We spoke to Cannondale’s Ian Hamilton about the new Bad Boy urban bike range with its Lefty rigid fork, integrated lights and internal cable routing.
Thanks to its mix of no-nonsense practicality, cutting-edge looks and all-round ‘coolness’, Cannondale’s Bad Boy has become an icon of urban cycling. However, Cannondale has recently readdressed the issue of city riding and released a Bad Boy range that includes its funky Lefty rigid fork, integrated accessories and even better urban performance. Coffee Stop’s Matt Lamy spoke to one of the minds behind the development of the Bad Boy, Cannondale’s global director of industrial design, Ian Hamilton.
CS: Tell us about the latest Bad Boy and the headline differences compared to previous models.
IH: There are a lot of differences but I think the headline is that the new Bad Boy addresses many of the needs of the urban rider far more effectively than the previous model. For example, now we have features such as integrated lighting in a Lefty fork, integrated lighting in the seatpost and an integrated bumper strip on the top tube.
The story about how all this has come about is quite interesting. We did our user research in London — I got the whole team together there and I think we actually went into an Evans Cycles store. One thing we noticed was how many bikes there were on display on the shop floor. If you are a customer walking through the shop the only thing you really see are the parts of the bike facing forwards or upwards — the cockpit — because all the bikes are packed into that space. So we realised it’s really important to show the differentiation of a bike in the front end or in that cockpit area.
CS: What did you discover about urban cycling during your visit to London?
IH: One of the things we learnt — and here I have to use my knowledge of British English rather than American English — is that things on urban bikes get ‘nicked’. All the people that we talked to explained how they would only spend a certain amount on components because front lights, rear lights, any component really will get nicked. That was really important for us to learn because non-integrated features pose a theft risk.
With the developments we’ve made, Bad Boy owners can now use safety bolts at the seatpost or quick releases so there is literally nothing that is steal-able on the bike. We took the approach that if something is not external then people won’t see it. So when the seatpost or fork light is off, nobody is going to walk by and think: “There’s a light, I’ll just take it.”
The effect of that means the new Bad Boy is very minimalist in its design. Even in the case of the top tube bumper strip, we wanted to provide these sorts of features but we didn’t want those features speaking louder than the overall feel or the elegance of the bike. We realised it’s important to not be too flashy. One of the most important things about our new front light type is that it’s built into the fork, so you don’t necessarily realise it’s even there until you turn it on. It’s a very distinctive design element and it’s only possible to have such a crazy long design element because of our rigid Lefty fork.
CS: It’s interesting to see the Lefty rigid fork fitted throughout the entire Bad Boy range — why did you do that?
IH: Some people might say: “Why do you need a Lefty fork if there’s no suspension?” But we’d counter that by saying we couldn’t achieve a full top-to-bottom lighting element without using a rigid Lefty. It’s also a very distinctive brand element for us. One of the biggest challenges was bringing that feature — the Lefty rigid fork — throughout the range right down to the entry-level model. The challenge was cost based, because the Lefty is much more expensive than a standard fork.
This brings us back to the idea of differentiating the bike on the shop floor. It’s pretty easy to build a rigid fork on a bike that costs $600, but what we were concerned about from a brand image standpoint was using the Lefty fork to make sure there was something significant that distinguished a Bad Boy from a low-end quick hybrid or trail bike. A Bad Boy has a very clear focus on an urban rider’s needs. For example, to deal with city streets we fitted a 650b tyre with a bigger volume so that we didn’t have to do suspension or go to more difficult lengths to build in a bit of compliance. The previous Bad Boy had a narrower 700c tyre, almost like a road bike. While that was fast, the ride quality was stiff compared to the 650b tyre, despite the overall diameter being exactly the same.
CS: Continental-style trekking bikes often come fitted with integrated features such as lights, dynamos, and locks. Did you consciously follow a similar philosophy with the new Bad Boy to try to provide the rider with all he or she needs ready-fitted to the bike without needing to spend more on accessories?
IH: Yes, and if we had more time we would have integrated some lock-carrying features or some fenders [mudguards], or some of the other things that people want. But when you’re trying to get a product to market there comes a point where you go with what you’ve got and save some things for later.
CS: Well that’s a good point — do you see the future of the Bad Boy going in that direction with more integrated accessories?
IH: I’d like to do that. But we would want to hear it from customers and the market [see our question at the bottom of the page]. We want to hear people say they love the bike but there are a few last elements they want fitted to it. We certainly have the idea to do them but it can be complex in this business. Do you ask every dealer to then stock compatible racks, or lights, or all the accessories and parts that make those things possible? It can become a bit of a pain for the dealer network.
CS: Another aspect of the new Bad Boy is the complete internal cable routing. How did that come about?
IH: That was another of the things we heard loud and clear from our English customers — they just wanted dependability. They didn’t want to deal with maintenance nightmares or exposed cables and ride grime that can degrade the bike’s performance. So we knew that every cable needed to be completely internal. All the gear and brake cables are internal, and we had to do some tricky stuff to achieve that.
CS: Talking about reliability, the Bad Boy 2 has a Metrea 1x drivetrain. Is the 1x movement something that you see coming through into the urban bike market with more prominence?
IH: I sure do, it’s just a simpler system and we were certainly aware of that. Then the Bad Boy 1 has a belt drive system with the Alfine 11 hub gear, which is pretty low-maintenance — or even no maintenance!
CS: Could you ever see belt drive bikes coming down from the top-end models to more mid-range bikes?
IH: That has to do with the cost of a good belt. Other belts might be less expensive than the Gates we spec to the Bad Boy 1, but these other belts can end up causing more friction and more headaches for the customer and also the manufacturer. To fit a belt, you have to build a bike that is very, very well aligned with very tight tolerances. A belt doesn’t move around like a chain: a chain has the ability to take into account some angle in the chainline, such as when it’s swapping gears, but with a belt you have to build the bike perfectly. The Gates belts are wonderful, the problem is that they’re expensive. In order to run a Gates belt system you have a lot of money tied up in the belt, the front chainring and the rear cog. I’d love to see belt drive bikes come down in price range, but at the moment I’d say we’re as competitive as we can be.
CS: Finally, we know Cannondale has the Contro-E urban e-bike, but will there ever be a Bad Boy-E e-bike?
IH: We get that question all the time and we’d really like to try that because we could do an awesome job with it. But that’s all I can say right now. Again, it’s a bit like the accessorisation subject we spoke about earlier — I’d really love to hear from customers and the market about the demand for a bike like this.