Designers of SLADDA: Scandinavian bike for the world

IKEA is launching SLADDA, a practical bike for day-to-day use. We met with the designers of SLADDA Oskar Juhlin, Jan Puranen and Kristian Eke from Veryday design studio. Our quest was to find out why a home furnishing company is not attempting to reinvent the wheel but definitely trying to realign it. And why before it was even launched, SLADDA was awarded one of Europe’s top design prizes.

Oskar Juhlin, Director of Industrial Design, seems extra pleased that SLADDA has won a Red Dot Award. When the team entered SLADDA into the competition, they weren’t quite sure if the jury would understand what they were trying to achieve. You see, SLADDA is just a normal bike.

Veryday is well acquainted with the Red Dot Design Awards. In 2014, they won the so-called team pursuit – the Red Dot: Design Team of the Year.

The jury did understand SLADDA. It was even named “Best of the Best”. A distinction reserved for a few products in each category. What the jury understood about SLADDA was the spirit and thinking behind the design. Kristian Eke, Senior Design Engineer, summed it up as: “to simplify, hold back and just include features that really work.”

OSKAR ON THE AWARD. SWEDISH (00:19)
OSKAR ON THE AWARD. ENGLISH TRANSLATION (00:16)

A speed demon, aestheticist and adventurer

All three designers agree with Jan Puranen that “the bicycle is the world’s best invention.” And after listening to them wax lyrical about bikes it’s hard not to agree. But they all have a slightly different interest in bicycles and cycling.

Jan is the aesthetically minded designer on the team. “I like the feeling of riding, it should look good, cool,” he says. It’s not the speed or adventure that draws him to bikes, to him, it’s the freedom. “It’s just an extension of my clothes, a lifestyle product.”

Oskar has been honing his bicycle design skills since university; he developed a mail carrier bike for his graduation project. But bikes are not just a technical interest, it’s almost philosophical. When asked what bike he rides, his answer: “I ride whatever, but first you have to define what a bicycle is, there are different stages.” Last year he competed in a long-distance race through the forests of Finland. Thirty-eight and a half hours riding (yes, you read right, 38.5 hours) in temperatures of -15 degrees.

We see it in the designer’s preferences for cycling, they are in some way an expression of who they are. So, if IKEA was a bike, what kind of bike would it be?

Kristian, the engineer of the team, when he takes to the roads he rides fast. He’s a road cyclist who once, on a whim, hit the tarmac in Stockholm and didn’t stop until he got to Norrköping, a city two and half hours away, by car. He’s also the one who can ride backwards on a bike – how many hours does it take to learn how to do that?

But still, “SLADDA is the everyday bike that all three of us really need,” says Oskar. It fulfills functions that many highly specialised bikes cannot.

It’s like playing a game: if you were a bike, what kind of bike would you be? We see it in the designer’s preferences for cycling, they are in some way an expression of who they are. So, if IKEA was a bike, what kind of bike would it be? Modern, practical, scaled-back and affordable.

THE DESIGNERS TALK BIKES. SWEDISH (00:46)
THE DESIGNERS TALK BIKES. ENGLISH TRANSLATION (00:40)
Designers of SLADDA: Kristian Eke, Jan Puranen and Oskar Juhlin
Designers of SLADDA: Kristian Eke, Jan Puranen and Oskar Juhlin

Breaking down barriers

Why would a home furnishing company make a bike? “Sustainability is the driving force at IKEA, this is one of the core reasons behind this project,” says Oskar Juhlin. Bicycles are one of the most eco-friendly forms of transportation. They are also the healthiest, often the fastest alternative in the city and a lot of fun.

With SLADDA, IKEA wants to get more people riding. “We want to reach individuals who don’t ride much,” says Jan Puranen, Senior Designer. Many decisions surrounding the design of SLADDA aim to break down the barriers that prevent people from riding.

Incorporating a bicycle into daily life is not so simple. It’s not easy to go shopping, pick up the kids from daycare and pick up a package at the post office all using a bicycle. IKEA came to the team and asked them to design some sort of bike. There was just one condition, the user has to be able to take what they need with them. 

Exclusive belt-drive

Oskar, Jan and Kristian took up the discussion with IKEA that if they were going to develop a bike, here was an opportunity to do something different, and better. Thanks to the streamlined and effective production process at IKEA and the volume of bikes that can be produced they are able to push existing standards in the bike industry.

There are thousands of bikes in this price range with bicycle chains; it’s what people expect. But SLADDA, it has a belt-drive.

What is the best thing about a belt drive? No oil needed. If it gets dirty, you just rinse with water. The supplier of the belt-drive for SLADDA is the same one used by major car manufacturers. No more embarrassing screeches coming from a rusty bike that has been left outside all winter. SLADDA is clean, quiet and easy to maintain.

Features hidden in the frame

When designing a bike, the starting point is the frame. When designing the frame, the starting point is the seating position. Deciding whether SLADDA had a relaxed or active seating position was something the team laboured over for a long time, “it is a watershed moment,” says Oskar.

In a racing or mountain bike, the seating position places a lot of weight on the hands which many find uncomfortable. It’s also difficult to get an overview of traffic. Another consideration – and this sounds rather romantic – but people who don’t ride a lot “get their picture of cycling from their childhood” says Jan. This was a rather relaxed kind of riding. So, with SLADDA, “you can lean back in the saddle a little bit and rest your hands on the handlebars when running errands around the neighbourhood,” continues Oskar.

OSKAR ON THE FRAME. SWEDISH (00:31)
OSKAR ON THE FRAME. ENGLISH TRANSLATION (00:29)

Why make it harder to share bikes? An established idea is that a men’s bike has a top tube and a ladies’ bike has a lower step-through frame. A unisex bike – something like a mixte bike – has been around for a while but never really become mainstream. For maximum flexibility the team has designed SLADDA to be unisex, anyone can jump on and ride.

After many sketches, the team decided on a rough geometric principle. Kristian welded together rough prototypes in the basement of their workshop to find that “in-between frame” that both women and men find comfortable. Then they could test the prototypes to find the right “feeling when riding” that they were after.

Valuable details

It’s the details that make the difference on SLADDA. SLADDA is a mid-price range bike that comes with many top-range features. If you are an IKEA Family member the price falls even more.

Did we mention that SLADDA has automatic gears? With automatic gears, the bike always takes off from the lowest. No more fiddling with gears when the traffic lights turn green. At 17 km/h the bike shifts automatically to a higher gear; less thinking and more riding. Nifty.

They were curious to try and put together SLADDA themselves. The team in the Netherlands were very pleased with the bike, both the packaging and assembly. It didn’t take a long time at all.

Often a basket is hanging on the handlebars. SLADDA integrates it into the frame, just like on a mail carrier’s bike. A smarter way to load up a bike because when you turn the corner the load stays steady.

A detail the team came across by chance is that SLADDA is perfectly in balance when you lift it. The placement of the handle on the frame makes it much easier to carry up and down stairs.

As a result of smart geometric thinking, the rear wheel of SLADDA has been moved back just a touch. This means that when you hang a bag on the rear rack of the bike you won’t hit your heels when pedalling, plus, a youngster in a child-seat won’t have their nose in your back. Oskar reflected, “you get a slightly longer bike, but a more practical bike.”

Load it up

The system of accessories that have been developed by IKEA is based on a click-in knob system. It’s intuitive; when the user sees it, they know what to do with it. It’s a generic system that repeats in other places on the bike. You don’t have to be an engineer to tinker with SLADDA.

SLADDA has a central stand, a standard back in the thirties and forties when the bicycle was an integral part of life. With a central stand, you can pack the bike without risking that it will fall over. If you have a side stand, it can easily topple. 

Other features that make a difference to the user are: a front disc brake, a bell integrated into the brake handle plus the frame is polarised rust-free aluminum; a hardy exterior that won’t scratch easily. You can store SLADDA outside and unlike steel frames, you don’t have to worry about it rusting. The frame comes with a 25-year warranty and the belt-drive a 10-year warranty. IKEA is serious about SLADDA.

Flat-pack is ok

In most markets, SLADDA comes 80% assembled (in France, due to regulations, it will be completely assembled). IKEA has extensive experience in developing flat-packs and product developer Per Stigenius doesn’t think this will be a problem for IKEA customers.

“We got a really nice email from the IKEA Quality Department in the Netherlands the other day,” he says. “Based on rumours they had heard, they were curious to try and put together SLADDA themselves. The team in the Netherlands were very pleased with the bike, both the packaging and assembly. It didn’t take a long time at all.” He seems surprised by the articles that said otherwise.

Per double-checked with his colleague responsible for the technical details of SLADDA exactly how long SLADDA will take to put together, “30 minutes,” he confirmed.

First impressions count

Despite all these features, when you see SLADDA for the first time, the reaction the designers are after is: “nice bike.” No more, no less. The team decided early in the project that it should not be technically intimidating. If they want to reach people who don’t ride a lot – people have to understand what they see straight away.

This is the first Etape of the long tour; SLADDA is meant to evolve. “We’ve built the base, and I hope for a running cooperation with our customers where, with time, they come up with new clever accessories of their own. Who knows what functions we’ll need five years from now?” says Per Stigenius. With this new understanding of mobility the design team are keen to see where SLADDA can go. As Oskar Juhlin says: “this is only the beginning.”

IKEA has tapped into three minds that live, breathe and think bikes. Developing a bike is a dream for many designers. Designing one for IKEA that will be used by hundreds of thousands of IKEA customers all over the globe “is one of those things where you have to pinch yourself in the arm,” says Oskar.

The big picture

In the year 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in an urban environment, in cities. Research shows that 80% of people could carry out all their transport needs with a bike and this increases to 94% when you add a trailer or basket into the mix. 

Kristian Eke calls SLADDA “a Scandinavian bike for the world”. The combination of the accessories and features of SLADDA are crucial if the bicycle is to become a viable transport alternative to the car. IKEA is interested in solutions. We can now load up our bike, instead of throwing what we need in the trunk of the car.

IKEA will never be a bike company but it can use its principles of Democratic Design – form, function, sustainability and low-price to influence behavioural change. For IKEA, this is an investment in the future. 

LISTEN TO KRISTIAN. SWEDISH (00:03)
LISTEN TO KRISTIAN. ENGLISH TRANSLATION (00:03)

Motivation of the jury, Red Dot Award: With SLADDA, the bicycle was given a new identity as a genuine part of a sustainable lifestyle. It’s “democratic” design successfully picks up on classic role models and finds a timeless and aesthetic form. It fascinates with a dynamic, friendly elegance and the distinctive use of wood. Everyone can use SLADDA and easily integrate it into their life. It is high in quality and durability.

IKEA and Veryday design studio have previously collaborated on the ground breaking IKEA Home Smart line, a collection that includes lamps, tables, desks and charging pads fitted with Qi technology – wireless charging furniture.