Sunday, May 10, 2009

IKEA and bikes

This past weekend, I passed the architect's equivalent of the "busman's holiday", which is, I spent two days in New York City assembling IKEA furniture for my younger daughter who is moving into her own apartment in NYC to take her first job. (Big milestones, you will I hope agree, and particularly poignant on Mothers' Day weekend.)

I am continually impressed with IKEA's value-engineering of their product. Their simple idea is to deliver good design at the least cost. In this case, "good design" means not only visual appeal but also sturdiness without excess weight or material. These are big challenges also for bicycle design, and IKEA stands out as the world-wide champion of achieving this.

Their approach to value-engineering is relentless, and if you assemble (as I did) eight pieces of furniture and observe their VE technique, it's quite remarkable. In eight pieces of furniture, there was only one mistake in execution (a wrong-handed drawer glide was supplied.) The newer pieces used a composite, rather than all-metal, cam-lock mechanism that was lighter, cheaper (no doubt) and held just as tightly as the old all-metal ones. Perhaps most remarkably, in not one of the pieces I assembled (and I did everything from bookcase to desk to dining table to futon) was there either a hardware piece missing or extra.

It's extremely tempting to ask the question, "If IKEA made a bike, what would it be like?" I'm guessing the specs would be something like this:
  • Two-piece reinforced resin 6 spoke wheels;
  • Sealed press-in cartridge bearings everywhere;
  • One wrench required to assemble the whole thing (probably 6mm);
  • Internally geared 3 speed rear hub assembly, in-hub drum brakes front and rear;
  • Single frame size (also reinforced resin or possibly TIG-welded aluminum);
  • Size adjustments with extra-long, cuttable seatpost;
  • Some innovate approach to a fork (maybe a motorcycle style double-post fork with resin crossbars) to eliminate the expensive headset arrangement;
  • Single-chainwheel crank with either belt drive or lifetime lube chain;
  • Standard saddle and pedal attachments to allow for customization / replacement;
  • One-piece (i.e. non-demountable) bars, grips and brake lever assembly.
All flat-packed and user-assembled, of course. The price would I think be in about the $300 range. It's doable with the current technology (and with the VE technology that IKEA has already assembled.)

Then they should sponsor a team in the Tour. (I'm surprised they don't already -- they must have more money than God.)


WestfieldWanderer said...

Not quite to your spec, but the Paper Bicycle is in the spirit of it, for sure; your words reminded me of it.

Robert Anderson said...

WW, that's an interesting bike design. That rear stay arrangement is unique (designed for advertising?) I'm not sure about the downtube/steerer tube detail. Is it open? Probably not.

A bit pricey -- I think IKEA would have to value-engineer about 50% of the price out of it. Probably through globalization!