13 March 2007

Qualitative research leads to new bicycle “for fun”

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When Japanese bike part manufacturer Shimano set out to make a bicycle aimed at America’s dwindling group of casual bikers, they enlisted the help of design consultancy IDEO, and embarked on a qualitative research and design process that eventually lead to the “Coasting” bicycle (see also this Core77 post).

The background to their research was the realisation, revealed by a Bicycling Magazine survey, that the number of casual bikers had dropped nearly 50% in the last decade, whereas the number of cycling “enthusiasts” has nearly tripled in the same time. That means that there were more than 160 million Americans currently not riding bikes—an enormous potential market.

As reported by United’s Hemispheres magazine, IDEO sent a team of “industrial anthropologists” to 50 homes to get an in-depth look at how people spend their leisure time.

Shimano execs and even some bicycling nerds within IDEO assumed the primary reason people didn’t want to ride would be “heaviness” and “laziness.” Turns out they were dead wrong.

What they learned was that everyone loved their memories of bicycling as a kid. It was for them a “memory of a simple pleasure, an elemental enjoyment”.

In other words, says the Hempisheres article, “people just wanted to putter around rather than become fitness freaks.”

Unfortunately, that idea of puttering was being lost at the typical bicycle store, where potential customers looking for a pleasant way to spend a Saturday were encountering Spandex-clad bike geeks expounding about technology and performance.

IDEO and Shimano saw two challenges: First, create a new bicycle designed with the casual cyclist in mind—simple, comfortable, affordable and designed primarily for fun, not fitness. And second, they had to redesign the retail experience.

So first they designed a prototype with the casual cyclist in mind—simple, comfortable, affordable and designed primarily for fun, not fitness—and encouraged the big bike manufacturers like Raleigh, Giant and Trek to tailor it to their own company style.

Then they expanded the experience to the bike shop—by making dealers more sympathetic to, or at least aware of, the needs of noncyclists through online training and DVDs—and to people’s bicycling activities: the web site www.coasting.com serves as a bulletin board for the new hobbyists, with information about routes and rides in 15 cities around the U.S.

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(via Acres & Acres)

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