightly superior and more desirable (e.g. belt drives)
- Belt drives are an alternative to chains and three of the bikes (Chicago, Portland and Seattle) feature belt drives - the popular Gates Carbon Drive. Personally, I'd love to try a belt drive, it's different, cool, sounds quiet and smells like the future. The problem is it's an unnecessary expense, is more complicated to set up, is dependent on very few manufacturers and makes the bike more of a theft target. The extra expense and greater theft risk alone mean it isn't worth the minor benefits over a single speed or internal hub combined with a chain. See:
CyclingAbout: Gate Carbon Belt Drive - Everything you ever need to know
> Cycling Tips: Urban belt drives

Gates Carbon Drive Belt

- The same applies to all other choices of bike components, technology and features - if they are expensive or uncommon then avoid them unless there is a radical boost to utility.

14. A better utility bike supports an upright riding position but also a more aerodynamic position and multiple hand positions
- Cyclists riding in the city, especially if sharing busy roads with vehicles and public transport, need an upright riding position for visibility. Beginner, occasional and older cyclists will also find upright riding positions more comfortable. Bikes create riding positions primarily through the position, type and adjustable height of the handlebar. Road bikes and bikes with drop handlebars are designed for aerodynamic positions which are not upright or comfortable for many riders.

- Raised and swept back handlebars on dutch bikes promote an even more upright position but can be harder to turn and provide less agility in traffic. The Oregon Manifest designers created single speed type bikes and handlebars which support upright positions that are suitable for their style of bike.

- However, the only one of the bikes that supports varied hand positions is Seattle's Denny. It is an unusual design but enabling quite varied hand positions enables riders to mix up the parts of their hands and bodies taking the stress (especially on longer or bumpy trips) and also adopt more aerodynamic positions by leaning forward.

"Denny" Seattle bike with special handlebar

- People who choose single speed type bikes over Dutch bikes are likely to appreciate the ability to lean forward, reduce drag and ride faster at certain times or for longer or recreational trips. Personally, I prefer the bullhorn type of handlebar as it supports upright and aerodynamic positions and 3-4 different hand positions.


15. A better utility bike has a comfortable saddle that suits your riding position
- Saddles are readily interchangeable on bikes and so the important thing is to ensure that the saddle suits the riding position and comfort preferences of the rider. In general though, the more upright the riding position the wider and softer the saddle you'll want as you'll be placing more of your weight on the saddle. See: Dutch Bike Bits: Upright and comfortable - Choosing a saddle for everyday riding

- Saddle comfort becomes more important as you ride more regularly, go for longer rides, change riding positions or get older. Yet aesthetics matter too as younger, hip cyclists prefer the look of thin, narrower saddles compared to thicker, wider ones. Consequently, you should ensure the bike you are interested in can come with a saddle that looks alright and feels comfortable. Most important is to ensure the handlebar type and adjustable height enables you to sit up or lean forward such that your type of saddle is comfortable.

16. A better utility bike has a frame that enables wide tyres and comes with tough rims that don't buckle
- According to the video for "The Blackline", Chicago has 42 million potholes. I can testify that that of all of the developing cycling cities I've ridden in, Chicago has by far the most potholed and roughest roads. Many of the potholes are very deep and would easily buckle rims if hit at speed. The wider the rim, the more spokes and the sturdier (heavier) the less likely it is to buckle so a superior utility bike should come with strong rims and enable wide rims and tyres.

"The Blackline" Chicago bike video - Terrible, potholed roads

- The wider the tyre the lower the pressure and the more comfortable and forgiving the ride. So wider tyres are preferable for comfort on varying surfaces. Wider tyres are also less likely to slip on slippery surfaces (drain covers, tram tracks, painted surfaces) and are safer in urban environments. I recommend utility bikes use tyres between 28-47mm wide. The only reason not to err on the wider side is if your frame clearance is tight or you want to keep the weight down for longer, smoother rides. See: A simple guide on the essentials of wheels, rims and tyres

- Note that one of the biggest issues with many single speed style bikes is that their rims and stock tyres are too narrow (23-25mm) and their frame clearance doesn't often allow tyre widths much beyond 32mm. For some urban conditions (e.g. riding in Chicago all year round) you may wish tyres of 35-60mm so you'll need to choose a bike frame carefully.

Chicago's "The Blackline" has smaller diameter (26") but very wide (60mm) tyres that have excellent grip and are run at low pressure and this seems quite appropriate for safe, all-season riding on its potholed streets.

"The Blackline" Chicago bike - Schwalbe Super Moto tyres

17. A better utility bike can be ridden in all seasons, weather and some off-road surfaces
- Bike frames that enable or come with wide tyres are also safer in wet or icy weather and strong winds. Where it snows or is icy, special studded tyres can be fitted in winter and these make cycling much safer.

- Suspension, such as on mountain bikes, isn't necessary when most riding is done on the road. Nor are very knobbly tyres desirable on smooth roads as they have less grip. If you occasionally travel on off-road surfaces such as gravel, packed dirt or grass and have a bumpier ride then wider tyres with some profile on them are beneficial in these circumstances for better grip and handling.

- All robust utility bikes should be able to get wet regularly without their components rusting though you should keep them indoors where possible, wash salt off and keep them clean and dry to maximise durability. See: Protecting your bike from the weather and dirt. However, it's also important to choose a bike well-suited to your specific environmental conditions. In Chicago which has harsh weather and where salt is used to de-ice roads, I would definitely choose to have full fenders on my bike, would rinse the salt off regularly during winter and may even have a chain guard. In Melbourne, I use mudguards in winter only, don't often clean my bike and never wash it.

18. A better utility bike has effective but not too expensive brakes appropriate to conditions
- In Australia it's dry most of the year in most cities and well-adjusted rim brakes are sufficient; when it's wet you simply need to reduce speeds and be ready to brake early. However, in cities where it's wet a lot, more effective brakes, such as hub brakes, may be worthwhile. See: Sheldon Brown: Bicycle brake choices.

- Disc brakes are much more effective in all weather conditions but are significantly more expensive than cheap rim brakes and do not fit all types of bikes - particularly rear wheels on single speed bikes with horizontal dropouts. They are suitable for front wheels which is where an effective brake is most useful but single speed bikes rarely offer this as a standard option. Cyclocross single speed bikes are the most likely way of getting a disc brake on the front wheel of a single speed.

- For bikes with internal gear hubs, disc brakes are well-suited if affordable and the weather and conditions really merit them. Apart from the NYC Merge (a single speed), all of the other four Oregon Manifest bikes come with disc brakes. If it wasn't for the additional cost making bikes less affordable and at greater risk of theft I would recommend disc brakes for cyclists in wet climates. However, if you need better brakes than rim brakes but the cost of disc brakes is a barrier, consider other hub brakes like roller brakes or drum brakes (e.g. Sturmey Archer).

San Francisco "Evo" bike with disc brakes

19. A better utility bike may have a step through frame if you need it but otherwise diamond/triangle frames provide extra storage (e.g. for U locks)
- Most Dutch bikes do have step through frames as they are easier to mount and dismount by all types of people. However, if you are used to mounting and dismounting a diamond frame then you should stick with it as the top, horizontal tube allows for greater storage options - particularly U locks that can fit within the triangle. Chicago's "The Blackline" has a step through frame and as a result loses some storage options.

My Fuji single speed with the U lock stored under the top tube

20. What might radical innovation in utility bikes really look like
- Advocates of the Oregon Manifest contest bikes have defended their expense and argued they are analogous to concept cars that showcase new ideas that in time may radically transform utility bicycles. However, there were few, if any, superior or new solutions among the 2014 bikes.

- However, that doesn't mean radical innovations that deliver major benefits or solutions for some types of utility cyclists aren't possible. For example, stability, weather protection and enhanced subjective safety are all real barriers to some types of people taking up utility cycling. Trikes, weather farings and seat backs are all ways of solving these problems and such alternative bikes do exist in the Netherlands where all types of people ride.

Drymer bikes

- Unfortunately these types of innovations are the antithesis of cool, sexy and hipsterish and so won't ever make it into competitions like the Oregon Manifest.

21. Better utility bikes or components that are currently available
- I'll collate here some of the better designed utility bikes I've found or seen suggested. However, some of them are more expensive than $700 and would likely only be worthwhile if you rarely needed to park them outside for very long.

(a) Helios smart handlebars
(b) Vanmoof bikes
(c) Breezer transportation bikes
(d) Novara Gotham 2014
(e) State Bicycles - City bikes
(f) Urban Bicycles (Melbourne)
(g) Foffa bikes
(h) Tokyo Bike


Further Info:
A view from the cycle path: Anatomy of a reliable, everyday bicycle

Dutch Bike Bits
> Practical parts for upright bicycles

Oregon Manifest Bike Design Project
> 2014 Bike Design Project competition entries

Bikehugger: Oregon Manifests Nothingness

Gizmag: The Bike Design Project seeks the ultimate urban commuter

A Practical Cyclist: The Oregon Manifest troubles me

Design Week: Pedding new ideas

Copenhagenize: Bicycle Design Archeology - Top Ten Details We Want Back

Bike Snob NYC: Just when you think nobody can improve the bicycle, someone proves you right

Slate: A Beautifully Illustrated History of Nearly Two Centuries of Bicycle Design and Technology

Bikes For The Rest Of Us

In Praise Of The Upright Bike

Hubstripping - Internal gear hub review

Faraday Porteur - People's choice winner of Oregon Manifest 2011 competition

Priority Bicycles
> Kickstarter page: Maintenance-Free Bicycles that Make Cycling Easy

Vanhawks Valour - First ever connected carbon fibre bicycle

Nutlock: Outsmart thieves. Save your wheels. Lock your nuts

Beezodog's Place: This is the bike for Chicago

Cyclr: 5 favourites - What's the best bike for urban commuting

Cylo bikes

The Urban Country: Anatomy of a Dutch Bicycle

Bakfiets en Meer: Overview - Workcycles City Bikes

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