Though I mostly came up with questions based on where the conversation was going, I did have some basic questions ready on hand in case a topic or tangent ended. Here are some of them:
I found that letting them guide the conversation based on their passions in biking, commuting, or sustainability, however, were more interesting and I ended up learning more that way.
I ended up interviewing three people with different perspectives son the biking world — an avid rider, a bike tech/seller, and someone who works in public biking systems. For that reason, I had to be on my toes in terms of questioning them.
My first interview was with a friends of mine’s mom’s friend. I was connected with her because of Facebook, seeing tagged photos of her and my friend’s mom where she was riding a lot. For this reason, I focused my questions on the experience of riding and what struggles and triumphs she found in the gear and experiences she had.
While I was aware that Kris rode a lot recreationally (100–150 miles regularly) on her fat tire bike, I was pleased and surprised to find out that she also commutes to work every single day — she even chooses not to own 2 cars between her and her husband because of it. Kris lives in Winona, Minnesota, a relatively small town and works at Winona State University, which is about a 15 minute ride away from her house. She rides to and from work every day, as well as home for lunch — totaling 4 times there and back.
This interview was very product focused. We talked a lot about the gear she uses and what she likes to have on her when she is commuting. It was interesting to hear her take on products as opposed to the others that I interviewed because she is well off in a career and able to afford nice biking gear. She also comes from a long-distance running background (she actually got into biking because of a running injury) and thinks there are a lot of similarities between the two sports in terms of gear.
She told me a lot about her loves and frustrations of sport backpacks, back tire biking racks, bike lights, rain gear, sunglasses, fanny packs, fenders, and buffs. She also enlightened me about how she has become a part of/built a community of bikers on Facebook. They send out ride alerts and often get together for longs rides leading to campfires, beers, and music festivals. She says that these people are some of the most accepting and eclectic people she’s ever met and I thought that was really cool to hear about! I want to put a survey together for her to send to this network of people.
“They will accept anyone — and I mean anyone — to come ride with them.”
“It’s the best part of my day. I love having the routine that the first thing I do every morning is spend some time by myself outside.”
“I have inspired a lot of women that thought that it would be too hard to dress business casual and bike to work. 3 people now bike to work at least sometimes because of me!”
Lydia from the bike shop:
The next person I interviewed is a person who works at a bike shop that I visited. I kindly approached her mentioning that I was a student wanted to interview her as though I wanted to buy something. I ended up talking to her about that but also much more. In general, I focused my questions to be from a buyer’s perspective, asking her opinion on a lot of existing products and stuff like that.
She’s 33 and works there full-time. She bikes to work every day and doesn’t find it that weird or out-of-place considering where she works. Though she rides a really nice bike, a Marin, she mentioned that she does not own a lot of the gadgets and gear that they sell in the store because a lot of it is very expensive. She herself own a back tire rack with a bag, lights, a helmet, and some special clothing. Other things, she said, she will rig up as ‘make shift’ — using carabiners or bungees.
Lydia also rides for long periods of time, often with friends and will camp on the way and make trips out of biking. For that purpose, they use a ‘bike trailor’. She will also use gear that she normally wouldn’t use for a short commute because of theft, like strap-on handle bar bags or additional strap-on lights.
When picking her brain on how she would talk to someone who wanted to buy gear for bike commuting, she said the things she would ask were:
1. Seriousness of the commute (length, time, how often)
2. Physicality of person (when buying gear, they ask about your bacl, if you sweat a lot, etc.)
3. Budget / prioritizing purchases
“I’ve had to rig up a lot of different gadgets on my bike. I still just tie my rain jacket around the crossbar when I ride.”
“You’d be surprised on how many people come in here wanting to buy everything to commute all at once, like they decided that day that they were going to be bike commuters — lucky rich people haha.”
“I actually steer people away from buying baskets in they are serious commuters. There are so many more options with a rack + bag — they are waterproof and some can detach to become a backpack.”
Rachel is a friend of a friend who works at the University Parking and Transportation Dept. — very closely with the Zap! Program and Minneapolis Bike Coalition. She’s 22, a recent graduate, and bikes to work (and before, school) most days. Because of where she works, we ended up talking a lot about the systems of biking in MPLS and I found myself learning a lot about the bigger picture from her than expected. Her perspective was also unique because she still identifies as a ‘broke college kid’ and rides what she called a “Target-bike” (in reference to her basically unbranded un-fancy bike, like one you could find at Target).
She gave a lot of cool insights about biking infrastructure and how Minneapolis has the best in the country, statistically. Even so, though, she had a lot of frustrations on how far we still had to go. We talked about bike safety, and how a line on the road was not enough. She mentioned that St. Paul is starting to get it right — with things as simple as a flower/tree bed separating the two lanes.
She also had a lot of “why-I-do-it”s. She was really passionate about sustainability and why she wants to increase the number of bikes on the road because of that. She talked about working with the Zap! Program, which is a system that puts little tags on bikes and has satellites all over the city that track how much people commute. They use that for data, but they also give away incentives and prizes for people who bike 18 days our of the month. She also does it because her commute acts as an “at least” exercise, meaning she will at least be active and outside for that amount of time each day.
“If it’s not waterproof, it’s useless.”
“I wish more people would just try. It’s not that hard if you are prepared!”
“I love working here because I actually think this type of thing is really important looking to the future of transportation.”
Observe (Part 1):
Sitting in FiveWatt (it was cold!!!!) observing Hennepin Ave during afternoon rush hour:
“Weird” things that I noticed:
- I saw mostly men
- Most were wearing helmets! I actually did not think this would be the case.
- None looked like they were wearing any special clothing apart from a raincoat
“Make shift” could-be products:
- A guy was holding an umbrella while biking
- Guy holding a Target bag or two on his handlebar — would work but would be kind of annoying
- Saw multiple backpacks inside of a garbage bag (smart!!)
Observe (Part 2) Market Survey:
I went ‘shopping’ at The Hub Bike Shop in the Longfellow neighborhood because it is a fairly common chain bike show in the Twin Cities Area. They had a huge selection of products made for bikes, but I gravitated towards the commuting gear — packs, fenders, lights, clothing (or lack thereof), etc.
Rack ran from $75-$200 just for the rack. Then there were multiple different packs that could connect to them. The most interesting of which, in my opinions, was one that acted as an over-the-back-wheel pack and then detached to become a backpack. I noticed that they all had a similar look to them as well — with not much difference or specialty in terms of aesthetic.
The Hub also had a lack of outdoor clothing, which through interviews, I learned is a very important part of commuting via bike. I didn’t ask, but I wonder where people go to find this stuff. My best guess would be REI or something similar.
The ‘Commuter Pack” (picture in the top middle photo) seemed like their shining star pack. It was waterproof and big — but not too big. It says it sat low on the back in order to avoid blind spots, which is something I hadn’t though of. It ran at $80, which I didn’t think was totally outrageous for a product like that.
The biking section at Target was much different than that of The Hub. It was much more targeted at families and regular consumers. That being said, it did have a lot of things that The Hub didn’t, like baby carriers and padding. Not to much surprise, the price of this stuff was generally lower but they had less selection.
Often you can find a lot of things online that you can not find in any random store — not matter how specialized it is. I googled “essential products for bike commuters” and got sooo many results. I picked out some that I had not seen in stores, much less even heard of.
This list on theactivetimes.com had a lot of innovative products (tire patches, foldable bikes) as well as often overlooked things like socks that are actually very essential when it comes to commuting in the rain of cold weather. They made me get out of thinking just about what I had talked about with my interviewees and into thinking outside of the box.
This list on bicycling.com has a lot of cool products and insights in terms of clothing and ways to accommodate biking to the office. It has a whole list of breathable, stylish cycling wear that could be rocked at the office here.
They also mentioned a super simple but not-so-obvious hack: using baby wipes when you get to the office to freshen up!
To start unpacking, I went through my interview notes and highlighted things that I though were interesting. I wrote them all down on post-its, not focusing on what category they might fall into later. I came up with a lot of different findings — some of which overlapped each other but all were useful!
Then, I sat and looked at all of them, writing down overarching categories on a different colored post-it. Those were: gear, bikes, the why-not’s, the why’s, organizations, safety, infrastructure, and demographics. This helped me organize what kinds of things I learned and also what was relevant to this project at all. I did find that even though some things didn’t relate directly to commuting, they still came in handy in terms of thinking of these types of problems different. They also gave clarity to the bigger picture in which a product that I make would have to fall into.
The pink post-its are showing where my major insights came from. I tried to pick things in many different categories so I did not pigeon-hole my ideas early on.
- “Could adapt more features of a car.” Rachel mentioned this to me during out interview — I thought it was interesting to look at a bike as something that you’re going to spend a lot of time on just as we do with cars.
- “Good” gear = too expensive for most. Is there a way to make specialty gear more accessible?
- “If it’s not waterproof, its useless.” Thought a little bit obvious, this set a new constraint on any product that I develop. It also made we start thinking of other materials that are waterproof (camping gear, rain coats, other waterproof backpacks).
- The notion that commuting to work would result in dirty or wet clothes — would need a shower at work or something. This came up a lot in conversation: the fact that a lot of people believe that it would be a hassle and they don’t have the luxury that some do in terms of locker rooms at work or something similar.
- “Bike culture is super inclusive.” I think this is an important thing to keep in mind and be motivated by.
- The Zap! program is a really cool and one of the first incentive programs for bike commuting. It brought up ideas about app-based products or systems.
- Bike safety is a major concern. Ignorant drivers are a given / a line on the street is not enough for a bike lane.
- Minneapolis is the best biking city in the US, but there is still a lot to go. I began thinking/researching ways that we are different Copenhagen because I studied abroad there and have a lot of personal experience in the city that has the most bikers and bike lanes in the world.
- Most hard-core commuters are unconcerned with aesthetics of gear while biking. But, does that mean that people who do not commute are? I think that it a ‘why-not’ for people.
- Organizations want to start targeting people who aren’t in biking culture to increase awareness and commuting. They are moving away from people already doing it and trying to convince more people to do it.
“___ needs a way to ___ because ____”
- People with a low/regular income need a way to acquire good commuting gear because the stuff that is out there is very expensive.
- Semi-professional workers need a way to remain presentable within their bike commute because they cannot show up to work sweaty, wet, or dirty.
- Biking organizations need a way to reach to more people uninvolved in ‘bike culture’ because for the future, commuting with a bike need to become a priority.
Thursday 10/3 — Interview Kris about commuting via bike, write information in post
Friday 10/4 — Interview Jake about commuting via bike, visit Midtown Greenway to observe, go to bike shop on the Greenway to browse (if it’s not busy, ask a worker to interview them/set a time to interview)
Saturday 10/5 — Cannot work this day.
Sunday 10/6 — Visit Varsity Bike Shop and/or Erik’s in Dinkytown, visit Stone Arch Bridge to observe people’s biking behavior, write a majority of blog post based on knowledge that I have up until this point
Monday 10/7 — Unpack/Determine major insights
Tuesday 10/8 — Unpack more if needed, determine problem statements
Wednesday 10/9 — Finish blog post