IDEO X Rock Lobster Cycles
Meet the Faraday, built by IDEO and Rock Lobster Cycles
• Integrated electric hub motor, lithium-ion battery pack, and custom cycle computer for seamless electric pedal assist when desired.
• Quick-release front rack mechanism to rapidly add, remove, or exchange various cargo-carrying accessories.
• Built-in high-powered front and rear lights with ambient light sensing
• Hand-made leather bag and details, grips, steam-bent ash fenders, and other custom accessories.
There is something profoundly elegant about this bike. I experienced it as a flawless design execution. While the idea of a front rack is not novel, the modular plug-in platform is brilliant. The prototyping and thought that went into deciding upon a frame geometry that would work well with front cargo appears to be accurate from my own experience. Having spent a bit of time working on improvements to existing electric assist integrations, I have great respect for the innovations and design execution for this facet to the bike. I have no doubt that the work that went into the design and fabrication of the electric side alone was easily equal to the rest of the bike. Other notable features: fast charging battery technology (~10-15 min for a full charge), internal wiring and light sensor for turning on the lights when it is dark. The internal 11 speed rear hub is a nice choice for this bike. Putting the hub motor in front makes sense with the cargo assuring good traction. Cargo + Electric is like chocolate and peanut butter – both are better when put together. I believe that the only way that the masses will ever ride daily for transportation is with the ability to carry cargo and a simple, elegant electric boost.
Contrasting with the other entries, the Faraday is a bicycle with two wheels, and it may be the better for it. It is an attractive machine that strikes a good balance between striking looks and understated aesthetics. Off all three entrants, this one probably is the most useful to most riders, as it’s easy to ride, easy to park, and easy to store at home.
The large front rack provides easily accessible cargo capacity. Riders can just load their briefcase, shopping bags, soccer balls or what they may need to carry, secure them with an elastic net, and ride off. The front-end geometry has been carefully designed to optimize the handling with this load, making the bike easy to ride at all speeds. The electric assist motor enables even novice riders to cover the large distances and steep terrain found in many North American cities. Fenders keep the rider dry and clean, and integrated lights allow riding in the dark.
I liked the front rack, which is mounted to the frame to provide the best low-speed handling. (A fork-mounted rack provides better high-speed handling, but at the expense of wobbliness at very low speeds.) The hidden battery pack makes this bike so much more attractive than most electric-assist bikes. I especially appreciated the she special software to make the electric assist more seamless than that of most current bikes.
In conclusion, I hope that all three designs will make it to production or influence the bikes we can buy to handle our transportation needs.
This bike struck a chord with me almost immediately, my first thoughts were that this is a very well thought out bike and it is definitely my favorite of the three. Visually I love the traditional lines and the striking integrated racking system actually added to the appeal. Again we have the right type of drivetrain and braking systems, and the very smart addition of electric assist! What got me most though is what’s missing… a big, ugly, heavy battery that seems to be on every other electric assisted bike I’ve seen. Other savvy well thought out features continued to impress upon closer inspection. I really felt the data collection sensors to help determine just how much help you get from the motor was a very cool touch.
Smaller 26” wheels to keep the weight down lower…. While I know there are those that would have preferred a faster 700c wheel, I’ve always appreciated the versatility of the 26” wheel approach, not only for lower CG but also for the greater selection in tires available to meet specific conditions… a utility bike isn’t about speed. There are many artful touches on this bike as well, and you can see them highlighted in the pictures below. Things like the handmade full coverage wooden fenders, the custom leather chainstay protector, cool chain link cutouts in the chain guard that line up with the actual link plates on the chain, the well placed lighting system, and quick plug charge for the lightweight integrated battery.
One of the other top design solutions for me is the modular approach to the racking system. I can see at least a half dozen varying types of racks / holders etc… that could be designed for this bike, easily making it one of the most versatile utility bikes of the show.
If I had to make one nitpick about this bike it would be the brakes, although they likely chose the mechanical brakes due to the lever choice, they really should be full hydraulics for a utility bike. Other than that I didn’t really see any weaknesses with this bike. This is a bike I’d love to have for an extended test session !
OVERALL IMPRESSION: My top pick of the three—and not just because it’s the sexiest and most conceptually successful. For me, the most important criteria are that the bike be practical, versatile, elegant, thoughtful, well-engineered, and, most important, a dynamic, real-world performance vehicle. And the Faraday is all of these things, despite its being one of those newfangled e-bikes, which run counter to my Puritanical belief that a bicycle’s engine is by definition its human. Otherwise, it’s a motorcycle, right? Well, dammit, this isn’t a motorcycle. It’s a brilliant update of the French porteur with a little lightning up its butt, and I love it. And a long-distance high five to those Californians for the clever name and great logo.
ALIGNMENT WITH CRITERIA: Answers all except, to the best of my knowledge, an integrated anti-theft system. Lighting and modular-rack systems are extraordinary. Fenders are pretty but don’t provide adequate coverage.
HIGHLIGHTS: 1. The thoughtful evolution of the porteur (essentially a swift delivery bike), especially the integration of a modular front rack into the bike’s main tubes, instead of being attached to the fork. 2. Also of utmost importance is the geometry, which was properly spec’d with increased fork rake, necessary for hauling loads up front and preserving good handling. 3. The electric motor and lighting system, as well as the innovative use of the double top tubes for battery storage and lighting, are key to this design’s success.
WEAKNESSES: How would I refine this bike? Fork: rather than a straight-blade fork, curved blades provide much better shock absorption, crucial in a front-loading design. Seat tube: the seat tube should not extend more than an inch above the top tube; as is, it limits the range of saddle positions and places the saddle far above the handlebars (rather than roughly even), which creates uncomfortable pressure on the wrists, resulting in fatigue and soreness in the wrists and back and neck pain. This bike was obviously designed for a taller rider, but the stem should be taller, raising the bars, for the best fit. Rear dropouts: horizontal track dropouts seem to necessitate rear-fender removal before you can pull the wheel out; but even if you can squeeze the wheel out, possibly only by deflating the tire, I don’t see the purpose of using this dropout versus a vertical design.
SUMMATION: If I were told I could take one of these bikes home but had to always use it instead of a car, this is the one I’d choose.
Meet the Team
IDEO is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. IDEO identifies new ways to serve and support people by uncovering latent needs, behaviors, and desires. They envision new companies and brands and design the products, services, spaces, and interactive experiences that bring them to life. Ranked as one of the most innovative companies in the world by Boston Consulting Group, IDEO has offices in Palo Alto, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Munich, London and Shanghai.
Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cylces built his first bike frame in 1978 as a hobbyist while working in a bicycle shop in Santa Cruz, Calif. Six years later he introduced the first Rock Lobster mountain bike. Highly regarded in the frame building community, Paul is known as a specialist in single speed mountain bikes, light weight road racing bikes, and cyclocross bikes of all types. The Rock Lobster brand has been active in competitive cycling for over twenty years with a strong Bay Area cyclocross presence since 2004. The Rock Lobster team roster boasts a national champion and medalists. In addition to building, Paul teaches and inspires the next wave of frame builders at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon.