John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
If trends continue, we'll all soon be riding extremely well-designed mopeds.
In the coming years, what mutations can we expect to see in bicycle design in American cities?
To judge from a national contest to make the "next-wave urban bike," it will be things like turn signals, automatic-gear shifters, and motors—almost everything you'd expect on a good moped.
Perhaps that was the point of the Bike Design Project, a collaboration among Levi's, the nonprofit group Oregon Manifest, and others. Here's a snippet from the project's mission statement:
The two-wheeled revolution isn't going to roll out on niche or specialty bikes. It's going to be born on the streets, and it will be spread by the urban rider.
Most people want to lead healthier, more sustainable lives, yet they don't consider themselves "cyclists." The Bike Design Project is aimed at these citizen riders—inciting the creation of new bike designs that meet their everyday needs and provide a better transportation experience.
Smell that whiff of contradiction? If you're ditching a car to become healthy and climate-friendly, fine, buying one of these utility bikes is a good way to go. But compared to a traditional cycle, these decked-out machines remove the pain and add some problems. They could contribute to environmental degradation if batteries and electronics aren't recycled properly. And with that power assist, you can jet down to the 7-Eleven for some Hot Pockets without barely burning a calorie. But maybe these are just outdated opinions from a caveman who likes to sweat on his 2007 Trek hybrid.
All the cutting-edge style trends are on display in the design that won this week, a model called "Denny" from Teague and Sizemore Bicycle in Seattle. (Fuji Bikes will manufacture it for distribution by next year.) There's computerized gear shifting, power assist, LED brake lights and turn signals, lights that dim or brighten according to ambient conditions, and a cute little brush that removes water from the back wheel—a fully weaponized package against Seattle's pesky hills and rain. The handlebar doubles as a removable lock and there's also a cargo platform to strap down your tray of coffee. Have a look: