Season 2 - Preparations underway
The first (test) season with the new bike wash in Zurich was characterised by failures, bad luck and breakdowns, but also a few stage victories. The market was tested, the needs of the bike community better understood, and the team expanded. With these experiences, a good portion of heart and soul and a lot of support from the community, the last climb before the peak has been tackled.
The customers in the centre
The critical feedback on the test facility was a wake-up call for the vision of the "urban bike wash". This one was only going to succeed if something fundamentally changed about the bike wash. Small improvements were not enough, the concept had to be fundamentally rethought. And so it happened that numerous experts from industry and research were consulted, an engineer was found as a business partner and a project was launched with the Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (FHNW) to create what the bike community wanted:
"A thorough and uncomplicated bike cleaning experience in urban areas."
The decisive hint for improved cleaning results came from the bikers themselves: A little more water, a little higher air pressure and biodegradable cleaning agent was not enough. The mud on the dirty bikes has usually already dried, so the cleaning power had to be increased significantly. Consequently, a mechanical solution was to be the turning point to remove the stubborn dirt.
The following academic insertion is mentioned here only in passing and as a proof of our in-depth research. In order to influence the effectiveness of cleaning, there are basically four levers available:
duration of cleaning
However, it quickly became clear that three of the four dimensions were not an option for the long-term goal of the urban bike wash. Increasing the temperature would require additional energy and a bike wash should be able to be done within a very short time, so increasing the cleaning time was also ruled out. Finally, the use of chemical mace as a cleaning agent was categorically rejected for environmental reasons. Thus, only the last element mentioned - mechanics - seemed to be the relevant element for increasing the cleaning power. The solution space was thus defined and the search for options to increase the mechanical cleaning power could be pursued in a focused manner. While the disadvantages of higher water and/or air pressure are well known in the bike community, another option had to be found.
The focus quickly fell on a combination of the current auxiliary tool - a conventional brush - and the customer's wish for a little more water. Without further ado, the two concepts were combined in a brush with water throughput and a prototype was printed in cooperation with the FHNW. The first practical test was convincing, which led to the breakthrough in the development of our own bike wash.
Optimisations for the Bike Community
The core function of the bike wash - removing mud and dirt - seemed to be optimally solved. But what about all the other suggestions that were collected in the test? For example, the error-prone switching between water and air? Or the misleading instructions and sequence of the individual cleaning steps? And can the fill levels of the water tanks be monitored remotely so that there is no more disappointment of empty tanks?
The list of wishes and suggestions was long and in the end not all ideas could be implemented with the first generation of our own bike wash system. Nevertheless, a coherent overall concept was developed with some compromises but significant improvements compared to the test system from last season. For example, the cleaning nozzles were arranged and labelled logically, access to the bike from both sides was ensured and the user-friendliness was increased.
In addition, further functionalities were built into the system to facilitate uninterrupted operation at several locations. In the future, sensors will send a signal when the level of the fresh water tanks falls below a critical value. In addition, the construction was designed in such a way that the system can withstand simple vandalism attacks. All this, as well as the design of the system, was intended to serve only one purpose: The establishment of a network of reliable bike wash facilities with convincing cleaning results.
Preparation of the production
What still seemed like an unrealistic vision or a bold dream in the spring of 2022 was within reach. While the technical skills of most bikers are limited to assembling inexpensive living room shelves, assembling kits suitable for children according to instructions or simple repairs to the bike, a reasonably complex construct made of sheet metal, aluminium, hoses and electronics now had to be produced. A whole A4 folder with the printed drawings of the individual parts gave an idea of the effort that would go into the production.
However, contact was quickly established with one of the largest training companies in Switzerland and the project of the "made in Switzerland" bicycle washing system was presented. Thanks to the wide range of apprenticeships offered by libs Industrielle Berufslehren Schweiz (www.libs.ch), it quickly became clear that the project could be realised with apprentices and trainers from the fields of polymechanics and electronics. With this unique combination of end-to-end implementation of a product development in a Swiss apprenticeship workshop and the innovative business idea of a bike wash network, the necessary win-win was created and the only obstacles to successful implementation were the usual and well-known challenges, hurdles and setbacks of every product development.
The first own bike wash facility and conclusion
It quickly became clear that it there is a higher demand than just for one station. In the meantime, further location partnerships were concluded and the interest in expanding further locations was unbroken. So preparations were made for the manufacture of five stations and the go-ahead for production was given at the turn of the year 2022/23. What was still considered too ambitious an undertaking in autumn 2022 seemed within reach.
Only four months later, the dream of an own bike wash became reality and version 1.0 went into operation on May 17, 2023 at the Saalsporthalle location.
For the bike community, this means an end to last season's "breakdowns, misfortunes and mishaps" and instead the offer of thorough and uncomplicated bike cleaning in urban areas becomes reality.