Seattle Wins The Bike Design Project (Take That, Portland)

Aug 4, 2014

The Denny, a bike created with safety in mind, has won a national Bike Project Design.
The Denny, a bike created with safety in mind, has won a national Bike Project Design.
Credit Taylor Sizemore And Teague

Designers for The Denny.
Designers for The Denny.
Credit The Bike Design Project

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of a victorious Seattle, winning The Bike Design Project.

On Monday, the project announced that The Denny, a utilitarian bike that would likely cost about $3,000, won the honor. Seattle beat New York City, Chicago, Portland and San Francisco. Fuji Bikes has promised to manufacture and sell the winning entry, as determined by members of the cycling public.

Taylor Sizemore and the Denny Bicycle
Taylor Sizemore and the Denny Bicycle
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
The offices of Teague, with all kinds of fancy equipment laying about.
The offices of Teague.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
The 'icon light' beneath the headlight and the front rack helps cars identify the bike as a vehicle and judge its direction. The bike also has turn signals.
The 'icon light' beneath the headlight and the front rack helps cars identify the bike as a vehicle and judge its direction. The bike also has turn signals.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
The Denny has a belt drive instead of a greasy chain. All the gears are hidden in the wheel hub. Smooth shifting is controlled by a computer to keep your feet rotating at the ideal pace.
The Denny has a belt drive instead of a greasy chain. All the gears are hidden in the wheel hub. Smooth shifting is controlled by a computer to keep your feet rotating at the ideal pace.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Taylor Sizemore, a custom bike builder, built The Denny with safety in mind. He was joined by industrial designers from Teague, a firm that has designed the interiors of Boeing jets.

Sizemore became focused on a better bike after an unfortunate crash downtown. “I was splitting lanes between traffic,” he said. The next few seconds are blank in his mind. He only remembers waking on the pavement, his body sore and his shirt torn.

It took Sizemore a moment to figure out how he got there. He recalls thinking, "Oh, I think someone opened their door in front of me. And that's why I'm laying here.” 

Sizemore wasn’t hurt, but the memory of that accident stayed with him.

Then there was the time more recently when a car cut across his bike lane. To avoid a collision, Sizemore had to follow the bike around the curve, like a marble on a roulette wheel.

"My wife was right behind me and she flipped them off," Sizemore said. 

Sizemore doesn't blame that driver, who he believes made an honest mistake. Rather, he chose to vent his frustration by designing a bike that's safer to ride in traffic. 

Sizemore and the design team called their bike "The Denny," as a nod to the Denny family that helped found Seattle. Denny is also a precariously steep street that bridges Capitol Hill and downtown.

Lighting: Confusing Drivers

Lights are one way the team has considered the common bicycle.

Sizemore said most bike lights are hard for drivers to understand. “Traditionally, a bike doesn’t say, 'I’m a bike at night.' It just says, ‘There’s a light floating in the darkness,’” Sizemore said.  

That can frustrate and confuse drivers, who typically can't tell from these lights which direction a bike is facing. 

The Denny borrows its lighting cues from the automobile.

The lights include a broad, icon light below the headlight, turn signals and red brake lights in the rear that illuminate the body of the bike. These combine to give drivers the sense of this thing as a vehicle with a readable direction.

"Your mind puts the puzzle together,” Sizemore said.

Other safety features include a front rack that's mounted on the stable bicycle frame, rather than the pivoting front fork. Sizemore said that makes the bike much more stable.

Electric Assist For Casual Cyclists

One of the most important aspects of a utility bike is convenience. Sizemore said that's the only way to get casual bike riders to adopt a cycling lifestyle.

The Denny has an electric assist, to help you up the hills. And there's no greasy chain, just a clean rubber belt. (Sizemore said that's hardly the most interesting part of this bike, as these belt drive systems are already available.)

Even the gears are hidden inside the bicycle's hub, where a computer silently shifts from gear to gear to keep you pedaling at the optimum speed. Yes, this bike has an automatic transmission.

As for maintenance, occasionally remove a screw and insert a drop of oil.

Weight: No Heavy Lock 

Riders of The Denny would not have to carry around a heavy U-Lock. Instead, the handlebars, shaped as a rectangular loop, can be removed and used to secure the bike.

Sizemore said that creates an additional theft deterrent: Although a determined thief could saw through the lightweight lock, no one wants to steal a bike without handlebars.

Finally, the fender. Most fenders wrap the whole top part of the wheel, but they're cumbersome, heavy and don't fit all bikes. The Denny "messes with the physics of water," Sizemore said, interrupting the momentum of pavement water before it flies up onto your back -- by running a simple rubber brush along the wheel.

"We built the whole fender out of barbecue tools," Sizemore said.

Price Tag: $3,000 (Ouch!)

Sizemore predicts the bikes could cost $3,000 once the bike goes into production.  

“I think it’s worth it," Sizemore said, "because it is really a replacement to your car.”

Cool factor aside, are people really going to see this bike as comparable in value to a car?

Sizemore isn't intimidated. As a custom bike builder whose clients pay top dollar, he said has the evidence he needs.

"People are already spending a lot of money on bikes," Sizemore said. "With this bike, they're going to get a lot more value out of a bike than they'd find in a bike shop."