Here on Design Milk, we feature a lot of independent designers, brands and retailers from around the world. As of late, we’ve noticed an exploding bike industry around the United States, and in particular, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thanks to universities and big tech companies, young people are finding their way to Pittsburgh. And, more recently, they’ve been finding their way around town on two wheels. With this new explosion of cycling, there is so much to talk about in terms of new and innovative bike-related products. To find out more about advances in bike design and small business growth, we’ve teamed up with American Express to talk to a few small Pittsburgh bicycle shops that embody the spirit of Shop Small® in their small businesses.
We spoke with Jill Dugan and Don Mosites of Top Gear Bicycle Shop, which started out with two shops back in 2005. Since then, they’ve added four more shops: two Trek stores and four Top Gear shops. Although they have multiple locations, the homegrown Pittsburgh brand of Top Gear is still small and feels very much like a local fixture in the PGH bike community. “We pride ourselves in having the friendliest and most knowledgeable staff in town. Whether our customers are first time rails-to-trails riders, mountain bikers, or seasoned road racers, our staff is equipped to provide the personal attention needed to enhance all aspects of the cycling lifestyle,” Jill told me. They also boast a pretty sweet setup for Trek’s Project One bike customization program…so we got the scoop:
Customization is a popular trend in design right now. Tell me a little more about Trek Bike’s Project One program.
Project One is a custom bike program offered by Trek that is available for high-end road and mountain bike models. It allows the consumer to design a bicycle from the ground up to best fit their needs and aesthetic. The customer first chooses what model of bike they desire from a list of performance-oriented road and mountain styles. Then components are selected, allowing for brand or gear ratios to be chosen according to customer preference. Bike fit can be dialed in with choices of frame size and geometry, handlebar width, and crank length – all controlled by the customer. Aero or lightweight wheels may be spec’d based on the rider needs.
The coolest aspect of the Project One program, custom paint, comes after the model and parts have all been picked out. An array of graphic styles is available for each frame model, each with a rainbow of paint colors to choose from. The possibilities are endless! A customer can completely control how stealth or obnoxious their new ride will be.
Project One is really aimed at the discerning customer, someone for whom an off-the-rack bike just won’t cut it. These are generally experienced riders who know what they like. It allows them to design a bike specifically for their individual needs, rather than buy a stock model that they would then need to upgrade or modify. It is also aimed at the customer who doesn’t want to look like everyone else in the pack. They want their bike to be unique and eye-catching, a rolling piece of art.
As a local Trek dealer, we work with customers to help them design their bike on Trek’s Project One website. The bikes are custom painted, spec’d, and packed in Wisconsin, and then shipped to us for final assembly by a professional mechanic.
Anything that is radically different from tradition, generates buzz and excitement in our stores, and encourages customers to buy and try new product is what we want to see for the future.
From tech to performance to aesthetics, who is doing innovative stuff in the bike industry right now?
In short – everyone! Some tech developments start out with small component companies doing one-off products that really take off, becoming industry standards. Many start with one of the big-name companies, like Shimano or Sram, and trickle down to everyone else. Larger companies tend to have the money to put behind R&D for groundbreaking technological advances in the industry (electronic shifting, suspension design), whereas small companies tend to specialize in very specific niche technology (adaptations to what the big guys are doing, improvements to existing product).
Similar trends are seen with new styles of bicycles. We see really neat oddball ideas come out of the woodwork, gain momentum, and then be refined by larger companies. Fat bikes are a great example of this. A few years ago we saw just a few small companies making fat tire “snow bikes,” and many of them rode like a bike with big heavy fat wheels. Great for plowing through snow, but not performance oriented. Fat bikes became popular, large companies refined frame and wheel designs, and now we have bikes like the Trek Farley that perform almost as efficiently as a cross country race rig.
Conversely, large companies that support pro-level teams have built-in sources for ideas and product testers in their sponsored riders. The Trek Domane is a prime example of this. Though designed with professional racing at Europe’s Spring Classics in mind, the Domane’s Isospeed technology has been well received by customers of all levels seeking endurance comfort on the road without sacrificing efficiency.
While aesthetics are of utmost importance across the board in the cycling industry, it seems like small companies and individuals really shine in this department. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is a prime example of how aesthetics can be at the forefront of bike design. This is really an exhibit of 2-wheeled art! Materials range from the usual selection of metals to carbon fiber to wood to plastic. Innovation in material use, visual appeal, and handcrafted quality are often the focus here vs. high-end performance.
That being said, let’s not forget that Trek’s Project One program is a great example of a focus on aesthetics by a large company!
What is the design-minded bike enthusiast looking for when it comes to bike design?
The avid enthusiast is where we see bike design start to play a bigger role in decision-making. These customers have already been riding for a while and know they love the sport. They know what features they like about a bike and which ones they can live without. They are generally more willing to put money towards a bike because they know that they will use and love it.
Personal taste really drives what aspects of the bike the customer wants to put money into. Some riders are very focused on technology and the ride of the bike, so new drivetrain components, an upgraded wheelset, or a carbon fiber frame may be money well spent. This tech design is something that the rider can really feel, but only a trained eye may notice the difference by looking at the bike. Other riders go for visual appeal. They want the frame to be their favorite color, or different from what everyone else on the group ride is riding, or they want the bike to match their team kit. A flashy Project One paint job with a more mid-level component spec may be money well spent for this customer.
What does Shopping Small mean to you?
Shopping Small means trying to make your purchases as close to home as possible, though not always only in a physical sense. It’s about conscious purchasing and making the effort to spend money with locally owned and operated businesses whenever possible.
Read the rest of the posts in this series here.
This post is promoted by American Express – committed to connecting small merchants to more customers through the Shop Small® movement. Are you a small business owner? Learn about the value of accepting American Express® Cards here.
Photos by Quelcy Kogel.