Bike Designer  What They Do

Just the Facts


Commercial and Industrial Designers Career Video



Insider Info

dot"The principal task of bicycle design is to get a machine to properly fit the person," says designer Steve Robson. He says it is important to know drafting and metal fabrication (welding, for example). If you start your own bike building business, be a jack of all trades.

The bicycle hasn't changed much in the past century. However, it has undergone a material facelift, says Ross Petty of Massachusetts. He studies bicycle culture. At one time, bicycles were made of cast iron. Today, lighter materials dominate.

"To enjoy this job, you must like to tinker with mechanical stuff, whether it be an old car, motorcycle or your mom's washing machine," says Washington-based bike designer Brady O'Hare. "You must like to build stuff and tear it apart."

Equally important, he says, is getting down on the floor and knowing how to mold and physically build frames.

dotThe design of a bicycle begins on a sheet of paper, says O'Hare. Then it moves to a computer. "[On the computer], the bicycle is just as real as an apple in my hand. I can tell you the weight, the shape, and rotate it."

Once the dimensions are as O'Hare wants, he tweaks the design and has it built. It takes about four weeks to build a prototype, he says. He invents about 1,000 designs a year.

Mark Schroeder has worked as an engineering director for a large bicycle manufacturer. Schroeder says engineers and industrial designers can work together on bicycles. "The industrial designer is concerned with the outward appearance and shape. The engineer is concerned with materials, strength and performance."

In a lab, Schroeder builds prototypes. He also tests the strength and durability of bikes by breaking them.

The work of an independent frame builder is more specialized. Steve Rex designs bikes for individuals. He likens himself to a custom tailor. "I do a fitting using a sizing cycle. I find out what kind of riding the person does, then do a full-size drawing. Then I cut tubes and weld them together."

dotBicycle designers work in bike shops or the workroom of an independent frame builder. If a bike designer is hired by a large corporation, they will most likely work in the research and development division of the company. A typical workweek is about 60 hours.

O'Hare says he spends less than 50 percent of his time at the computer. He also spends time with engineers, travels to dealer sites, and attends bike races. His favorite part of his job, however, is testing bikes. "I get paid money to ride bikes and to break $5,000 bikes. That's the coolest job in the world," says O'Hare.

At a Glance

Plan our two-wheeled transportation

  • A typical workweek is about 60 hours
  • It takes about four weeks to build a prototype
  • An education in engineering is highly recommended