We launched Companion Bike Seat in 2011 with the goal of putting a second passenger on a bicycle. After a year and a half of designing and prototyping, our first bike seats were delivered to customers in the fall of 2013, and there are now over 200 bike seats in 7 countries across 3 continents. The number one thing our customers have asked us for over the last year: a backrest for their bike seat. So that's exactly what we plan on delivering!
Our aim is to make the backrest compatible as a removable add-on accessory to our bike seats, that way folks who've already purchased a bike seat can get one too. It will quickly and easily attach onto the back of the bike seat frame, and you're ready to go!
It came as a little bit of a surprise to us, but the vast majority of our customers are parents with young children. Companion Bike Seat is a great alternative to expensive cargo bicycles and gives you much the same functionality: it comes with a locking, waterproof storage compartment underneath the seat. It's a perfect way to offer to bring your kids along for the ride, and adding a backrest will make it safer to do so, especially for smaller children.
Here's what one of our more recent customers said about their bike seat:
"I wanted to thank you for making this wonderful product. My bike is the only form of transportation for me and my daughter, and when she approached 40 pounds and can really no longer fit into the Co-Pilot, I started to sweat. Xtracycle costs a minimum of $400 for a cargo seat for a child, and your product does it and so much more affordable! Thank you thank you, thank you!!!"
I created a proof-of-concept design for our bike seat backrest earlier this year, using parts that I purchased at the local hardware store. I'm now working on finalizing the design of the backrest and creating the necessary specs so our factory can start prototyping.
We initially set out to raise $2000 to pay for the cost to design and prototype our first backrests. Now that we've reached that goal, we've set for ourselves a stretch goal of $5,000, which will completely cover the cost of tooling and manufacturing of our first 100 bike seat backrests, plus all of the design costs as well. We've already received some initial feedback from the factory on the designs, and we're very close to having the factory start prototyping! We've got a couple of small changes to make, then we'll be giving the factory the go-ahead to get started on the first prototype. If all continues to go according to plan, we'll have our backrests ready for purchase in March of 2015.
In addition to getting a backrest for your bike seat before everyone else, we're also offering a couple brand new perks that aren't available anywhere else:
Here is an artist rendering of the new backrest design for our bike seats, installed onto a bike seat, overlooking San Francisco:
Bicycle commuting has massive benefits to society and may be the single-most-important mass transit option we have as populations (and traffic) in cities continue to grow. Not only does it reduce traffic and pollution, but it dramatically reduces healthcare costs as well, since exercise becomes a regular part of the daily commute.
Companion Bike Seats make bike commuting more accessible to folks by bringing the bicycle one step closer to the automobile - now there's room for an extra passenger and cargo space to store your valuables while you're riding. All of a sudden your bicycle can be used to run so many more daily errands: picking up the kids from school, going grocery shopping, taking the bicycle out for date-night, the possibilities are endless. Just imagine, instead of driving everywhere, you're riding everywhere, and getting exercise while you're running all of your errands!
Adding a backrest to the bike seat makes it even easier and safer for parents to bring their children along for the ride. Plus it makes the bike seat more comfortable for passengers of all ages and sizes. Of all the things our customers have asked us for over the last year, the backrest has been by far the number one accessory requested.
Here are some photos showing the step-by-step progress we've made on the backrest design so far.
Initial concept drawings exploring various ways to mount the backrest onto the bike seat. We wanted it to be easy to install and remove, yet provide ample load support as a backrest for the passenger.
Concept drawings for the shape of the cushion and how it attaches to the frame of the backrest:
Here's the design we ultimately settled on below. This is about where we were at in the design process when we started our Indiegogo campaign.
Next we modeled out the design to test how much weight the backrest would be able to support. The top right screenshot show the initial concept under load testing. Based on the results of this modeling, we decided to modify the design to add more support capacity. The bottom right screenshot shows an updated model with support struts added in.
We also reduced the height of the backrest to reduce the lever effect for the final design. Here's a screenshot of the more finalized design for the backrest, under load testing. This design almost doubled the amount of support the backrest could provide as compared to the initial design we started with.
Next we put together some renderings of the backrest to get a feel for how it looked on the bike seat. We used some photos of the bike seat to add the backrest in.
Based on these renderings, we decided to make a couple small changes, reducing the height of the backrest and reducing the size of the cushion slightly. Here are a couple of diagrams from the finalized specs that were sent over to our factory for cost estimates.
We hope to start prototyping within the next couple of weeks, and we'll share pictures of those as soon as we have them!
We learned a lot about the challenges of manufacturing a wholly new product during the first year and a half launching Companion Bike Seat. Finding a suitable, trustworthy manufacturing partner is difficult at best, but thankfully that's all behind us now. The biggest risk with our backrests will be how quickly we can finalize our "golden unit" prototype and begin manufacturing. A golden unit is a prototype that meets all of our requirements for the final product, and enables us to tell the factory, "Yes, that's exactly what we want. Now let's go make a thousand of them just like that."
Here are pictures of the multiple iterations we made while prototyping our bike seats (this spanned around 5 months):
By April of 2013 we had everything nailed down and our golden unit was 95% complete. However, the storage compartment wasn't waterproof and we needed to find the right gasket material to solve this.
It ultimately took our factory three months to source suitable material to begin manufacturing our bike seats. We could have moved forward without the gasket material and delivered our bike seats many months earlier, but it was critically important to deliver the highest quality product possible, so we stuck with it despite the delay.
We even put one bike seat through destructive load testing to see how much weight it could withstand.
It ended up taking over 4000 lbs before our bike seat bent under the load.
Our backrests will be no different. We will make sure that the backrest is easy to install and remove, and that it's of the same high-quality standards we require for our bike seats. This may result in some small time-delays before they're ready to ship, but it will be well-worth the wait.