Ziba Design X Signal Cycles
Meet the Fremont, built by Ziba Design and Signal Cycles
I am intrigued by side cars and I loved their novel and ingenious design of a ‘transformer-like’ small-wheeled platform. Though it was beautifully executed, my sense is that for the size, it didn’t really pay off on the cargo side of things. Additionally, it appeared that cargo of any significant size would negatively effect the ride quality. The custom cargo bags were particularly attractive to me. I loved the sturdy quality and the playful fabric nod to the ubiquitous brown grocery bag.
As far as bikes that work well for urban utility, the team was smart to design with a step through frame. This is a universally helpful feature when carrying cargo and wearing normal clothes. The choice to spec a belt drive was another wise move. Chain grease and drive side maintenance are annoyances to the every day rider.
The Fremont is an unusual design, that combines a mixte bicycle with a sidecar. Unlike motorcycles with sidecars, the bicycle still is able to lean into corners, which means that it is balanced like a bicycle, rather than steered like a tricycle. This makes it easy to ride. (Of all the bikes reviewed here, the Fremont is the only one I have ridden, albeit only briefly.) The sidecar can flip up and rest on the rack when it is not used. Apart from the sidecar, the Fremont is a very understated design. It will appeal to riders who do not want their bike to stand out.
The sidecar allows carrying even relatively large parcels and other loads, as its loadbed is close to the ground. The sidecar is cute and provides a “Wow” factor, but there are drawbacks: it adds significant weight, and the extra width makes the bike difficult to maneuver in tight spots.
For me, the outstanding design solution of the Fremont are the bags. Not only do they fold flat when not in use, they are easy to install and can be locked to the frame. That way, the rider does not have to take their luggage with them whenever they park the bike. Another big plus is that the Fremont does not require batteries. Even the lights are powered by the generator hub, so the bike always is ready to go and never needs recharging.
Overall, the Fremont appears to be a neat solution for transporting bulky, but not very heavy loads. The sidecar can offer large cargo capacity when needed, and folds out of the way when it is not used. The design may not be ideal for everybody, but some users would find in the Fremont exactly what they need.
I was really looking forward to seeing this bike for the first time. I follow the Signal page on Facebook and appreciate the attention to detail seen in all of their customer bikes; it is something that sets them apart as a builder. So it was a bit of a surprise and maybe even a little bit of a disappointment initially to see a “ Mixtie “ style frame when I first set eyes on the bike. But then it dawned on me, it is actually a great approach for a utility bike designed for a family. While I don’t know if that was their intention, recognizing this allowed me to see the finer details of functionality in this project. All of the obligatory stuff I would expect to see was there, full coverage fenders, hydraulic disc brakes, internal gear hub, belt drive ! (why were there so few belt drive bikes at the Manifest ? sorry that’s another topic) integrated lights, great securing system for the bags and the bike. Couple these with the low slung frame design which offers great fitting latitude for anyone in the family, the 26” wheels which give far greater options in tire choice and the ability to carry a decent amount of stuff and this is a great all around utility bike in my mind.
Design features that really caught my eye were the hub generator to run the bright, well placed lights, the specially designed cable lock that did not allow the handlebars to be turned and the integrated locking mechanism for the side bags, and the fact that the side cart could be flipped up top to be used more like a standard rack.
This ZIBA / SIGNAL bike had almost all the right things to make it a perfect utility bike. Shimano Alfine with a Gates belt drive and hydraulic disc brakes is nearly the perfect drive set up for a bike like this in my opinion. This bike really had just one shortcoming and it was the “ side hack “ style cart. A bike like this has to be able to get around not only the neighborhood bike paths but also bike narrow city bike lanes, parking garages and the like, and it is the cart that hinders.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: This bike came within a hair’s breadth of first place for me. It is just so cool, with a thoughtful and well-executed cargo solution in the convertible sidecar/rear rack. The custom panniers or storage bags are gorgeous, witty, and truly utilitarian; basing them on the classic paper grocery bag was so simple yet so smart. And the 650B wheel size, with its plump tires, is ideal for this bike’s purpose in life. Though bearing the marks of a prototype, this is a pretty fascinating exercise in the possibilities of bike design.
ALIGNMENT WITH CRITERIA: All beautifully considered and accounted for.
HIGHLIGHTS: 1. The aforementioned sidecar/rear rack is both surprising and sort of inevitable, a good thing in the design field. 2. The mixte-style twin top tubes curve to provide ample step-through clearance yet maintain triangulation. 3. The head-tube-integrated lock, which renders the bike useless even if the long braided-steel cable is cut, is a capital idea.
WEAKNESSES: I think this may be the most fully realized design, the closest to a final, replicable product, but there are a few things to point out. First, extend that seat tube! It’s cut off at least six inches too short, and the seatpost is acting as a lever against it. Second, refine the engagement points of the sidecar when converted to rear rack, keeping in mind that any wear patches, over miles and years, will lead to failure. I also worry about the replacement of seatstays with a very handsome but unproven system of horizontal and diagonal stays, especially considering the stresses created by the sidecar/rear rack under load. Extending that seat tube and those diagonal stays to a traditional cluster would remove these fears.
SUMMATION: I would be proud to call this bike my own and can imagine few instances when it wouldn’t be up to the task of carrying your average loads hither and yon with aplomb. Yes, you sacrifice performance with a third wheel loaded and off to the side, but, hey, the thing is convertible, so you’re not stuck with it there. And either way, the ride should prove to be fun.
Meet the Team
Ziba Design exists to create beautiful experiences that are meaningful and relevant to the consumers they are designed for. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Ziba is an internationally renowned strategic design and innovation consultancy with smaller offices in San Diego, Tokyo and Shanghai. Ziba is a dynamic organization that works on projects that range from tactical product design to in-depth strategy. More than 100 smart, talented, creative people collaborate in their Portland studio to work with clients such as: Procter & Gamble, Li-Ning, Philips Respironics, TDK Life on Record and Wacom.
Signal Cycles is Matt Cardinal and Nate Meschke. Art school graduates both, they met at a bike shop and formed Signal in 2007. Each Signal bicycle is drawn, cut, brazed and finished in their North Portland, Oregon workshop. Signal’s Oregon Manifest 2009 entry was featured as one of the top 12 winning solutions for a modern transportation bicycle. In 2008 Signal was commissioned to build a bike for the Rapha Continental project that was classic, fast and rugged enough to be ridden hard over the roughest roads the team could find. Two years ago Signal began supporting a cyclocross team comprised of four close friends and one hard rule: fun first, fast second.