I've got a problem with Cycle Chic. And that problem is the word chic.
Chic is shorthand for “superficial consumer fad” and “wasted attention.” Yet, I imagine what would be the consequences of a massively popular bike. I'm talking on the scale of an Oprah-endorsed bike.
Everybody look under your seats. You get a bike. And you get a bike. And you get a bike…
Now imagine an Oprah-endorsed bike made by Apple.
Imagine celebrities biking to the Oscars just to be seen on their ‘oBikes.’
These thoughts are making me nauseous.
My not-so-inner curmudgeon imagines living in such a world:
Look at those stupid conformist faddists, on their stupid overpriced oBikes…
Look at those stupid wanna-be bike companies making their stupid knockoffs…
Look at those stupid motorists feeling envious–instead of hostile–whenever they see a cyclist on one…
Look at those stupid motorist buying an oBike just to keep up with the stupid fad…
Look at one less stupid… car… on… the… road…
Look at stupid… safer… streets… for… cyclists…
Look at stupid… me.
Suddenly this tipping point looks not only desirable, but within reach.
Last year, there was a ripple of excitement when Apple filed a patent application for some bike-related thing. However, it’s unlikely that Apple is going to make an actual bike.
But I did find a bunch of blog posts imagining what an Apple bike would be like.
Some are thoughtful, like this from A Practical Cyclist:
- It would be iconic; recognizable as the thing that it is (that is, it would be a realization of a classic design rather than a revolutionary design.)
- It would feature obsessive attention to detail.
- It would focus on the user experience.
- It would definitively fix problems with the product category that users didn’t realize they had.
- It would be visually beautiful and a tactile delight.
- It would co-promote other products made by Apple as part of a lifestyle.
- It would be expensive, a stretch for the pocketbook; something that conveys status, but stops short of aloofness.
- It would be value-engineered, so Apple could make a decent profit.
- It would be sold only through the Apple store. (duh.)
- There would be tremendous opportunity to create a third-party “add-on” ecosystem.
I also found some snark in imagining an Apple bike, such as this from Soul Cyclist:
- No 4mm bolts for water bottle cages, you’d have to have a special star screwdriver, purchased at the local Bike Genius bar in the Apple Store
- They would invent a new tire size, thus making it all the more difficult for bike shops and bike geeks to stock replacement tires/tubes. Hello 27 and 3/8 inch tire, goodbye 700c, 26″ or 29″!
- Basic things that all bikes do would be missing from the first generation of the new Apple Bike (think Copy/Paste on your iPhone).
- You couldn’t ever upgrade your Apple bike. Brake pads worn out? Tough, buy a new bike or send the entire bike to Apple for replacement. Want to change out the bottom bracket, handlebars, or saddle for something new and lightweight? You just voided your warranty friend!
- Any local bike shop that stocked the Apple Bike would be required to have its mechanics Apple Bike Certified (ABC) by attending training in Cupertino. Nevermind if you were a mechanic on Team Discovery in 2002, that’s not good enough for the Apple Bike.
- New names: Apple would invent new names for things that already have names. Steering would become “Gesture Based Cycling,” pedaling would become “Human Power Assist”
- The Apple Bike would be announced with much fanfare and anticipation by Steve Jobs as the “One More Thing” but it wouldn’t be released for at least six months. Upon release, it would immediately sell out, grace the cover of Time Magazine, and cause bike/computer geeks to once again roll their eyes as the full force of the Reality Distortion Field takes effect
- A new sub-culture of Apple Bike Enthusiasts would loudly proclaim on the internet and elsewhere that the bicycle really didn’t exist before Apple came into the market, that the Apple Bike is Bicycling Perfection. They’d probably even get a lycra-clad racer to star opposite the Mac Guy in new Apple Bike ads.
Recently I even piled on about a hypothetical Apple Bike:
…I'd have to pay 99 ¢ every time I went somewhere I hadn't been before. And when we upgraded to a new bike, would I be able to transfer all of my previous routes to my new bike?
Experienced cyclists would hate it, and blogs like this one would be full of posts, comments, and flame wars all about it.
It would be glorious.
In the absence of the Oprah-Apple bike partnership, many bike designers are trying to crack the code for the ultimate consumerist bike.
But what is the code? Come on, we must have some ideas.
Eric Estlund, the custom frame maker says there’s no point designing the ideal commuter bike, because there isn’t one. But maybe Estlund’s world is full of bike geeks who know what they want, right down to the micron.
In contrast, Oprah’s world is full of people who want to be told what to buy–plus they want to feel all enlightened for buying it.
(Apple’s world certainly is full of these kind of people–I type these words on a Mac Mini.)
Designer Mark Sanders seems to believe that the code includes an upright riding position and a folding design. The bike is an enhancement to a car-centric lifestyle. The videos of the IF Mode folding bike show an attractive couple who end their bike ride by folding the bikes and putting them into the trunk of a car. Sanders is a designer and a realist.
Ultra Motor thinks the code includes electric power or electric assist, combined with a sexy frame design. But the design is just about impossible to throw in a car trunk, or mount it easily on a standard car bike rack.
Crate and Barrel seems to think the code includes appealing to Dutchophiles, but to keep Americans in their comfort zone they add a McDonald’s color scheme .
And there are endless student designs, which for some reason must always be white–like props from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Part of the code, as expressed in these examples, is that the bike should look different.
If you want to start a consumer fad, the product needs to be conspicuous when in use.
Segway at least had the two-wheels part, and the conspicuous part right. And they definitely had the hype right–although the product itself did not exactly live up to the hype. But Segway proved that Oprah and Apple aren’t necessarily part of the code.
Imagine that someone does manage to crack the code.
Now imagine of all these bike faddists wanting to bike commute, and realizing that they don’t want to lock their bikes outside. Imagine them demanding that their employers provide secure parking. Imagine employers complying because bikes have become viewed as possessions owned by normal mainstream people–not by kooky members of a niche subculture.
Imagine the health benefits. Imagine the environmental benefits. Imagine… Oh hell, you’re a most likely a cyclist if you’re reading this. You already know the benefits.
But try not to think like a cyclist. What do you suppose is missing from the code? How would the bike have to look, or ride? What would it have to do in order to start a wildfire of mass consumer bike lust?
And to anyone out there in the bike industry working on cracking the code for the ultimate consumerist bike (you too Oprah and Steve Jobs if you’re reading this): How can we help?