BE Bicycles

Design Thinking, Product Development

Senior Thesis

Industrial Design Program at the University of Cincinnati, 2008
Ben Lewis and Eric Brink


There is a lot going on here. We both loved bikes and wanted to increase the viability of replacing the car. The target was young adults in North America. BE is a company who shared that goal. The emphasis was on expandable storage, integrated lighting, and encouraged personalization.

The name of the company was a twist on the Nike creed – just do it. the BE creed was to empower without forcing change. BE yourself; BE creative; BE inspired; BE bikes. – our mission statement was cyclic. Move Biking Forward, Make Biking Easier. We believed these two statements symbiotically drove each other, much like the cranks and pedals on a bicycle.

To move biking forward we needed to make biking easier. Cycling is one of the most energy efficient uses of the human body known to man, and while there is always room to grow – we knew that this wasn’t our biggest obstacle. What we needed to do was to make biking easier in the hearts and minds of on-the-fence commuters. We also realized that could cycling become a mainstream and universally accepted form of transportation (in addition to competition and recreation) that the infrastructure and community needed to make biking easier would organically emerge. So where do we start? We start with what we have control over.

A part of our concept was to house and financially support volunteer run bike co-operatives out of distribution centers. six days a week the distribution centers would move all of the orders out in major cities by bicycle courier while the evenings and weekends the space could be used to provide cyclists with a place to learn how to work on their bikes. The driving force behind this concept was to cut out the distributors. By providing the parts directly to the bike shops and even to the public we would be able to retain a significant portion of the profits. Also, by supporting the local cycling community we would be directly increasing the number of people on bicycles, which increases our target market. A lofty goal, but we believed it to be well worth the effort.

There are many obvious conveniences in driving a car. In addition, there is also an emotional barrier to replacing your car with a bicycle. In the US we define ourselves by what we drive. And while many transportation cyclist define themselves by riding a bike, we have to acknowledge that the current offering isn’t enough for most people to make the switch. Unfortunately the really good solutions currently on the market (2008) are utilitarian, nerdy, and boring. To win over the hearts and minds of Americans we have to give them everything they are currently getting from their car and more. One of our core concepts is to manufacture our products in a way that lends them to be painted, recovered, and personalized. By allowing consumers a safe and easy way to do so we encourage them to make their bicycle uniquely their own. By selling seats with templates and removable upholstery we encourage the rider to take full ownership of their bike, creating a strong consumer product relationship. By giving people an outlet to make a very personal connection with their bike, we are increasing the chance that we will see this bike on the road being used instead of collecting dust in the garage.

Within the core themes of the company, we split up the technical work on individual projects. Eric worked heavily on expandable storage solutions while I worked on integrated lighting. Both of these concepts were key issues in replacing automobiles with pedal power.

One of the major conveniences of automobiles is trunk space. In a car, you don’t have to plan your consumption. If you remember mid-trip that you need to pick up a gallon of milk, you don’t have to worry about where you are going to put it. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing about bicycles. Our solution was to design a medium sized backpack with a removable support system. The support system would be similar to what is found in Hiking backpacks. The rack would offer additional support for the extra weight. In addition, you could remove the rack from the bag and attach it to the bicycle for extra storage. This offered extra storage without committing to permanent racks or forcing cyclists to plan their consumption.

My main project was integrated lighting. Riding at night is dangerous. Cars are looking for other cars which involves spotting very bright, well powered head and tail lights. The current solution is front and rear strobes, which do a great job of increasing visibility with minimal power and size. The problem is that these lights are attachments, which violate the simple lines of the bicycle, are prone to theft, and are often left at home. Fully integrating them into the bikes components just makes sense. It greatly reduces theft and ensures that you will have them with you when you need them, all while preserving the aesthetics of your bike. For maximum visibility lights should be mounted as high up on the bicycle as possible. For the front that would be the steam and for the rear – the seat post (the back of the seat is often obscured by coats, and bags, eliminating it from the running)

The seat post light was fairly simple. Install a blinking light in the back of a seat post. The challenge was we wanted people to be able to use the components they already owned. While we would offer the lights pre-installed, we would also sell them the guts and a jig allowing the consumer to continue using their own components. If consumers were not comfortable doing this on their own they could take the part to their local bike shop and have their seat post retrofit by professionals. Bicycle parts rarely wear out, the more often just become outdated. The final solution was to create a jig out of the packaging, further reducing waste. and a light that would friction fit into any seat post using foam. The batteries would be in a second unit so that you could swap them out without uninstalling the entire unit. The unit only has two different strobe settings. Solid settings are less visible and use more energy, shortening battery life. The bottom light doubles as a button. hitting it briefly turns the light on and cycles between strobes. To turn the light off you must hold the button for two seconds. If a cyclist feels they have forgotten to turn on their light they may hit the button as many times as they like without the risk of shutting it off.

ExplodedThe stem was another issue. With quill stems, I couldn’t see offering consumers a solution to reuse their stem without heavy metalwork. The solution became a replacement for current parts. The largest design obstacle was battery access. The solution was to have a fully hinged bar clamp. This allows the user to remove the bars to easily access the battery in the body of the stem. It also allows the user to more easily swap out their handlebars. With most classic quill stems the bars must be unwrapped and have the brake levers pulled. With this stem, it wasn’t an issue. The stem would come in two varieties, Race and Comfort. each variety would come in three lengths. The button to turn the light on us located under the light so that you don’t have to worry about accidentally bumping the light on. Unlike the rear light – you are always aware of when your front light is on, so the two second hold to disengage is not a feature on the stem light.