1. What problem are we trying to solve by making Tilt bikes?
The two top level problems are: firstly, making a great indoor trainer, because people cannot always ride outside and the current experience is not an adequate substitute for riding outdoors; and secondly, encouraging people to exercise, because it is good for you. However, these are both baselines, a bit like saying that Apple want to make a computer because people need to send email. More important is what kind of exercise trainer do we want to make.
The more challenging problem facing Tilt, and any exercise machine, is to inspire, motivate, and engage the user, and to eliminate the boredom that prevents many people from exercising. Most users dread using a stationary bike, and find the experience tedious, the equipment unaesthetic and the results mixed - in part because of their lack of interest in the process. The product of exercise is health and wellbeing, but what good is that if the process is uninspiring or even negative, costly and dominated by products that users do not derive pleasure from owning? How can you make the experience interesting and engaging? Can these issues be addressed?
I believe that answers lie in a different approach to physical design and to the design of the software and the usability of the bike.
This leads to the second question:
2. Can we design something that will delight and engage the user?
If we can do this, then we solve the boredom and motivation problem, and hence this approach and solution is at the heart of what Tilt is about.
As far as the physical product is concerned, the device itself should be pleasingly and carefully designed, and an object the user can like, and wish to own. I get great pleasure in owning a road bike. However, most stationary bikes on the market are ugly, shouting out ‘I’m an exercise bike’. I want Tilt to be as close to a real bike as we can make it, and to reference cycling as much as possible. I love cycling, and in my mind the bicycle is an object of beauty, a largely two-dimensional object moving in 3-dimensional space, with a simple frame and components engineered with care and polish. I want Tilt to echo this as much as possible, so that the user still has the dream of a real bike, and the pleasure that comes from owning one.
I would like the experience of using Tilt to be part of the same story. Being stationary, Tilt cannot replicate the g-forces and turning forces of a road bike. But I would like Tilt to replicate as much of the rest of the feel as possible - the feel of the bike moving under you, which gives a fluidity, and allows you to engage your whole body, is both aesthetically pleasing and better for you, as it engages your core muscles and finer balancing reflexes. I want a user to get onto Tilt, and smile, with a sense of uncanny familiarity to the real thing. I want the bike to have the same fluidity in the pedal stroke and sense of momentum as a real bike, as much of the pleasure of cycling lies in this, and it is lost in current static trainer experiences. My hope is that these two approaches will engage the user’s aesthetic and physical sensibility and make the physical and aesthetic engagement with Tilt fundamentally positive.
Another source of pleasure and engagement of riding a road bike comes from the environment around you, the changing view, and the speed at which the landscape passes by. Stationary bikes have none of this; but with mobile devices, it is is now possible to deliver visual feedback cost-effectively; this feedback can significantly enhance the overall experience. I feel that this feedback must be sensitive to the user - as responsive as possible, so that the what you see interacts with Tilt, and Tilt reacts to the visual experience. I believe that this responsiveness is key to delighting the user.
For this reason, we have focused on highly sensitive control electronics, which can respond by increasing or decreasing the resistance at microsecond reaction times, so that what happens on the screen will provide an immersive experience, which you can feel in your hands and legs. You should be able to feel the bumps, and measure all movement, close your eyes and be on the road. We have also recreated the sense of inertia, so that the ride has a fluid flow - when you accelerate, you can feel the momentum take over if you relax the pressure. On Tilt, the mobility of the handlebar and the side to side movement is really important to this: the user can ‘steer’, what you see will respond.
3. How far can this design thinking be pushed, and can we create something new?
I believe that it is important to go beyond the objective of making a stationary bike whose aim is primarily to simulate riding on a real one. We should ask: what can be done on a stationary bike that cannot be done on a real bike - how far can we push this? The question leads us to explore new benefits that are better delivered this way, and can direct our product development to be excellent at these?
We can measure and set resistance very precisely on Tilt. This is difficult to achieve on a real bike: power can be measured accurately (though the equipment is expensive); it is really difficult to set resistance precisely. By both measuring and setting resistance, we can manage training objectives, and analyse and set the pedal stroke in ways that are difficult to achieve on a real bike, and these are useful for the élite athlete. This is something that we are going to explore, and which will set Tilt apart both from road bikes and from other static trainers, making it an indispensable training aid for performance athletes.
Because the bike moves freely from side to side, we can also measure how the bike moves under a user, and gather this data, revealing how much power the user puts into the bike versus moving their body and helping users to improve their cycling form over time.
The variability and sensitivity of resistance settings can also be used to turn Tilt into a highly interactive media controller, again something that cannot be done on a real bike. Creating an indoor bike that can create and control an immersive media experience is something that we want to explore and build upon.
Many opportunities arise from integrating with the gaming ecosystems. Training and playing Tilt games and challenges with people who are remote, at times when it is impossible to go outdoors, is also something that we want to explore and perfect.
The Tilt design brings together three key features: (i) the tilting mechanism, which gives a realistic feel; (ii) a precision resistance mechanism, which allows unprecedented control and interaction and supports the realistic feel of the trainer; and the ability to link to an app ecosystem, such as Apple or Google’s, which provides entertainment, interaction and engagement. We want to present this arrangement to the customer with wit and humour, playing on the references to cycling without pretending to be a bike; secure in our aim to be the best indoor cycling trainer in the market, and in so doing delight and engage.