Office Bike Challenge

As we mentioned in A Shift to Motivation, our thesis project will involve an online platform for riders to track their rides along with game challenges that can be hosted between friends, co-workers and strangers. For our Public Interfaces class, we want to focus in on one type of challenge that can be hosted in an office where 4-person teams compete for riding the most miles.

Having teams compete will hopefully create an interesting dynamic where contestants at different levels will cheer each other on, instead of mainly competing against each other like the setup in the previous King of Two Wheels challenge.

We’re also switching from tracking with yarn and pins to an online display based on tracking with an app. The tracked routes can be projected in the office as seen in the model above, or alternatively displayed on a monitor. Along with the projection, we are designing a physical installation for the office space to engage all office employees to cheer for the game contestants. They will participate by sending a cheer to contestants through an old-school dial phone. The cheer will either enter the contestants’ phone as a text message, or be read out loud to the contestant if s/he is currently biking with earbuds or is using our awesome thesis helmet with speakers.

The interface in the model requires that we send an installation package with the phone and photos of the contestants to participating offices. We believe this installation will create a larger buzz around biking in the office environment, and give the participants the attention they deserve. However, offices could also participate without the package—just by projecting the web interface, and using mobile phones to send cheers to contestants. The most important thing is obviously to get more people to get excited about riding their bikes!

A Shift to Motivation

We decided to shift our focus to motivation. While we want to have live voice directions as a feature, tracking is the key component. Rather than only a device, we are making a movement; A movement toward getting more people to discover their human superpowers through biking. What does this mean? Well, we feel alive and empowered by biking and want to spread the love. In other words, we want to build a movement to get more people to bike. It will be a game-like platform consisting of a website, mobile app, sensing and talking helmet, and game challenges in which the city is the game board.

Our audience are those not yet convinced of biking as a primary mode of transportation as well as the casual and committed commuters. Through riding and tracking their rides, they can make a visual mark on the city map. They would simply be painting the city through the trips they take on their bike with their chosen game color. The website will be dominated by visualizations of rides. Riders’ tracking activity is displayed, and comparisons can be made between friends, neighbors and strangers.

Bikers can simply share their own visual bike story through tracking. However, a biker can also make their everyday rides more interesting and motivating by initiating game challenges between their friends. Games at both small and large scales can be hosted. Games involving a group of people would be more like campaigns challenging individuals to team up, ride more and explore their cities. These campaigns can last for a short or long period of time, and can be hosted within social networks or physical workplaces.

Tracking should be a consistent activity where every ride is recorded by the app. To ensure consistency, the start and stop will be triggered automatically by a sensor in the helmet. Along with the tracking sensor, the talking helmet will facilitate digital marking and remembering places or moments on a ride with the ‘pin’ button. This button is also an open framework for other connections to be made between bikers. However, the helmet is not required for riders to participate. We hope to allow for people to use earbuds with a button to provide an experience somewhat similar to that provided by the helmet. We want the barrier to entry to be low, so the only piece required to participate is the app.

With this shift, we believe the magic lies in telling your bike story through data-tracking, comparing data, getting to know your neighbors and in building culture through a community of people riding their bikes.

Audience and other thoughts

On the wall there are some questions my teacher David Womack wrote down while I was talking through our thesis concept. The thesis group session and all the conversations Carrie and I have had lately about concept and focus has led to lots of thoughts floating around in my head. I’ve tried to write down all of them here. It’s unfortunately very close to a brain dump. Hopefully we’ll get this content more structured soon!

The not yet convinced, maybe yes
Our goal for this group: Get people that don’t bike to bike.

The newborn, maybe-yes
Our goal for this group: Get casual riders to ride more, to commute.

The commuter/confident biker, yes
Our goal for this group: Get bikers excited about the in-ride experience. Get them to share the love, to cheer each other on.

There are a lot of motivational aspects to dig into. Lately we’ve been discussing a hybrid of a digital and physical implementation of the game in an office environment. We thought about ways to create a physical game kit where all contestants photos could be placed on a wall with the possibility to push a button to send a cheer, or simply a way to text a message to the contestant etc.

Some ideas:
Send a cheer, send a song, send a SMS or a voice message. An SMS could be read out loud to the user if he/she is riding.
Let people on team know when you’re riding automagically.

Our users can track their rides consistently to tell their own individual story. In addition, we want to create challenges on different levels for people to opt in to. When creating challenges, the timeframe is important! We need to consider the fact that it typically takes 4-6 weeks to create a habit. Challenges can be between:
- individuals
- friends
- groups of friends
- teams in office
- departments in offices
- companies
- neighborhoods
- cities

Your individual story can be visualized through a line on a map, as well as highlighted incidents such as:
- got a flat, chain jumped off
- stopped by friend for dinner
- tried a new route
- found a cool art gallery
- wine & work at cafe
- stumbled upon a biking friend
- talked to interesting biker that works at a gallery right by my office
- listened to a nice song
- took a photo of the beautiful sunset by the Hudson river greenway
- surprised by rain

Some ideas:
— Can biker be prompted later on to explain pauses in movement (i.e. when stopping at grocery store, or when stumbling upon a friend and stopping to chat)?
— Can tracking device learn stuff about biker after a while? If I say I stopped at Rucola once, the next time I stop at exact same place, platform could assume and show Rucola as the destination automatically.

Community building sites trying to motivate people to do lifestyle changes through tracking behavior. Should research these. The price on the trackers was noted to show how much people are willing to pay for these kind of things.
The Carrot
Jawbone – UP wristband ($99)
Fitbit ($99)

Story Model, v.1

In my thesis workgroup, we are using a story model to help us delineate the intervention we are making with the thesis project. This is version one.

WHY: To create seamless and extra delightful bike rides

WHO: casual commuter, committed commuter, the ‘not yet convinced’

WHAT: framework/digital toolset for a better riding experience

WHEN/WHERE: during a ride, before and after a ride, ‘hunger moments’, planning periods

WHO BY: creators, bike nerd developers, bike community

HOW: mobile application paired with a physical helmet

Concepts worth thinking about:

  • bike commuter bus, arranges friend meetups
  • person becomes a ‘bookmark’ in the city
  • auto-track behaviors
  • compare miles with other interesting facts in person’s life
  • use additional hardware forms to increase sensory feedback: vibrating wristbands, blinking light handlebar attachments

Mobilizing Superpowers

We took on a minor side project last week—to create a movie about our classmates’ internship experiences this summer:

As we are most definitely going to create more videos in the future to tell our thesis story, we thought this was a good opportunity to practice. We used the same formula as for our video for King of Two Wheels to try to make the process as smooth as possible. We learned: (1) we will never edit in iMovie ever again; (2) to create a video always takes longer than expected, even if you get better at it, seriously; and (3) do not take on side projects if you want to move forward with your main projects.

That last one is only halfway true, though. Showing our video to a room full of people at our department’s Open House on Saturday, led us into a few interesting conversations with people—conversations we made sure evolved around biking, of course! And as we were distracted by internship stories and video editing most of last week, the guilt forced us into having an epic thesis meeting for about 6 hours last night at a new cafe we found in our hood, Two Moon:

We spent a few hours doing some final edits to a blogging scholarship application essay, and gave it the title Human Superpowers and Talking Helmets. After the application was sent, our conversation went from mainly being about talking helmets, to evolving more and more around the superpower part; how to get people in touch with their human superpowers through biking. We talked, we role-played, we drank mulled cider, we drew on the back of napkins:

Napkin about the commitment curve, painting a city through biking, and personas. Yeah, we need to create some fake people!

Napkin about building a platform for behavior change. Big words from little women. Yup.

Nothing is formalized yet. We’re just publishing some napkin material to remember our conversations. But I think we felt last night that our thesis is going more in the direction of motivation and superpowers than toward the talking helmet. We are in no way giving up on the helmet. However, maybe it will play a smaller role than we initially thought.

The Status of Our Thesis

For the past seven weeks, we have been writing ideas on sticky notes, talking game strategy, testing ideas, researching, and observing bikers on the streets of New York every day. Even though we’ve had the added workload of three other grad classes, we have managed to make headway in developing ideas around our four main concepts—wayfinding, tracking, discovery and motivation. Also, as our Thesis Proposal v.2 reflects, we know now that we are making a bike helmet. Below we’ve documented the highlights of the previous seven weeks.

Our helmet will have speakers, a sensor that senses if anyone is wearing it, a simple remote control to adjust volume and for simple navigation, and probably a mic for potential phone calls, voice recording and voice commands.

The core of our concept is in-ride voice directions on the format seen below. The blog post Low-fi prototyping, part II elaborates on this, and includes a test text-to-speech audio file with directions that we tested while riding to our favorite local restaurant, Rucola.

1. Head southeast on 5th Street toward 8th Ave.
Ride about 282 feet.
Then turn left onto 8th Ave,

2. Turn left onto 8th Ave.
Ride about 0.1 miles.
Then turn left onto 2nd Street.

3. Turn left onto 2nd Street
Ride about 0.4 miles.
Then turn right onto 5th Ave

We did an extensive post-it session to identify more potential features that could enhance our product. This Features blog post documents the sticky note fun. The session led to a longer list of features that we then narrowed down to a few key concepts we wanted to explore further:

  • Tracking of the bike ride
  • Discovery of new locations in the city
  • Motivation through social pressure

We had been in our own bubble for a while, and started to feel the need to get more people’s perspective on biking and our concepts. We decided to launch a bike challenge, King of Two Wheels, for our fellow studio mates (see Game Rules here). We made sure this challenge also would give us a lot of interesting interview material through introducing our contestants to a video confession booth. When the game was over, we created a video to document our amazing contestants’ journey through the one week long game:

The King of Two Wheels challenge allowed us to explore the motivational aspects of biking, both through the contest itself and by making the bikers efforts visible on the studio walls. We proposed opportunities for our contestants to share their bike love by getting other studio mates to bike. To get the whole SVA IxD community involved, bikers and non-bikers alike, we invited students to bet and cheer for the contestants. The blog post Behavior Change and Motivation elaborates on this aspect of the game.

The spool of yarn each contestant got at the start of the competition was used to map their ride on the physical map in our studio every morning. We believe tracking (as long as it’s done consistently) can be another motivational factor – especially when you see your data making a beautiful visual mark for all to see. In addition to the physical mapping, we also got our contestants to try to track their rides digitally with various apps so we could get insights into the joys and hassles of tracking with the tools that are out there.

There’s something special about riding a bike compared to taking the subway through a city. You discover new cafes, restaurants and parks all the time, but you might just as easily forget your discoveries as you continue on your journey through a chaotic city. We challenged our contestants to open their eyes to what’s around them to get insights into their strategies for remembering places. We also encouraged our contestants to “connect the dots” and actually visit a few places on their bikes throughout the weekend. Read more about this in the Hit the Hot Spots post.

Thesis Proposal, v.2

Our intention is to increase ridership and make trips seamless for bikers in urban areas. We recognize that people love to bike in the city but there are also many hassles and pain points that keep people from riding. Taking the bike is both good for human health, the environment and the economy. We want to help people stay on their bikes and encourage the ‘not yet convinced’ that biking is a viable mode of transportation.


We are making a digital toolset embodied in a physical helmet to be used by urban bikers that allows for a seamless riding experience. It will provide spoken directions, track riding habits and facilitate documentation of trips and communication with friends. Unlike a high-tech GPS bike computer, it has a charming personality and is geared towards the casual biker rather than the cyclist pro.

Way-finding knowing where to go and how to get there, alleviating the stress of navigating while on your bike in a chaotic city

  • find a safe route
  • change suggested mode
  • write your own route, list waypoints
  • change suggested mode
  • say when there’s bike lane and which side of road it’s on
  • warn people of bumpiness

Discovery helping people remember and experience the interesting places they see on their rides (cafes, bars, restaurants, etc.), suggesting new places to visit.

  • allow users to log their favorite places
  • push button or voice command to pin location on a map
  • consider integration with Yelp and/or Google Places
  • plug into reviews from Yelp and/or Google Places
  • learn preferences of rider
  • provide commentary on sites
  • opt into ‘wander mode’
  • localized itineraries
  • suggest a near destination
  • allow people to say ‘I have 2 hours. Take me somewhere…!’

Tracking documenting where riders have been, revealing patterns in biking behavior, helping people feel proud of accomplishments and encourage sharing their progress

  • sensor in helmet to auto-track when you sit on the bike seat
  • put context around data, compare and contrast
  • use variety when giving stats to make it meaningful

Motivation providing a way for riders to challenge people to ride their bikes, using social pressure, coordinating rides

  • compare trips with your friends
  • read aloud SMS from friends
  • notify friends when rider gets on the bike to ride
  • suggest and facilitate riding with friends and/or group rides
  • facilitate conversation and competitiveness between users
  • facebook sharing
  • tweet about trip to bike community #BikeNYC
  • report stories and funny encounters
  • site specific encouragement and stories
  • play music from local bands performing that week
  • let people listen to their own music

Intermediate riders
People currently biking in the city. They might already use navigational tools like bike maps and apps, and are searching for new ways to make their trips more seamless whether they want to get from A to B or wander.

Beginner riders
There’s a difference between knowing how to ride a bike, and being confident riding in an urban environment. Beginner riders might use their bike for recreational trips and are not yet convinced that biking can be a viable transit option.

Tourists on bikes
People that want to explore a new city from the bike seat. Might rent bikes from bike shops, or using bike share programs.

The bike community
Open Plans, Bike Share, Ride the City, Transportation Alternatives, New York City DOT, Bike Tech Meetup, Bike activists (bloggers, political figures, etc.)

Bike Tools
mobile apps that track behavior, apps aiding navigation, bike computers for pro cyclists, GPS for bikers (TOM TOM has turn by turn voice directions in Europe)

Products with related concepts
Motivational, data sharing, storytelling, creative personalities, way finding, trip planning, etc.
Websites and apps: Weight Watchers, RunKeeper, Nike+, Daytum, OpenTripPlanner, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Tamagotchi etc.

The form of the product is a helmet with speakers, mic, sensors and buttons along with a mobile app. It is a friendly and delightful product that is aware of what the biker needs and when, alleviates stress from biking in chaotic surroundings, eases the process of using your bike for transit and inspires discovery of new places.

Progress Plan, v.2


  • Create a journey map
    Zoom out and identify pain points and opportunities within the area of urban biking.
  • Create a conceptual model of project
    Narrow in on a concept suitable for our thesis
  • Host King of Two Wheels bike challenge
    Organize a bike challenge in the studio to test concepts and conduct user research.


  • Conduct contextual research (November 3)
    Continue to learn about projects with similar concepts and features
  • In-Ride-Experience MVP (November 1-30)
    Choose a route, get people to ride it, ride behind them while providing voice directions and testing main concepts.
  • Develop an MVP (November 15-December 19)
    Software: Creating a web app for a user to input start and end point, and get directions through voice.
    Hardware: R&D for speakers, bluetooth, button, sensors, and connecting these pieces to each other and the app.
  • Pitch video (by Christmas)
    Show our product and it’s features. Purpose is to get our ideas out there, get feedback and solicit help with our next steps and development.
  • Redesign blog (by Christmas)
    Get our blog in shape with a nice visual profile.

Christmas Break

  • Define Alpha prototype (January)
    Which features and what technology
  • Build Alpha prototype (January-April)
    Make the technology work
    Design interface with mobile app
    Design interface with helmet
    Develop personality, language and visuals

Spring Break (March 2-11)
SXSW (March 9-13)

  • Release Alpha prototype (mid-March)
    release prototype for 4-8 people to test
  • Iterate on Alpha prototype (mid-March-April)
  • Documentation (mid-March-April)

Graduation (early May)

Behavior Change and Motivation

Changes are hard to make. Whether it’s changing your diet or turning your transit mode from the subway to biking, we as humans we need other people to hold us accountable and help us adjust to new habits. That’s why behavior change comes best through the support of community. On the last jaunt with strangers that ride bikes, Tour de Taco, this is something that I learned, again. While each biker was on the group ride for various reasons, some were there to get back into biking. I talked with two specific bikers that previously pedaled to work, but had stopped, for their own respectable reasons. They both confessed, in their own words, that they came to get their butts on their bikes again. Basically, they forced themselves to be surrounded by a lot of people doing the very thing they wanted to be doing.

We previously launched the King of Two Wheels. We’re challenging four contestants within a community of 30 SVA IxD grad students to bike more than usual for one week, track their miles on a shared map, discover new parts of the city and to recruit others to join them. The King of Two Wheels will be our first experiment with learning how people are motivated to ride. Through it, we hope to get people talking about and doing more biking, while gaining insights into their habits, tips and tricks, and motivations.

We put out eight challenges within the week of the contest. Along with these, we had multiple strategies to get them motivated and biking more:

Map rides on a shared map to document progress and compare achievements.

Prompt riders to recruit friends to get the community involved organically.

Invite riders to get a team mate for the day.

Invite the community to bet on their chosen contestant to win

…and using the bets as a visual bar chart display in a common area.

Honor a challenge winner every day.

Bike Sharing for NYC

Bike sharing is coming to the Big Apple, and New Yorkers are excited! This is not completely fresh news, but is still very exciting. The other weekend, Kristin and I went to check out the system. Alta, the company that will be installing and managing the bike share, and the New York Department of Transportation were hosting a live demo on Atlantic street. For less than $100, you can become a member and use the shared bikes at no charge all year around. Ride times will be limited to 30-45 minutes to encourage short commutes rather than using the bike to the explore the city all day. The city aims to co-exist with the thriving bike rental businesses that are currently in New York, rather than overriding them. In my opinion, the system seems quite impressive. It’s been rolled out in multiple cities including Boston, DC and Melbourne, and for the most part has been a success.

But, we had two main questions. What about the helmets? And, what are you doing to help guide people that don’t normally bike around the city? Our reason for asking these questions is because we’re exploring a helmet as the physical interface with a digital bike companion. With that, one of our main intentions is to help people better discover the cities in which they live via bike.

Because New York does not mandate bicycle helmets, the bike share system will not require riders to wear them. Though, they may offer some kind of discount to help people purchase their own helmets. As for helping riders find their way around the city, each docking station will have a cycling map posted.

Undoubtedly, potential lies in considering a product that can be used by bike sharers (New Yorkers and tourists) and regular commuters alike. There is yet to come a good solution for helmets and guiding discovery within the current bike share systems.