As design lovers, I’m pretty sure we all regularly ooh and aah over the latest concept car to hit the auto shows. But a concept bicycle? Now that’s something you don’t see every day! Even so, Dutch bicycle manufacturer Cortina decided to take the plunge and let its design lead Arif Veendijk develop the New Horizon, a so-called vision bike that shows the world what the ideal e-bike for 2028 will look like. Will the Cortina New Horizon ever go into production? Well, no! But elements from its innovative design will definitely find their way in future Cortina models. I sat down with Arif recently and learned all about the New Horizon this passionate man is seeing.
This is part one of two articles I’m writing about Cortina. In part two, I will review their new Cortina Blau Men’s Bicycle. Full disclosure: I kept it!
DESIGNER ARIF VEENDIJK AND THE CORTINA NEW HORIZON CONCEPT BIKE
When I told my nephew I was going to interview you, the first thing he told me was that Cortina is the coolest bicycle brand out there at the moment!
And I suppose he’s right! People say that other bicycle manufacturers are actually a bit jealous at the positioning we’ve achieved with our company in the last few years. For me personally, it makes Cortina a great brand to work for. We’re not the biggest player in the market, but we do have a keen eye for trends and we’re agile enough to do something with them. When I joined Cortina three years ago, it was already a commercially quite successful company. We didn’t design or manufacture bicycles ourselves yet, however – we were simply very good at moving boxes, so to speak. A while ago, we noticed that the market was changing more and more quickly and so, we asked ourselves what would happen if we started developing our own bicycles. What makes us typical as a company is that there is a culture to try new things, be ambitious and experimenting. The idea of a vision bike was therefore received with great enthusiasm.
Design tends to be about strategic thinking and that is exactly what we started doing when we took the plunge and decided to start designing bicycles in-house. Our first step was to try and figure out who we really want to be as Cortina and what our core values are. Together with a brand strategist, I then took a long, hard look at our product range from a design perspective. Is every model still as strong and progressive as we would like it to be? We developed a set of design values and compared them with every Cortina bicycle in our range. If it didn’t measure up, we either had to take it to a higher level or discontinue it. That actually happened to a few of our newer models. It felt like the right moment to start in earnest with our New Horizon project.
Can you remember the moment you first came up with the idea of designing a concept bicycle?
To be honest, I had already thought of it before I joined Cortina. But I figured I’d keep it quiet for a while. I wanted to ride in on a bicycle and not a bulldozer, if you know what I mean. In the corporate world, design is often seen as an expense, rather than an investment. And so, I started by simply telling my co-workers what my intentions were: I’m in charge of design, we’re going to do things in a new way and draw our own sketches for future models. Nothing more, nothing less. Cortina is part of a very straightforward family-run business, so I didn’t want to make things sound too convoluted. Getting everyone to trust me, that is what mattered.
New Horizon is a fictional concept bicycle that contains design elements that we can use in our future models.In fact, some signature elements out of the New Horizon are already taken into development. You will recognize them soon in future models.
Even before we started our research for New Horizon, we were getting signs that mobility is changing in our growing cities. And that made us wonder if we should even stick to the archetype of a bicycle in a time where so many new transportation concepts are coming up. We looked at different user categories: What are their functional needs? What are their emotional needs? We figured we wanted to primarily sell a transportation solution instead of just a bike.
But why did you stick to the archetype of a bicycle for New Horizon? What if a scooter for instance would better fulfil our future transportation needs?
With New Horizon, it was our specific intention to design a bicycle for the year 2028 – which is not too far away. Keeping your head up in the clouds and philosophizing about design values is all well and good, but we decided instead to keep things as concrete as possible. We firmly believe that the design of New Horizon should be recognizable as an actual bicycle. If we had chosen a different archetype, people simply wouldn’t have understood it. I’m sure you can design a bicycle with voice recognition that allows you to stop it by simply saying “brake!”, but that’s not very intuitive. Users expect a design that conforms with their mental model of a bicycle. In their eyes, it has to be recognizable and safe to use first. That didn’t mean, however, we couldn’t dream a little with New Horizon. Whether it was sustainability, technology, safety or user experience, we wanted to come up with innovative yet practical solutions.
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When I watch the New Horizon video, I see a lot of design ideas that make me go, now that’s clever! How did you come up with them?
With my team, we literally involved everyone at Cortina – sales, engineering, product management, you name it. We told them, this is where we are now. But where do you see things going in the coming years? All the interviews we did generated tons of puzzle pieces. We started putting them together in different ways and just let the magic happen. It’s the only way I can explain it. We ended up with so many weird combinations that made us think, what do we do with this? But then we set our design brains to work and came up with more concrete ideas.
Can you give me a specific example?
Our colleagues at sales are very involved in our day-to-day business. They noticed that womens bikes had gradually started selling better than mens bikes. This means that more and more men are now driving womens bikes. If that trends allows Cortina to produce only one unisex model, we can work a lot more sustainably.
And what can you tell me about the shapes of the New Horizon? They’re very specific.
New Horizon is an exercise in which we rethink the signature elements of our bicycles. What are the visually dominant lines, how do they work together, what do they look like from a ten-meter distance? When you normally see a bicycle for the first time, it’s very hard to guess which brand it is. And that is something we want to move away from with Cortina.
To me, it was an exciting three-step process. We first started by doing a visual analysis of our current range. Then we descended to a more abstract level where we thought of what we really stand for. And then finally, we came back up again so that we could come up with all the new visual elements that make up the New Horizon bicycle.
The very definition of concept thinking! To me, the design element that makes the Cortina New Horizon really stand out from the crowd is the open frame.
If you look closely, many parts on the New Horizon are open and transparent. The idea behind this is that the bicycle gives the perception that it is lighter in weight but also needs to contain less material. This is an example of how we have incorporated sustainability into the concept. At Cortina, we stand for stylish bicycles with carefully chosen CMF – which is design speak for color, material and finishing.
What is probably not going to change in the nearby future though, is the space the battery claims in an e-bike. With that in mind, we wanted to come up with a new and disruptive way to integrate it in the overall design. We decided to make the battery a detachable part of the open frame and put the Cortina logo on it in raised white letters that have a different texture. This was based on the idea to use fewer stickers.
What design element of the New Horizon are you most excited about?
Not many people will notice it, but I think the combination of the drive shaft and the rear engine makes for a really nice and clean solution. Allow me to get technical for a second. A drive shaft replaces the traditional chain or the belt – both of which not only require more maintenance but also can be quite dangerous if you’re wearing a skirt. I’m sure we could have designed a nice chain guard, but I’d rather not have the added visual weight.
With a drive shaft, we could even have gone for magnetic wireless transmission, but that makes it impossible to ride your bicycle on an empty battery. That is simply not a situation you want to be in. A drive shaft is a proven transmission technology but it can make for heavier cycling. If you combine it with a rear engine like we did, however, you can easily ride home even if your battery is empty. In fact, we liked the drive shaft so much, we highlighted it in yellow.
Notice the yellow drive shaft? According to Arif Veendijk, it is the part of the Cortina New Horizon vision bike everyone was most excited about.
Even then, it’s not the element most regular cyclists will remember the New Horizon by!
No, that would definitely be the saddle that you can open and store your raincoat in!
And let’s not forget the bike handle grips – LOVE them!
Yes, based on research into what an iconic frame should be, its “readability” as we call it. The side view should be a strong graphic image. This makes it stand out immediately In addition, the frame originated from the current collection and contains instantly recognizable form elements that are now an integral part of our bicycle designs.
I noticed that the New Horizon is an e-bike and not a regular bicycle. How come?
An e-bike not only offers the user more autonomy, but also more inclusivity. You don’t have to be young and in great shape to navigate the big city with an e-bike. We can keep our urban e-bikes light for everyone by not including an unnecessarily heavy battery that lasts 45 kilometers. For trips around the city, you never need that kind of range anyway.
Another thing we noticed is that many city dwellers would like to ride bicycles for multiple purposes, even though they often only have space to store one single bike. During the week they may want something practical with a higher handlebar that gives a good overview of the street. But during the weekend they might go for a ride with a lower and more sporty handlebar. Being able to change the handlebar is a way of platform thinking that is also part of New Horizon.
Last year, I did an interview with the CEO of Lynk & Co, a car brand that blurs the lines between owning and using. Is that a trend that you looked at as well?
That shift from owning to using is definitely a trend we see as well. To be honest, it’s a pretty good development for us. When you buy a higher-end bicycle, you have to do so at the rare moment when you actually have the money. But people who use a bicycle through their employer’s bicycle plan, for instance, tend to choose the more expensive options more easily.
That being said, we also believe that Cortina is a bicycle company at heart. Of course, we design and produce e-bikes but we’re not necessarily technology-driven. E-bikes run the risk of becoming ultra high-tech gadgets with a lot of bells and whistles that don’t really make sense anymore. What is important to us, is to scale things back a little. Ultra high-end e-bikes get stolen very quickly, whereas bikes that look just like bikes are way less vulnerable to theft.
Were there any things that never left the drawing board with New Horizon?
Yes, unfortunately. But it wasn’t because they weren’t interesting enough. We had to finish the project on time and so we’re saving them for a next round. I’d love to find out, for instance, if we can make fenders out of hemp or another lightweight natural material. Designing a one size fits all bicycle is also something I dream about, although it would involve a lot of adjustable parts that take away from the simplicity in the design.
Final question: will there still be a place for regular bicycles now that so many people are switching to e-bikes?
Certainly – it may even be the theme of our next New Horizon project for 2035. As with any trend, there’s always a counter trend. I haven’t finished my research yet but I definitely can imagine we could someday see a revival of the regular, non-electric bicycle. In the end, the goal with a bicycle is to get from A to B quickly, safely and comfortably – it doesn’t necessarily have to be electric. Creating the best possible user experience is something I will always work on. For me as a designer, it’s the highest goal you can reach.
LET’S TAKE A LOOK IN THE CORTINA SHOWROOM!
After my interview with Arif was done, I had a look in the Cortina showroom at all their current models. I love it when every aspect of a brand’s design is well thought through. And as you can see below, Arif and his team at Cortina delivered the goods.
Bike racks can be awfully boring – but not at Cortina!
I dabbled in showroom design many a moon ago, so I could definitely appreciate what the Cortina design team had accomplished with this relatively clean and simple space. Lots of bright colors, plenty of visual interest and – of course – loads of Cortina bikes to feast your eyes on!
This model you see here is the Cortina E-Blau Ladies’ Bicycle. And let’s face it, aren’t ladies’ bicycles are way more practical to use than men’s bicycles?
The triangle you see here is what is called the final cut graphic in bicycle design. Betcha didn’t know that!
Look mom, no gadgets! Arif Veendijk and his design team really prefer a clean cockpit, which (quite literally) means no unnecessary bells and whistles on the steering wheel. Ever.
Each model has its own characteristic bike frame – yet they’re all instantly recognizable as Cortina. I particularly loved this Cortina Mozzo Men’s bicycle – so sleek and sporty!
A little detail you surprisingly don’t get on a lot of bicycles from other brands is a headlight that actually follows the direction of your handle bar. Pretty clever, right?