When Oregon Manifest asked us if we were interested in teaming up with a local bike builder to design and build the ultimate utility bike and then added the fact that the 2014 version would invite four of our most respected peers from across the nation, we couldn’t resist some healthy competition. The word spread quickly around the studio. Designers, hackers, and tech-nerds were clamoring to be a part of it. Throwing out ideas before we’d even got the brief! Much like Seattle, the city we now call home—we all had our own perspective on biking; from serious mileage riding across the Alps to the fixie purest. Much of that opinion emanated from the core team’s diverse origins (France, Holland, Germany, South Korea, and the USA) and our experiences of living and riding in those different countries.
First task? Find the perfect bike builder, one who would share in our vision, but also push us in equal measure. We met Taylor Sizemore through our friends at Makerhaus, a local creative workspace that provides the tools and education needed for the community of makers in Seattle. Our first date consisted of burritos and a tour of his workshop. As designers, we geeked out on the decisions he’d made on some of the previous bike builds hanging up in his space.
What was especially great was to see how similar his approach was to ours, in that when building a build a bike from scratch, the starting point is always the user itself. Understanding the needs of his customer dictated everything from the physical construction, type of ride, gearing, tire choice all the way down to the paint color and finish.
As much as we love bikes, Sizemore is part of the biking fabric of Seattle, illustrated by his knowledge, interesting perspective, and the salutations from bikers he receives every time we go for lunch with him. It’s that knowledge that we’ve leveraged to observe and analyze the bike culture in Seattle. With the goal of the competition to design the ultimate urban utility bike for our respective cities, we enlisted the help of Emilie Belis, our trend analyst, to help us clearly differentiate the three West Coast cities; Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.
What makes Seattle so special—besides the rain and the coffee—is that every neighborhood has its own unique vibe and subculture. Capitol Hill is sprawling with trendy hipsters, bars, and nightlife. South Lake Union is a modern urban hive with the tech giant Amazon behind its rapid face-lift. Ballard, surrounded by water, boats, and salmon, takes its vibe from Nordic ancestry, while Fremont strikes its own bohemian flavor, celebrated through the annual summer solstice naked bike parade.
With such variety, truly identifying the common needs of Seattleites has been a fun challenge. The city as a whole is compact, but spread out. Hills and frequent rain define some of the more core functional needs, while the temperate climate introduces the opportunity for year-round biking. Lastly, bike trails start downtown and wander out easily to the famous evergreen and blue landscape on our doorstep. A multi-faceted challenge indeed. So stay tuned.