Wednesday 13 August 2014

The best existing design solutions for transport utility bicycles

Summary: I have already covered the rationale for worthwhile and undesirable potential features of better utility bikes in: Designing a better utility bike in developing cycling cities. This post will collate the most outstanding, value-for-money design solutions already available in bikes or equipment that add significant usefulness to utility cycling for the majority of people. These include integrated chain locks, low maintenance drivetrains, flexible storage and integrated lights. Most of these examples are currently from Vanmoof as they are the standout designer of practical, robust solutions for utility cycling.

Vanmoof bikes - Look book

Related Posts:

1. High-performing locks integrated into the frame
- The greatest challenge to people in most cities using their own bikes for more types of trips is the risk of bike theft. Vanmoof has come up with a truly innovative, integrated chain lock in partnership with Abus. I would love to try this out personally to establish its suitability as a sole, primary lock (replacing the need for a U lock). But if I owned a Vanmoof bike I would carry a U lock anyway so as to have maximum protection for my bike - U lock the back wheel and chain lock the front wheel.

2. Minimises the chance of theft or damage to components
- Maximising usefulness while minimising the risk of theft and damage requires careful design decisions. Internal gear hubs eliminate damage to derailleurs. Integrated lights set into the frame eliminate theft and damage. Dynamos on the hub rather than rim prevent them being stolen or broken. And battery packs for electrified bikes that are built into the frame in an impregnable way make expensive e-bikes much less of a theft target.

- Vanmoof has consciously designed its bikes to be used every day for all sorts of trips and parked on the street and this is evidenced in the way components are built in and protected.

Vanmoof Electrified

3. Single speed or internal gear hubs
- Low maintenance is an essential aspect of a utility bike you can use daily in any season as non-enthusiasts will get sick of constant cleaning, adjustment and servicing. Hence, utility cyclists should only consider single speed or internal gear hubs (3 to 8 gears). 

- It's also important that the most effective, affordable brake options that match the gearing (single speed or internal) are paired up.

4. Disc brakes or hub brakes on higher-end bikes in wet climates; Low maintenance rim brakes on cheaper bikes in dry climates
- Effective brakes are critical in wet climates but often the disc brakes chosen (e.g. hydraulic ones) add too much cost and complexity to the bike. What is most critical is that the brake type on the bike suits the climate, drivetrain, price point and maintenance/simplicity needs of the cyclist.

- Vanmoof prefers to use quality but not too expensive, cable-pull disc brakes on most models but also has back pedal (coaster) brakes for the rear wheel on cheaper models with internal gear hubs.

Vanmoof D-series - Brakes

5. Lightweight, strong and rust-proof frames with step-through option
- CrMo steel or high quality aluminium are best. For bikes on the heavier side for other reasons (e.g. wheels, drivetrain, storage) aluminium makes most sense. Aluminium is also preferable for climates prone to rust (e.g. snow where salt is used).

- The Vanmoof material choice and treatment is exceptional in being optimised for protection and durability.

- Optional step-through frames are also important to ensure maximum convenience for some types of riders. However, other riders will prefer a horizontal top tube which also provides more storage options - such as for U locks, water bottles, etc.

6. Optimised for low weight, narrow profile and no unused attachments
- In developing cycling cities (e.g. North America, Australia), bikes need to be carried up stairs, onto public transport and into buildings more often and so traditional Dutch bikes are too heavy and cumbersome. Vanmoof optimises weight through designing its own lightweight versions of traditional Dutch features (e.g. chainguards) and integrating only essential components while leaving the rest as optional add-ons. For example, racks, kickstands and even mudguards. Bicycle weight is also clearly identified for comparison between bike types and frames.

- Narrow handlebars and width are also desirable for cyclists sharing the streets with vehicles who wish to filter alongside and pass safely with reduced dooring or collision risk.

7. Integrated, self charging, theft/damage-proof front and back lights
- The 2014 Oregon Manifest bikes all got this balance wrong by integrating more lights than necessary (e.g. turning, ambient) and which were also way too expensive to keep the bike affordable and not theft-magnets. Conversely, Vanmoof engaged in a partnership with Phillips to optimise the best, affordable LED lights available for just the front and back. It also implemented them in a way that minimises the chance of damage and eliminates theft.

Vanmoof D-series - Integrated lights

8. Anti-rust chain or lightweight but robust full chain cover
- Traditional Dutch bikes have heavy full chain covers that many utility cyclists who value lightweight bikes and speed dislike. Many bikes without chain covers do not specially treat the chain to reduce rust. Vanmoof bikes either provide a lightweight, well-fitted chain cover or an anti-rust chain. Vanmoof also explains that belt drives (such as on the 2014 Oregon Manifest bikes) are expensive and not robust given the limited value add:
We wanted a maintenance free, light weight and affordable solution for our chain covers, so we designed our own. Vanmoof partnered with Yung Fang of Taiwan to give you the best fully covered chain cover in the world. An expensive belt drive system for example, simply wasn’t robust enough for urban areas. Drive shaft solutions simply were just too heavy and made you feel like you were riding a tank rather than a bicycle. We chose the chain drive because of its high strength and simplicity. Combined with our new chain cover, this creates the ultimate drivetrain solution for a commuter bike.
Vanmoof F-series - Chain covers and anti-rust chains

9. Wide, highly puncture-resistant tyres with plenty of frame clearance
- Wide tyres (28mm to 47mm) are the best balance for optimising stability, comfort and traction but not making the bike too heavy. For utility cyclists, it's a myth that thin tyres are faster.

- Puncture resistance is the key to reliable, low-maintenance cycling as explained here: Puncture-proof tyres are the key to reliable transport. Vanmoof fits highly puncture-resistant Schwalbe tyres on all of its bikes which is a sign of a bike designed for utility cyclists as there are many cheaper and lighter lower-quality tyre options:

10. Frames, saddles and handlebars that provide appropriate riding positions and flexibility
- Many bike components are chosen in ad hoc ways that do not preference riding positions (the extent you are upright or leaning forward) that are best suited to the specific bike. Vanmoof specifically matches its saddle types to the type of bike and suitable riding. It has also chosen a high quality saddle manufacturer that it believes provides the best saddle types for daily utility cyclists.

Vanmoof S-series - Saddle type, comfort and riding position

Vanmoof B-series - Riding position

- One deficiency of Vanmoof bikes is the lack of a bullhorn handlebar option for its bikes (it does provide a "moustache" option). I find bullhorn handlebars allow riders to use both more upright and more aerodynamic positions while riding (no adjustment of handlebar height is needed).

11. Flexible storage options and attachments that include common 3rd party equipment
- Creating storage attachment mechanisms that are simple and flexible but don't preclude use of equipment from other manufacturers is difficult. Proprietary attachment mechanisms should only be used if the usefulness and diversity of affordable attachments justifies it. Vanmoof provides an optional rear rack that is standard. It's front attachment appears proprietary but the range of options available may justify this method. Note also that the front storage ideally shouldn't obscure the integrated front light.

Vanmoof S-series - Storage

12. Flexible bike usage for different trips and lifestyle developments (e.g. kids)
- Quality bikes are a significant investment and many households don't have room for multiple bikes for each person anyway. Consequently, well-designed utility bikes need to cater for the most common types of trip needs as well as lifestyle changes - such as when you have kids.

- Most Vanmoof bikes provide this flexible capability through the modular, optional design of adding different components via standard mechanisms.

Vanmoof bike with front and back child seats

13. Optional, inexpensive add-ons that offer enhanced utility and advantages
- Vanmoof does an outstanding job of concentrating on offering optional add-ons (available to select at time of purchase) that focus on essential needs rather than flashy bells and whistles. A great example are the high quality Abus wheel locks. Bikes that are highly valuable and attractive need as much lightweight, integrated theft-protection as possible. Wheel locks also provide fast, short-term locking convenience when no other object is available.

Vanmoof - Abus Amparo lock

14. Optimising components and design for low maintenance at different price points
- Durable, low maintenance components are a key to reliable utility bikes and internal gear hubs, rust-proof materials and protected drivetrains are highly valuable. However, different low maintenance solutions apply at different price points. Vanmoof bikes are closer to the $1000 end and hence disc brakes are justified for most models. For those that want a very inexpensive, low maintenance bike for short, lower speed trips then back-pedal brakes may be preferable.

- Priority Bicycles has been very successful on Kickstarter because it has pitched itself as a very affordable ($350-$400), maintenance-free bike. I would question whether the belt drive is really better in the long run than a rust-resistant chain that needs occasional lubrication, but the conscious optimisation of low maintenance components is welcome:
Our bicycles should not require routine maintenance for many years assuming the bicycle is being used for recreational purposes. Traditional bikes on the market not only require technical knowledge for assembly, but also require routine upkeep on the derailleurs, brakes, and chain. Priority Bicycles assemble in just a few simple steps, and we’ve engineered smart design decisions such as internal hub gears and braking which can go years without needing any service. Our bikes also feature a belt instead of a standard chain; no lubrication is required, and our belt is expected to last between two and ten times longer than a traditional roller chain. Priority Bicycles are also built with rust-free aluminum frames and puncture-resistant tires.
Maintenance-Free Bicycles that Make Cycling Easy
Priority Bicycles: About the bike

15. Easily folding handlebars and pedals that minimise space needs
- Complete folding bikes are most useful for those combining cycling with public transport or who regularly need to carry their bike (e.g. park indoors). However, most bikes remain full size and there has been little innovation in providing quick ways to minimise the space bikes need. The ThinBike by Schindelhauer is an exception and it will be interesting to see if this innovation can be extended to conventional pedals and handlebars.

Schindelhauer Bikes: ThinBike

Further Info:
> Bikemania: Commuting bikes - Sells Vanmoofs internationally