"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
"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.
The 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."
Bicycle 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.