In its 15th year, The Cycle Show attracts around 30,000 visitors and, on average, they spend £1,400 annually on their love of cycling. More than two million people across the UK now cycle at least once a week, which is an all-time high according to British Cycling, the sport's governing body in the UK. Increasing numbers of women and younger adults contribute to those numbers, but the market tends to focus on the "mamils" (middle aged men in Lycra) because they have more disposable income and spend the most on their bikes. However, many designers also have a passion for cycling - not least because more of them are cycling to and from the studio. This is leading to new products and brands that are less about Lycra and more about style and culture. So, I wandered through the show looking for design stories. Here are four that show the breadth of business opportunities and design strategies in this growing market:
Innovating the familiar: Headkayse
Headkayse is a new foldable cycle helmet, created with design input from Bristol-based product design agency Realise Design (www.realisedesign.co.uk). Designer Andrew Redman was so committed that he became a Director of Headkayse to develop the potential. Taking on an incumbent model of product design is no easy feat. Cycle helmets haven’t really changed in decades. They are conventionally made from expanded polystyrene in a rigid plastic shell. A soft and foldable helmet offers convenience when it comes to carrying it in your bag, but the flexibility of Headkayse is more importantly about safety. Standard helmets should be replaced even if you drop them on a hard floor. This is because knocks will reduce the shock absorbing capability. In contrast, the Headkayse design will survive everyday knocks without losing any impact protection; it will absorb multiple heavy impacts; and provides softer cushioning at lower speeds to reduce concussion. All very logical, so success will surely follow for this new product. I very much hope so, but in business, do not underestimate how hard it can be to sell something radically new into an established market. A document on the website, written by Andrew, reveals some of the design hurdles that the Headkayse team has already overcome. And while you are at the website, you can pre-order.
Designing entirely new ideas: VeloCityLight
This new product was created by a team from a digital agency based in Edinbugh (www.1partcarbon.co.uk). It’s an LED light that sits on the back of a bike and displays the speed it is going. By giving more information to drivers the light acts as a mental stimulus and distinguishes this design from the ‘white noise’ of other red lights – that makes car drivers think more carefully as they approach and therefore makes you safer. And as an unexpected aside, if you are a more serious road cyclist that trains with friends or colleagues, the VeloCityLight will keep your group informed about the lead speed – this is proving a popular reason to purchase. As often happens in creative agencies, the VeloCityLight was originally one of those ‘passion projects’ that gathered momentum. But it takes a huge amount of time, skill, and importantly, investment, to develop new products (particularly electronic ones) and after an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign they put significant funds into this themselves. This type of product development has an added layer of difficulty when it comes to branding and marketing. Many of us like new ideas, but there is a risk that we start Googling for ‘one of those lights that shows your speed’ because we haven’t yet got a specific name for that ‘thing we saw on a bike’. It leaves a potential gap for fast-follower competitors and is one of the challenges of being first to market. But from what the team suggested, we will be seeing VeloCityLight more widely in the market soon. Until then, buy directly from their website and support another British (Scottish) design.
New business models: Elephant Bike
If you have seen Toms Shoes, you will have heard of their very successful “buy one, give one” business model where your purchase is matched with a donated product to a developing country. Elephant Bike uses that model and so at first I thought it was certainly interesting and very worthwhile, but not new. However, the Elephant Bike story goes further still. This charity took on the collection, storage and shipping of 20,000 decommissioned ‘postal bikes’ that could otherwise have been scrapped. Of those, 5,000 were authorised to be reconditioned and sold in the UK for the incredibly good price of just £280. These purchases cover the costs of the reconditioning and the shipping of the remaining bikes to one of the affiliated social enterprises in Africa, where owning a bike can mean securing work, generating an income, or being able to get an education. If that wasn’t enough, here in the UK Elephant Bike works in partnership with HM Prisons. Offenders are developing their employment skills by helping the company to refurbish the bikes. They strip the frames prior to professional shot-blasting and powder coating. Offenders are given the chance to attain a certificate in bicycle maintenance, boosting their skills, confidence and likelihood of gaining employment. This is a design strategy that goes way beyond the form and function of the product to the system level of rethinking, recycling and reuse. Circular economy stuff that we need far more of. These very robust bikes that are perfect for around-town shopping can be ordered online and delivered to your door.
Re-styling the clunky: The Oi bicycle bell from Knog
Knog is an Australian company that has been successfully designing bike locks and lights since 2002. They describe themselves as “a team of creative designers and engineers who refuse to conform to anyone or anything”. They have one of the more familiar design strategies of taking recognized products to a new level of style, quality and performance that creates ‘high value designer goods’. But they go on to explain something that I would agree with: “what we've learnt is that design makes up only about 10-20% of what it is to run a successful brand. The other 80-90% are equally important: marketing/sales, logistics, shipping, public relations, advertising, point of sale, quality assurance and consumer service”. When they launched their latest product – the Oi bicycle bell – they chose to run a crowdfunding campaign. It was a phenomenal success and exceeded its target in just six hours. But, in another example of the politics of business, their distributors across the world were not necessarily happy with what they felt was Knog bypassing them and going straight to the consumer. Co-founder Hugo Davison sticks by the decision to take this route. “This will lead to more sales for distributors. Kickstarter was always seen as a marketing tool, not just a fund-raiser. The Kickstarter community adds a lot of benefits. We’ve been paying a lot of attention to the comments, and some of the improvements will make it on to the final product.” That finalised design can now be preordered online.