Framing before painting
As you may know by now, some time ago I got the idea for an electric adventure motorcycle while nearly running out of fuel in the desert. Once an idea gets me really excited, I frankly just want to flat-out start creating it. Although my passion and drive are invaluable and essential, I also realise that it is good practise to first take a step back and analyse the idea. Is my idea still relevant once it is finished? Does it suit the world it has to function in? How can it fulfil my needs and desires?
Essentially, I’m first creating a framework before starting on the actual creative engineering. It’s like framing before painting.
From context —> interaction —> product
My analysis started by researching the future. How are we going to live, recreate, travel and work in the future? What technologies are prevalent? I shaped the research results into a future context. Basically, a description of a future world, the way I see it. Although it is my own description of the future, this doesn’t mean I will automatically follow and implement the predicted developments. Therefore, I defined a context statement; my stance within this future world.
Context statement: “We want to escape the digitised and automated environment and reinforce “analog” adventure.”
The interaction is designed in such a way that it gives the desired interaction between the world and the product.
The second step involved defining the desired interaction of the future product with the world and with myself, the user. How is the interaction helping to achieve the context statement? What kind of feeling should it fulfil? How does it remain or become relevant in the world it is used in.
I defined 6 interaction qualities that I think are required for future products to interact with the world and the user:
The third step is defining the framework for the new product. What sort of product should it be, what is the desired functionality.
My initial idea started with an electric adventure motorcycle. By defining a future context and interaction qualities however, it became rather generic. It could be applied to designing all kinds of adventure products. So, are we still going for a motorcycle?
With its added 3rd dimension, traveling by air arguably offers the most freedom. However, from above you are more a distant observer than being immersed into nature. For me, traveling by motorcycle is one of the most liberating ways of exploring the world. No windscreen, no structure between you and nature. If you really want to explore nature and want to leave the paved road, an adventure motorcycles brings you the flexibility like no other.
So, maybe unsurprisingly, a motorcycle it is!
Two wheelers (single track) is way more flexible and adaptable to difficult terrain.
From use-case to required functionality
My adventures through the USA and Europe gave me a good sense of the adventure motorcycle use-case. Typically, the riding starts after breakfast in the early morning. With plenty of intermediate stops for sightseeing, food and fuel, riding stops just before sunset. All in all, a whole lot of time is spent on the bike, and therefore it needs to be comfortable.
Road conditions more or less dictate the daily distance travelled. The better the road, the longer the distance. On average ±400km is travelled on a day. Fast charging is not available everywhere and I also don’t expect it to be in the near and medium term. Getting the desired range with batteries means that the motorcycle must be as efficient as possible to stretch between charging points.
To summarise, this is the general required functionality:
- Carry one person comfortably from A to B
- Road conditions: ranges from smooth highway to single track off-road paths
- Comfort: From sunrise to sunset
- Efficient: It should have a range of ±400km
- Luggage: Sleeping bag, tent, clothes, water, food etc.
- Tools: Survival gear, tools, first aid kit etc.
- Location: From city centre to remote areas
- It should be fun and agile to ride
- Maintenance free
In the fall of 2014 I, together with a friend, rode from Nijmegen to Istanbul and back in 17 days. The variety of conditions, scenery and environment are the exemplary for how an adventure motorcycle is used.
All the functionality as indicated before, translates into a simple packaging study. I begin with the seating position of the rider. Comfort, control, visibility, styling and Centre of Gravity (CoG) all define the seating position and location of the rider between the wheels. I investigated various seating positions. Laying forward, backward etc. However, the old fashioned upright position offers perfect control, visibility and comfort. Remember, we have to challenge rough terrain, where standing on the foot pegs is needed for optimal control.
An electric bike of course needs some kind of energy storage. Either a lot of batteries or some kind of fuel cell and fuel. The energy storage is by far the heaviest element of the bike, I want it as low down and as close to the middle of bike as possible. This offers the best handling on- and off-road.
From experience I know how luggage panniers can negatively impact the riding dynamics. Centre of Gravity is shifted rearwards, aerodynamics is negatively impacted and getting on and off your bike gets less easy. Also, putting luggage at the back requires a heavy reinforced frame, increasing overall weight.
Traditionally adventure motorcycles (left) have the luggage at the back of the bike. It is all driven by the space needed for the internal combustion engine. A new to be evaluated concept positions the luggage in front of the rider.
If you study existing adventure bikes, there is a huge volume in the tank area. It houses the fuel tank, a large airbox for the engine and a sturdy frame for mounting the front forks. It would be the ideal area for luggage. It keeps the centre of gravity forward, improves the overall aerodynamics and doesn’t need a heavy rear frame section. One caveat however, if I position the luggage in front of the rider, I will have to come up with an alternative suspension and steering design.
A selection of the essential gear needed for a motorcycle adventure. This will all have to fit practically in front of the rider.
In most cases, the production method will influence the way you design your product. In my case that is no different. Ever since my studies I have been fascinated by additive manufacturing and the principle of cradle-to-cradle. To me they are complementary to the idea of boutique manufacturing.
Boutique manufacturing = a method used for the custom production of certain products in limited quantities by hand or with a restricted level of automation – Wikipedia
Additive manufacturing, in my eyes, is a perfect manufacturing technique to make customised parts in low quantities. Locally, with local resources and without tooling. Upgrading parts to newer specification is possible by using the old part as a resource. Designing complex parts, integrating functionality out of one material where you normally would assembly it out of various parts and materials. Not only does this reduce assembly time and the number of assembly steps, but it makes cradle-to-cradle recycling also easier.
Boutique manufacturing has the following consequences to the design:
- Create a product that can be easily taken apart.
- Use materials that can be reused as much as possible
- Limit the number of materials used
- Integrate functions and components in one part
- Adapt to the local market conditions
- Work with local resources
Local manufacturing influences the engineering and design process.
Before jumping straight into the creative process, a framework is required. It sets the boundaries of the project, defines the kind of product and gives general requirements.
In this article I finalised the framework for the adventure motorcycle. The framework is defined by:
- A future context, describing the world it is used in
- The desired interaction with the user and the world around it
- Product category
- A typical use case
- The product volume with the initial packaging
- The desired manufacturing principle
From here on the creative process begins.