The Bike Design Project seeks the ultimate urban commuter


July 29, 2014

Pensa/Horse Cycle's Merge is designed for the mean streets of New York City

Pensa/Horse Cycle's Merge is designed for the mean streets of New York City

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Although many people may think of commuter bicycles as being the boring frumpy cousins to fancier road and mountain bikes, lately we've been seeing more and more models featuring all sorts of intriguing innovations for life on the streets. Recently, non-profit group Oregon Manifest invited five design firm/bike-builder teams representing five US cities to create prototypes of the ultimate such bike. Members of the public are being invited to vote for their favorite, with the winning bike getting produced commercially by Fuji Bicycles. Here's a look at the contenders.

Blackline – Chicago

Conceived by the MNML design house and built by Method Bicycles, the Blackline utilizes a Helios handlebar that features a headlight, turn indicators, a USB charging port, plus GPS navigation and location tracking capabilities.

It additionally features a belt drive, sealed 3-speed SRAM hub transmission, and a cargo system that can be configured for a variety of scenarios.

Merge – New York City

The product of a collaboration between the Pensa design firm and Horse Cycles, the Merge's big feature is the fact that it can stay sleek and compact when you just wanna rip around, yet it sports several utilitarian features that can be pulled out from within its frame as needed. These include a spring-loaded rear rack with bungee cord, a rear fender, and a cable lock.

It also has integrated dynamo-powered head- and tail-lights, along with a USB smartphone-charging port and phone-holding pouch/U-lock holster.

Solid – Portland, Oregon

Designed by Industry and built by Ti Cycles, this model features a 3D-printed titanium frame and handlebars, along with haptic feedback. Using the accompanying "Discover My City" app, riders are taken on tours of Portland, guided by buzzes in the bars.

Other features include dynamo-powered sensor-activated lighting, electronic shifters, an embedded GPS module to track it if it gets stolen, and a detachable rack with an integrated lock and strapping system.

EVO – San Francisco

This entry comes from HUGE Design and 4130 Cycle Works. One of its big features is a frame which can quickly and easily accept various quick-release modules, such as front and rear racks, a child seat and a cargo box. The loading and unloading of cargo is made easier by a fork lock function, which keeps the front wheel from turning sideways when the bike is parked.

It also has integrated lights, a retractable cable lock, and a lugged symmetrical steel frame that should be quick and easy to assemble.

Denny – Seattle

Perhaps the most unusual-looking of the bunch, the Denny was designed by Teague and built by Sizemore Bicycle. Its features include an electric assist motor, automatic gear-shifting, an integrated front rack, and a square-shaped handlebar that comes off (or stays on) to act as a lock.

Along with an ambient light sensor that automatically turns on the head- and tail-lights, it also features a brake light, turn indicators, and safety lights that illuminate the road around the bike.

If you want to vote for your fave, you can do so up until noon PST on August 3rd via the link below – you can also read more about the bikes there, along with seeing videos of them in action. The winner will be announced on the 4th, and should begin showing up at Fuji dealers sometime next year.

Source: The Bike Design Project

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Interesting designs, all. I hear it rains in Portland. Maybe that is why the Portland-based design has proper fenders.

Bruce H. Anderson

The modular aspect of the SF bike is way cool! Quick-attach whatever luggage rack you want in no-time.

and one other thing: That Portland bike is sooo bad-ass looking!


this is why it should be illegal for "designers'' to get near a bicycle

yet they can;t resist

would be different if any of them ever rode a bike

apparently they are too busy ''designing'' junk like this that solves problems no rider really has

retractable usb port! phew - why on earth

retractable cable locks that could be cut with blunt nose scissors

retractable fenders - why retract at all? when would you not want them? they aren;t even decent fenders

i'm really shocked they have not figured a way to have the brakes and gears controlled by a stupid APP

let's see if i am wrong the market will speak if any of these is ever produced or sells more than 25 units, email me for a $20 bill, free shipping included



i forgot to comment on the ''printed frame''

A. collapse waiting to happen

B. they went to all that trouble and it;s still ugly?

C. cute model though, i assume to distract from the awful ''design''

D. ''printed" why? just b/c it;s trendy now?



None of those bikes is the one. The ideal bike should be a recumbent. There's less air resistance, and the seat on a recumbent is way more comfortable than any seat on the bikes pictured above.


Would much rather see the focus on light weight, and Electric bikes. That is the future. The 'Merge – New York City' shows a clever hide in the frame rear rack. But why? Keep the rack permanent, and more stream lined. Fenders keep rain and gravel from flying up from wheels, no need to ever retract them. The 'EVO – San Francisco' - has the loading and unloading of cargo made easier by a fork lock function. Why, will most riders be carrying over 50 lbs. of 'cargo'? Not to mention its butt ugliness! Only one worth a vote is 'Solid – Portland, Oregon', but i don't need the "Discover My City" app...pleease!


All of these are triumphs of style over substance, gimmickry over practicality. Cable locks that can be cut in seconds. Rear racks that can only carry small loads on top, rather than in side baskets. All use the standard diamond frame. Step-through would be more practical for urban use. None have the crank forward design popularized by Electra which provides more comfort and the safety of being able to put feet flat on the ground at any time.

Typical "design" competition with emphasis on designers rather than engineers.


There are some interesting features on these bikes but they all lack the main thing in a commuter bike. COMFORT!

I guess the designers of these bikes love the feeling of getting repeatedly kicked in the crotch and having an aching back from having to hunch forward and a sore neck from having to arch it up so they can see the next pothole that will deliver another boot to their crotch.

A comfortable bike allows the rider to sit upright with their weight supported on the butt. There have been well padded, split seats with pivoting halves for many years. Put a power generator in the seat if you feel the need to innovate.

Gregg Eshelman

@wle I will take your $20 bill anytime. Useful or not, I believe there are enough people who will pay for such designs.


@wle I will take your $20 bill anytime. Useful or not, I believe there are enough people who will pay for such designs.

=ha ha. yeah lemme know when fuji [their ''partner'']] is selling any of these things



Review in 3 parts: what I like, what I don't like, what would be nice. Sorry for the length but it is a complete review based on what is presented. Hopefully my only bias is based on years of long distance riding.

What I like:

a. I guess the GPS and cell phone charger are nice. I would never use but almost all the people I know would value it, especially the cell phone chargers. That might even be a reason to purchase the bike for them. The GPS would need to by default prioritize for bike paths and areas with slower traffic, possibly with ability to switch default modes for different legs in trip planning. It would need to hold and store the portion of a trip already planned.

b. The quick release system for the EVO, I believe would be very useful. It allows for light shopping, as well as just running around the neighborhood. Excellent marks from me.

c. The brushes on the Denny if they can actually keep water and mud from being thrown up when riding on roads after a recent rain might be nice versus a fender, but only if the fender adds a significant aerodynamic resistance. I do like that it extends lower than the normal front fender.

d. I like the lower front fender of the Solid.

e. The handlebars for the Denny are a very novel idea. They look thick enough such that a thief would have to use a hacksaw to remove or a pipe cutter. Still easy but not what you would expect the normal thief to be carrying all the time, so maybe more secure. If they can swing around to where handlebars are facing to the operator I might consider using them.

f. I like the electrical assists. I expect they help a lot going up the steep or very long hills. I trust the battery system is large enough to last at least 10 minutes and is very very light.

g. I like the belt drive of the Blackline. I strongly suspect if the gearing system runs well with belts it will require less maintenance than chains.

h. I like the sealed gear system of the Blackline.

i. I am not sure on the electronic shifters but assuming they are fairly basic in the wiring with little if any chance of breaking and not powered by a battery, they could definitely be a plus.

What I do not like:

a. All the bikes are using those skinny long seats. Yes after a couple of hundred miles of regular riding, you do get used to them. But you have to get used to them every year unless you ride year round. Not many places allow you to ride year round. Get something wide, something that supports both sides of your buttocks. As Greg Eshelman said COMFORT very important in a commuter bicycle. The first thing I replace on every one of my bikes is the seat with a wide 16x12 contour seat with gel pad. I used to dread the first couple of weeks of riding after a winter break each year, not anymore.

b. I do not like most of the handlebars. Again as Greg Eshelman said, COMFORT. Only one bike, the Merge possibly has a set of handle bars that do not require the rider to be hunched forward. And that is the second thing I replace on my bikes. I would recommend an option for different handle bars that let the operator sit up straight.

c. Built in wire cable locks?? Why? This is just something to make the purchaser think the bike will have less chance of being stolen. Maybe 90 seconds to steal with wire cutters that fit in pants pockets. No if you want to secure your bike, get your name and/or social security number AND contact information for your local police etched prominently onto the top of the frame. I would also suggest a tracker. Currently there is the Helios ($200) and Spybike ($155), and soon Bikespike ($129). All three have monthly costs after installation for the cell service. If you want a lock go with either the OnGuard 8020 Mastiff ($90) or the Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit Mini ($110). The Mastiff I think has the highest overall rating because it also resists cutting with a metal grinder best.

General comments:

a. I have always suspected recumbent bikes are more comfortable for riding but when I have looked they are always way out of my price range and I ride Cannondales. So a good inexpensive recumbent bike might be nice.

b. As to electric assist, being totally serious this is more a problem, I suspect for Americans though (I am one). We tend to want instant gratification, this includes wanting to immediately for little or no effort to be able to ride up any hills. In countries where biking is very common, people just enjoy the trip. The long uphills are not viewed as a problem and if you must stop for a break on one, you enjoy the scenery. Gearing down to lowest gear to make the climb is not undesirable, that is why they have the low gears and they do not mind that you might be able to walk faster that you are riding.

c. I truly doubt every Solid would be printed if in full production. I fully grant a frame 3d printed would be much stronger if designed right than a rolled metal frame allowing it to also be much lighter. HOWEVER, the costs would be prohibitive, even allowing for a single assembler. Printing a bike frame would probably take over a week and based on the size of the object printed, I am guessing the printer would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per printer, if not millions. 3d printer costs go up with size of area allowed for printing and material that can be used, those capable of metal printing being the most expensive. I do not know of anyone that would be interested in paying at least $10,000 for a commuter bicycle. To cover the costs of the metal and printer, allowing 1 bike to be made a week, that is probably a introductory price. Assuming equipment payoff and depreciation for tax purposes over 5 years. In truth I would expect the price probably to be several times that.

d. Some people call some of the designs ugly. Aesthetics is a function of what a person just happens to find pleasing and what they are used to. The Edsel was called hideous. 6 years later most American cars made and sold actually looked a lot like the Edsel and people called them beautiful. So don't bother calling the bikes ugly, that is just your CURRENT taste.

e. I would suggest using some of the gearing and drive chain devices like the Nuseti ( and Pinion (

f. Fenders do help keep the operator clean and dry but being honest before I retired, when I commuted by bicyle 3-4 times a week, I kept a locker at the gym near where I worked (.5 miles) with fresh clothes. I would ride in (13 miles), shower, and dress for work. Anyone that uses a commuter bicycle for any real distance to work will clean up or people will not want to be in the same office. They can also expect their boss to talk to them about hygiene and maybe get fired.

g. The bicycle should have enough width allowed for using street, hybrid, or mountain tires without any modifications except brake adjustment. The bicycle should allow for all three sets of tires to be purchased at time of purchase of the bicycle.

h. Lastly I do not know the weight or ease of fixing a tire of these bikes, but they must be a major consideration for a commuter bicycle. There is nothing so hard as being 1/2 way to work and getting a flat and having to CARRY your bike on into work. At the minimum the frame should be aluminum if not a lighter material. Run-Flats (yes I know they cost up to $1200 for a set) would also be a good idea especially if the operator is using the commuter bike as regular transportation to work. The number 1 reason people are fired is not showing up for work on time. If I was still working and I was using a bicycle for transportation, I would definitely consider the price of run-flats a valid expense if possible loss of job was the other choice.


I think these designs have some really cool innovative ideas. I love the look of the merge and all the retractable gadgets are pretty nifty if you ask me. I'm sure a lot of the features of these bikes wouldn't make it to production, but thats why they're concepts. They're supposed to reach a bit, and if a couple things don't catch on, then so what? That's the nature of the pusuit of innovation.

Bryan Rule

Cities with the most people who bike to work:

Larry Morris
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