Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Concept Designs In Cycling/MultiSport

Everyone has heard of the Detroit Auto Show, right? This is where all the big names come out to show off their visions of the future of automobile manufacturing. We love to see the amazing new designs, the elegant curve of a fender, the bold statement of chrome a grill, the unusual way the doors may open, etc. This is their way to show the world what wonderful new boundaries they are pushing in style, technology, function and safety.

Concept designs naturally bring about the curiosity in us. We all get excited when we hear that XYZ Company is going to unveil a new technology or design and we can't wait to see it, right? This is true even if it may be something that isn't completely ITU or UCI legal... for now. Concepts are the best way to show the consumer just how far ahead you are thinking as well as how hard you are studying the sport and the needs of the consumer/athlete.

The lack of concept designs in the cycling/multisport industry has kept technology from moving forward as much as it could. For the most part, all technological advances that we see at shows like Interbike are built within current UCI/ITU standards and are part of regular product line to be delivered to retailers the following season.

So why hasn't the cycling/multisport industry typically made use of concept designs? Coming from the manufacturing side of multisport I can tell you that there are two sides to this issue.

Manufacturers in this industry are stretched thin from what I've seen. This means very little if any research is done in coming up with new materials for their own brand. Materials used are most often the ones most easily found and broadly marketed. Yes I do understand about supply as well, and some super high tech materials are produced in low quantity due to price and/or demand. One thing that producing concept designs does is start the process of demand which eventually requires these materials to produced more readily. If no one ever started designing aircraft out of carbon fiber, the abundance would not be near what it is today.

Factories have a pretty set list of materials to use for what they assemble. If you go to them and tell them you want a wetsuit for example, they give you a list of materials that they use and you pick which ones you want them to make it with in order to hit a certain price point. You may also submit your own patterns or work with them to develop some with you. This process almost discourages thinking out of the box because it takes time and money and the factories are usually reluctant to come up with new techniques for assembly and even new equipment to achieve what is needed. Factories can and must be coerced to step beyond their current limitations in order to move ahead.

The companies in the cycling/multisport industry who invest in concept designs are the ones who will ultimately succeed in not only standing out from the crowd, but earning credibility as the authority on the design of a particular product.

Here's a thought, in order to consider something a concept doesn't mean it has to be that from top to bottom. How about "concept on a budget"? That is, take a product from your sellable line and plug in a part, section or feature that is conceptual. In some manufacturing instances this may not work but you will have to figure that out on your own.

Back up your concept. A concept product that looks like everything else, is, well nothing really. At least in the consumer's eyes if it fails to look, function or feel special you will hardly get any attention with it. This also falls in with marketing. The other thing to keep in mind is what it will do for the consumer. A concept design should do something better. Faster, stronger and lighter are all barriers we try to break through in sports. Talk is cheap; you need verifiable numbers that can prove what you are accomplishing.

Include your sales and marketing people in your proposed concept design BEFORE you start. They should be able to tell you if what you propose is something that the retail buyer and consumer needs. Producing concepts which are not congruent with these needs in mind is a waste of time and money, not to mention that you will lose credibility from the industry and consumer.

Don't make the mistake of starting a brand with a concept if you don't have a sustainable, sellable line. What happens in this case is that the consumer says "Wow! That's really cool! So what do you make that I can afford/use right now? Nothing? Oh, well I guess I'm going to have to take my excitement and go purchase something from someone else.” No matter how cool or advanced your concept is, if you don't have something right there to direct the excitement and money toward that they CAN buy, you will inevitably look like, well... a schmuck.

So what are you waiting for? Make this part of your budget and get to work!


  1. Many successful projects don't move forward without buy-in from stakeholders in other parts of a company, including IT, Sales, Logistics... adds necessary costs to an initiative. Although some designers need to work in a vacuum to be uninhibited when developing big idea concepts and creative solutions.

  2. Bill, yes I agree that funding is an issue so it's important that marketing and sales know where they can go with it before it is actually built. It doesnt help the sale of a design to the market if it has features that are looked at with little value by the consumer. The designers are rarely in touch with these needs anymore. Sales and marketing should be the bridge between what the consumer needs and what the designer can make. A simple example might be the problem with designing a floor pump attachment for a transition bag if the consumer/athlete may never use it.

    I have yet to see integrated systems bridging tech for body performance with equipment a person uses (other than clothing and a cooling vest worn pre event for TT). I would only go into detail about this with viable component/frame manufactures. These were studies I did while with Rocket Science Sports, but nothing they had the ability to work on. Not exactly in their field, but related.

  3. Maybe you weren't around for the concept bike era of the mid-90s. Cannondale was famous for producing expensive, useless, concepts:roller skates for front wheels and the Pong bike come to mind. Diamondback had impossible MTBs with snakeskin saddles, hubless wheels, and no apparent drivetrain. Specialized's masterpieces were usually humor-based. Design students do bike concepts all the time, proving that they know little about bicycles.

    Times are a little tougher these days, and few can throw money around like Scott Montgomery did... how'd that work out for you, buddy? All manufacturers should strive to create innovative product, but I doubt we'll see a return to flashy concepts any time soon.

  4. Anonymous,

    Thank you for you input!

    Yes I remember that. That is exactly why design students who know nothing about a sport or a particular product's use shouldn't be involved. I agree that we may not see a return to flashy concepts soon due to the economy, but I do suggest that if done right, those who find a way to blaze that trail will can gain more attention, credibility and grow their market share.

  5. I agree with you. Blazing a trail takes pioneers and believers. My experience to introduce a concept to product developers, cyclist and retailers is proving to be very challenging. Even though I am 100% behind my design there is a sense that unless it is from the top down there is also a wait and see attitude.