Turning new mountain bike riders into expert riders

UX design  |  Responsive app concept

QUICK OVERVIEW: This is the story of how my team and I designed an app to raise awareness of the Marin brand, by providing features useful to any type of cyclist, particularly would-be mountain bikers. This is a two-week concept piece (not officially endorsed by Marin Bikes).

MY ROLES: Scripting user interviews, user stories, scenarios, storyboards, concept maps, primary design of Bike Finder UI and prototype, usability test plan, visual design, presentation slide deck

THE TEAM: Three UX designers: Alec McGinnis, James Moreno and me

SHARED ROLES: User interview screener, conducting in-depth user interviews, analyzing research, writing user flows, IA, conducting usability tests, design iteration, presentation, retrospective

SOFTWARE: Axure, Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop


My team and I interviewed six potential users who wanted to get into mountain biking, and one subject matter expert who mountain biked frequently. We discovered that users are typically introduced to mountain biking by friends, and people new to the sport strongly value the advice of more advanced mountain bikers. But even with advanced friends, new mountain bikers are intimidated by the amount of know-how they need in order to ride safely and keep the sport affordable.

Jackie mountain biking with a friend

CONSIDER JACKIE STEVENS: Jackie occasionally borrows her friend Caitlin's mountain bike. Jackie has been saving up and is ready to buy her own bike, but it's a big expense and she's overwhelmed by everything she needs to consider.

How can Jackie choose a mountain bike that's appropriate for her as a beginner, that will still meet her needs when she starts learning tricks and riding more technical trails?

If Caitlin can't join her, how can Jackie be confident she's riding safely? Can she plug into mountain biking communities to learn from other skilled bikers?

Once she gets her own bike, she'll be excited to use it. Is there anyplace Jackie can ride off-road without leaving the city?


My team and I developed features for three scenarios:

1. choosing, testing and buying the right bike,
2. finding alternative bike routes,
3. and connecting with biking communities.

We tested each feature with seven users, who helped us identify places where the user flows could be more straight-forward, or where the purpose of each feature could be more clearly articulated. The screen shots below are of Version 2, created after this first round of usability testing.

DESIGN DECISIONS: Our initial interviews indicated that users prefer to shop and research products on a full screen. They might search for bike routes on a full screen when leaving work or home, but they must be able to re-route on the go, on their smartphone. For these reasons, it seemed important for the app to be accessible on both desktop and mobile.

We decided to design a responsive site, although because of time constraints we only designed the desktop prototype of the Bike Finder feature, and the mobile prototypes of the Route Finder and Community Finder. If this project were to continue, it would be worth revisiting which is most appropriate: a responsive app, or native app plus desktop site.

Bike Finder user interface

BIKE FINDER: This feature moves users through a simple interface that helps them discover which types of bikes are right for them. It also helps users set up test rides at local bike shops, where they can connect with real-life experts, because our research indicated that users trust real people more than information on the internet. The Bike Finder is designed to minimize overwhelm -- the number one problem that leads users to abandon the bike-buying process -- without skimping on the important information users need to know when choosing their first bike.

Route Finder user interface

ROUTE FINDER: This feature is similar to the Google Maps app, but it offers additional filters for finding interesting bike routes, such as sorting by difficulty, or finding longer routes between two points. The "urban mountain biking" filter is key feature for users who don't have time or means to visit wilderness trails very often; it suggests routes with fun obstacles or off-road trails hidden around the city.

Community Finder user interface

COMMUNITY FINDER: This feature connects users with biking groups, so they can make friends and learn from more advanced bicyclists. We explored the idea of sourcing community listings only from users, or collaborating with other products such as Meetup to drive users to pre-existing bike groups. Additional user research would help us determine how this feature might be useful and different from other community-finding services.


USER IMPACT: To judge the impact of this app on users, it would be helpful to run usability tests on the Version 2 prototype. When we presented the project to our class, one student who had been considering buying a mountain bike said our app made her excited to go buy one -- but would the app actually make her purchasing experience less overwhelming? Would it add value to her experience post-purchase?

PERSONAL IMPACT: The most significant things this project taught me were about teamwork and project management. In our retrospective, my team agreed that project management was one of our weak points until about three quarters into our two-week process -- when we finally got into a groove as a team, communicating more effectively and setting clear expectations. Our app could have been stronger if we had set internal deadlines and expectations from the start.

This project also taught me a lot about scope. Every project is bound by the limitations of time, money, technology and manpower. Having three designers does not necessarily mean you can triple a project's scope. Coordinating with each additional team member takes time. Coordinating between multiple features can exponentially increase scope. Our project might have been stronger if we had focused on delivering one or two fantastic features instead of three. I see huge value in learning to anticipate and manage scope, especially in a world where UX designers are often asked to do so much in so little time.

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