Monthly Archives: March 2014

Keeping the Bike in Bikeshare

Front45LR (2)

We’re big fans of bikeshare programs, but not of the bikes they generally use. Big, clunky beasts that  handle like  fully-laden dump trucks, theses bikes seem to be an afterthought when designing a bikeshare system. Still, they have some good design features like the low-step-over height and a geometry which allows riders of most sizes to use the bikes without having to raise/lower the handlebar. But there is much room for improvement, especially in two areas: 1) ride experience and 2) durability.

What you are looking at above is a brand new bike specifically designed for the bikeshare market. It’s a prototype (Shh!. You’re looking at sneak photos!) Here are some of it’s key features:

  • American made in Worksman’s solar-powered NYC factory
  • Steel frame for ultimate ride comfort
  • Extensive use of alloy throughout
  • Forged, one-piece cranks
  • Worksman proprietary alloy rolled clincher rims w/ 11 gauge spokes
  • Designed for one-speed rear coaster brake or 3-speed rear fully-enclosed hub brake
  • Front fully-enclosed hub brake w/dynamo
  • Integrated basket/handlebar unit or choice of handlebar/basket set-up
  • Will have fully-enclosed chaingaurd and wheel skirts (not shown)
  • Fat, hi-profile tires for stable handling and shock absorption
  • Can be used with any racking system (traditional or electronic) and any Smartbike Technology
  • Weight: +/- 44 lbs. depending on selected componentry

Now about those two areas we set out to improve:

  1. Ride experience: The bike’s steel frame soaks up the bumps, lumps and road shock of city streets (where bikeshare programs live.) Its short wheelbase make for extremely nimble handling and a nice tall riding position. One spin on this beauty and you’ll be wishing your bikeshare would retire their current fleet!
  2. Durability: Well, we have been the world leader in Industrial Cycles for over 100 years so we know a bit about making tough cycles. This new bike has inherited great genes (and components). Massive 1.5″ steel frame tubing, fully-lugged and hand-welded construction, our legendary rolled clincher (motorcycle-style) rims with 11 gauge spokes and solid, forged one-piece cranks are just the start. Simply put, this bike is the toughest kid on the block.

So here’s your part: what else would you like to see on a bikeshare bike?  We’d love to hear from you!Rear45LR

Yes Virginia, bicycles manufactured in America do exist

Workman Cycles Factory Ahead Of Durable Goods Report

“Dear Manufacturer: Some of my little friends say there are no more bikes made in America. Are they wrong?”

“Virginia, you’re little friends are wrong.”

My apologies to Francis Pharcellus Church, who penned the famous New York Sun editorial in response to little Virginia O’Hanlon’s query, “is there really a Santa Claus?” Mr. Church went on to write perhaps the most famous editorial ever to appear in print. His brilliant response addressed realities that exist in the spiritual world as opposed to those which merely exist in physical manifestations.

But today I will confine my remarks to those which exist in our physical world. In particular, bicycles.  More specifically, American made bicycles. While Church pointed out the failings of those who only accept as real that which they can see, touch and feel, I take issue with those who can see, touch and feel and yet deny reality. In short, those folks that know there are bicycles being manufactured in the United States but spread the untruth that there are not.

Some background.  We were recently contacted by a manager from a mid-western city who asked us whether our bikes are manufactured in the United States. We replied “yes.” Then she asked, “are you sure?” It was an odd follow-up which made us chuckle.” “Yes we are sure, we are sitting in the factory. You can come visit and see for yourself,” we assured her.  Upon further discussion, she told us that a high-profile company in the bikeshare “space” had told her, in response to her question whether there are bikes built in the U.S., that there “were none.”

Now, I am the type that tends to give people the benefit of the doubt. We are not a large company that spends a lot on advertising. Most people do not, in fact, know us or the fact we still manufacture bikes in the U.S. But the fellow that told this manager that “no bike manufacturers exist in the U.S.” knows us – and knows us well. We have worked together. Perhaps he just forgot. Yeah right.

This is not the first time I have run into this. Several years ago at a college sustainability conference where we were displaying our products, a company in an allied industry took to telling people that our bikes were manufactured overseas and were merely assembled in the U.S. The problem was that we knew each other and had even discussed doing joint projects together because, in his words “it would be great for two American manufacturers to team up.”  Sadly, this was not the last time. It happens again and again.

We are grown-ups here.  We are all seeking a competitive edge over our competitors. We are all locked in the eternal  battle for each sale. Sometimes that means things get rough. But as in any competitive arena, there is a line over which we should not cross. For me, that line is lying. Plain and simple. Perhaps I am old-school, but I was taught, and believe, that you should never “trash” the competition. It’s just a poor way to sell. While I have no problem pointing the differences between our products and our competitor’s, I confine my remarks to demonstrable facts. And yes, I even give praise when due. But engaging in flat out falsehoods, or spreading erroneous information, will come back to bite you. That mid-western city is reconsidering their order with the vendor who gave them blatantly false information.

Why does this bother me so much? The cynic will tell me that “it’s only business, it’s not personal.” I flatly reject that I always will. It is personal. Because people work here. People who build bikes to support their families. I know each one by name. The guys who bend tubes and those who weld them. The fellows who paint and  assemble and pack and ship. And the group of women who lace each wheel. Not personal?  Tell them that.

So let me return to paraphrasing the immortal F.P. Church : Yes Virginia, there are bicycles Made in America. They exist as certainly as hard work and devotion and commitment exist, and you know that they abound and bring to your life a joyful and safe ride.

I Remain Bullish on Bikeshare

londonbikeshare2

Relax – – the bikeshare industry in the U.S will be fine. It will not collapse with the implosion of PBSC (Bixi) and will actually emerge stronger.

As with all new industries, the bikeshare industry is transforming. We are shifting from Bikeshare 1.0 to Bikeshare 2.0 if you will. And like other industries, this is a good thing.

First generation technologies always seem (and are) crude, cumbersome, clunky and costly in comparison to future generations. Bikeshare may well be the new poster child of this natural progression. The expansive and expensive racks and kiosks are already on their way out. SmartBike technology, although having considerable room for improvement, is clearly a better solution.

In addition to technology advances, the bikeshare industry will also benefit from new business models and management arrangements. The consultant turned supplier turned manufacturer model is taking on water. Cities are realizing that it’s usually not such a great idea to have the same folks that sell “feasibility studies” be the same as those selling management services and (gasp!) equipment.  In fact, often laws exist that explicitly ban such arrangements. For instance, here in New York it is illegal to be both an environmental testing company and an environmental abatement company. The logic here is obvious.

As we move to Bikeshare 2.0, we will enjoy increasing competition among technology providers, equipment manufacturers and management companies. Concentrating on their specific areas of expertise will yield superior products and greater efficiencies. The ultimate result will be the industry’s advancement towards the grand quest – financial viability.

Of course, there is another partner in all this – the cities who field bikeshare systems.  We need the cities that already have programs – and those considering them – to have some patience and a whole lot of commitment. Bikeshare will only succeed when it is seen as an integral part of the public transportation system and not just a nice amenity. This will take time. Taking Americans out of their cars is a daunting task. Honestly, bikeshare has not even scratched the surface. Its “mode share” is a largely a cannibalization of other public transportation systems and walking. But this will change – slowly. Already we are seeing statistics showing that “millenials” are moving away from cars in huge numbers. Research shows that car ownership among young, urbanites is not very desirable. Bikeshare, along with car sharing services such as ZipCar are making car ownership largely unnecessary for city dwellers. The only people who seemingly do not see this “sea-change” occurring are big city governments who stubbornly continue to support – and indirectly subsidize – car drivers. The best example: the toll-free bridges that span New York’s East River which allow drivers, many of whom live outside the city limits, to travel into Manhattan for free. New York City bears the cost of maintaining the bridges, receives no revenue from these drivers, and disincentivizes them from using mass transit. A better approach is taken in Hangzhou, China where the world’s largest bikeshare program exists. To discourage people from driving into the city, Hangzhou makes their bikeshare free to those using mass transit to enter the city.

All this means the future of the bikeshare industry is bright if it can get past the need/desire of cities to make the bikeshare programs financially self-sustaining “from the git-go.”  Bikeshare can absolutely result in positive revenue if viewed as part the greater overall city financial picture. Imagine, if you will, that New York City slapped a hefty toll on those East River bridges. Drivers just might take another look at mass transit. They will pay for a monthly commutation ticket resulting in higher revenues for the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) and help defray the cost of a massive transit system in which the majority of expenses are fixed costs anyway. Maintenance costs for those bridges will decline if fewer cars use them. Perhaps NYC will even need fewer parking enforcement officers (although at the price of NYC parking tickets the city is probably making out pretty well here!) City streets will be less snarled making buses move faster which may make New Yorkers do the unimaginable – actually like them!  Taken from this perspective, bikeshare may be a great way for cities to actually create new revenues. At the relatively modest cost of establishing a bikeshare program vis-à-vis other major city projects, it may actually be a bargain.

But it takes some vision. Luckily, there is no shortage of that in the bikeshare industry. I have met so many really smart people in this space, particularly young people with brilliant ideas.  I also see a new breed of urban planners taking the reins in city halls across America bringing with them a new vision of the modern city freed from the mayhem of automobiles. One day they will crowd out those who cling to automobile commutation as an “inalienable right” while failing to see the inter-related cost structure of the entire urban transportation mix.  Like I said, it will take some vision. But like I said in the title, I remain bullish on bikeshare.