Fully integrated lighting: Behind the scenes

February 20, 2018

 Before we began designing.

It was Fall of 2015 when the team at Mission Bicycle decided to up the ante on commuter bicycles yet again. We had been dreaming for years about tackling security and safety as part of our bicycle design. But some questions began to bubble. How could we improve safety and security without sacrificing minimalism and charisma? How could we take a gorgeous, customizable, minimal, and in many ways ideal city bike, and add usefulness without taking away it’s beauty? 

We needed an idea that struck a chord with our brand and vision: customizable, minimal maintenance, subtly gorgeous bikes for commuting city streets daily and nightly. We knew that whatever we designed would need to seamlessly integrate into our meticulously designed frame: any new feature and the bike needed to become and act as one.

As it turns out, we had no shortage of ideas. Said ideas included but were not limited to the improvement and integration of things like cargo racks, security locks, child seats, GPS, speaker systems for horns, lighting, road lasers, wheel locks, and a whole laundry list of others that didn’t quite stick when we chucked them at the wall.

One quick thing to mention about the product ideation process at Mission Bicycle: We encourage everyone to share their ideas, always, no matter how truly terrible they are. Tweak that bad idea a little and you very well may be on to something genius. Some of our best innovations have been born from and prefaced with the phrase “I have a really bad idea…”

So we let all of our ideas, both radiant and horrible, marinate and cross-pollinate until early 2016. That is when design work began in earnest.

Project Objective:

Create a quietly beautiful bicycle design that subtly integrates hidden features. Closer to a traditional bike than an e-bike, and very much at home in a city.

Design Objectives:

Here were our specific design objectives:

  • Lean and minimalist

  • Functionality hidden as much as possible without compromising usability

  • Built on the current Mission Bicycle while also showing progression

And with that, many ideas were dropped like hot potatoes. In fact, after tossing the ideas around for months on end, only one remained. We kept coming back to a simple fact that was brought up by company owner Zack Rosen.

“Cars come standard with lighting, so why shouldn’t bikes?”

Simple, beautiful, and super-bright integrated lighting was to be our next major undertaking as a bicycle company.

But this would be a huge challenge for us. We knew everything about bikes, but we had never tackled electronics before. We knew we would need help.

So we enlisted the help of an electrical engineering friend, Mark Sires of Santa Cruz, CA. He’d made a major breakthrough on a key problem that was stumping many a great mind around the Bay Area we had posed this challenge to: How does one route the cables through the entire bike and potentially through the fork without making them vulnerable?

Sires had the right stuff for the job. He’d get the ball rolling on the ambitious project with the accompaniment of his longtime co-engineer Dan Freeman and our now beloved employee, Ashton Smith, a bike-savvy industrial design student who’d been referred to us by one of his professors. 

 

The development team:

So this became our bicycle design team:

Mark Sires: Mechanical Engineer and man who sparked the integrated lights.

Dan Freeman: Electrical Engineer, and long time co-engineer of Mark’s.

Ashton Smith: Industrial Designer and aspiring mad scientist.

Josh Philippi: Production Manager, and in-house realist with a BS in mechanical engineering.

Jefferson McCarley: Project Manager, idea guy, and hands down best facial hair in the game.

 

With a full team in place, the future of the project was starting to look…”bright.”

Light puns aside, the team had serious decisions to make in where to strategically place the lighting, how to power it, and a laundry list of other electronics related details we won’t bore you with . A conveniently paraphrased version of the thought process behind our new design looks like this:

 

First things first, power.

It might sound overboard to some, but we actually created our own custom removable battery for this project. “Why?” would be a completely fair question to ask right now. In response, we’d say because to achieve the level of simplicity and function for this project, it was the best option. We don’t settle for less around here.  

Something you may or may not know about most run-of-the-mill bikes featuring integrated electronics is that they require you to plug the entire bike into the wall- Far from ideal in an urban apartment where every square inch of real estate matters. Our San Francisco customers will be especially thankful for this foresight.

We wanted our user to be able to charge anywhere. On the desk at work, at the bedside stand, in the DMV- anywhere.  So, rather than using a traditional "star nut" inside the fork, we utilized this space to hold the proprietary battery. The system is fairly complicated, but Ashton and Jefferson collaborated with a company that made something similar. They built on these pre-existing plans to develop the perfect solution for our project.  

As for the battery itself, we started with the most durable option we could source, the 18650 (famously used in Tesla vehicles,) and modified it’s positive and negative connections to sit as concentric rings on the bottom of the battery. We wired a micro-usb port into the top for easy universal charging, and viola. A working, removable, durable, battery for use in the head tube of our bike. Click on, click off, untwist the top cap and pull it out when you feel like charging.

 

The headlight debate.

Would full-on headlights be nice? For sure. Are they absolutely necessary? Absolutely not. As a company with a focus on city riding, it just didn’t make sense. With street lights on every corner, the urban commuter’s need for a light to see is, in reality, much less necessary than a light to be seen by cars, trucks, buses, and the like. Also factored in was the demand for long battery life, which doesn’t go hand in hand with a powerful headlight. In short, a be seen style light was settled on and after riding it for months, we find it to be plenty bright on the darkest of commutes.

 

Placement and shape.

Things started off smooth. Everyone agreed pretty quickly that the front light should be piped through the fork, and that the rear light should be routed up through the seat tube and into the seat post. The rear lighting was a cinch and came quite naturally, as we adapted a light post we already loved. Shining brightly in a trailing motion à la Knight Rider, our rear lighting was sorted.

The front lights, on the other hand, were a bit tricky and took considerably more drawing board time to finally come out with something inherently Mission. They needed to be functional, but also represent the brand ethos of minimalism and understatedness. Idea after idea was thrown out until it was discovered that by running LEDs unconventionally down the inside of the fork blades at a slight angle, we were able to house them discreetly, keep them protected, and allow them to throw a beautiful cross beam, offering near 360 degree visibility of the rider.

 

Printed circuit boards.

“The brain” and the button board were a massive team effort that included physical design by Mark, UX and UI by Ashton, and Electrical Programming by Dan and Mihai. They manage all of the power and behaviors of the lights, while taking up minimal space. Their clean design allows the user an intuitive experience sans clutter or ugly parts showing.

 

3D printed parts and button design. 

Mark kept his 3D printer going nearly 24/7 for the duration of the project, as our small quantities couldn't justify having big injection molds made. In addition to cost effectiveness, 3D printing them in Santa Cruz allowed us to get our hands on them hot off the press, and make adjustments on the fly. Possibly the biggest win to come of this was our final version of the button, and we'll just say that a lot more goes into a button than one might think. The look, the feel, and the tactile "click!", all needed to be spot on, not to mention keeping water out and staying durable. Ashton and Mark were head to head on this one for a while, eventually working out a great solution with many many "learning opportunities" along the way.

 

Minor additional changes. Should we add anything?

Short answer, yes. Branding is something we’ve battled with off and on for years. We never wanted to be the company that throws a huge logo across the downtube and makes you, our customer, ride around town as a rolling Mission Bicycle Billboard. We won’t name names. The thought has always been that our bikes are designed by you, and should serve as a rideable reflection of your personal style. That’s what we’re all about. Having said that, we wanted to brand our bikes moving forward, but in a subtle way that no other bike company has ever done before. The solve comes as a classy set of M’s adorning the upper outsides of our new fork blade. Beautifully welded, understated, unconventional, and a testament to what we stand for here at Mission.

As a last treat, we figured we’d give in, only slightly, to the fat tire craze that seems to have swept the bike world these past few years. Our new forks have opened up to fit a 32c tire, for all our customers looking to get a softer ride on their commute or even add a little tread to their tire. It’s no mountain bike, but we’re confident your new bike won’t shy away from the occasional fire road.

We’d go on to spend over a year prototyping, riding, wiring, rewiring, troubleshooting, breaking and rebuilding various versions of what would become the bike we are officially releasing today. As a whole, this project took years of collective effort from our staff and we couldn’t have done it without each and every one of them. Cars come with lights, and now so do our bikes.

No longer will lights be remembered, forgotten, lost, or stolen. They’ll just be with you, wherever life takes you. We hope you enjoy the ride as much as we do.

-Mission Bicycle Company

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

With that, we’re happy to announce the addition of integrated lighting as a standard option on all Mission Bicycles moving forward, AND as a bright new addition to our online builder.

There’s something gratifying about toggling between day and night modes while designing the bike of your dreams. Trust us. Check it out here.