Hot stuff: the IDEO-conceived Coasting bike is taking the US by storm. Will it be a hit in the rest of the world?
Design Council Magazine
Issue 5 Autumn 2008
Fun, cheap, with no gears: will this design inspire us to get on our bikes? Environmentalists, ministers and councils have all urged us to cycle – to no great effect. Robert Jeffery wonders if designers and a new breed of retailers have the answer Saturday morning in a vibrant part of Hackney, east London. In a glass-fronted café just off Regent’s Canal, families tuck into coffee and cakes and chatter. Across the room, a queue of cyclists wait to book their bikes in for repair, trying not to impede staff ferrying cups to tables. Lock 7 is probably London’s first cycle-café. Owner Katherine Burgess was inspired by a trip to Copenhagen, where they are commonplace. “We wanted people to come in, relax and see their bikes being fixed,” she says. “They like the way we talk to them about their bikes.” Informality, she believes, is crucial. “Going to a bike shop can feel like going to a car showroom. You’d only go to one if you were already a cyclist. One woman who came in was worried because her bike felt easier to ride than normal. I asked her ‘Can you change gear?’ and she replied ‘What’s a gear?’ Can you imagine that in a cycle shop?” Burgess, who used to work as a crime scene examiner, has met many customers who don’t fit the cycle shop stereotype, particularly female commuters and parents reintroducing themselves to cycling through their children. Lock 7 sells cheap, second-hand bikes (theft is the scourge of many local cyclists), swaps worn-out models for newer ones and even rents bikes for a small deposit (“so far, every one has come back”). Such a venture may seem far from revolutionary, but Lock 7 and similar outlets appealing to more than just the usual Lycra-clad aficionados are crucial if the British pro-cycling movement is ever to become mainstream and ameliorate the effects of climate change. The stakes are not small. Government body
Cycling England estimates that increasing cycle journeys by a fifth would save the country £520m in healthcare costs and lead to 35,000 fewer tonnes of CO2 being produced. Yet the Western world isn’t getting on its bike. Fewer than one in 200 Americans cycle to work. Despite initiatives, improved infrastructure and publicity campaigns costing millions, only one in six British adults cycled last year and the number of journeys per person is falling. Isolated success stories in London, Cambridge and parts of Yorkshire and Scotland cannot disguise the fact that in an age of increased commuting distances and longer working hours, cycling is more popular as a Sunday afternoon off-road activity than a weekday commute. It is a quandary David Webster has had to wrestle with. A partner in global design consultancy IDEO’s San Francisco operation,
Finishing touches: not every suggested feature (above) was used when the Coasting bike became reality