IKEA Launches 'Gender Neutral, Activity Neutral' City Bike

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A retailer obsessed with both sustainability and city-living, IKEA launches a nifty unisex bike that can be customized with a clip-on trailer and racks. . (Photo: IKEA)

IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings retailer that’s most notable recent offerings haven’t been home furnishings, is once again stepping away from the realm of bath towels and serving platters with the release of an exciting new product that’s due to hit the streets, literally, in February: a city bike.

But don't get me wrong ... the hotly anticipated SLADDA bicycle, recipient of a coveted Red Dot Design Award and a 2016 GOOD DESIGN Award from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, is pure IKEA.

Sure, you can’t lounge in it, eat off of it, dress your windows with it, or use it to brighten up a drab corner of a room. (OK, maybe that last one is possible). However, this aluminum frame beauty moves beyond IKEA’s traditional, domesticity-centric trappings while also perfectly encapsulating the brand’s emphasis on goods that are functional, customizable/hackable, aesthetically pleasing and well designed. And while SLADDA is built to last, the bike’s price tag of $499 (IKEA FAMILY members enjoy a $100 discount) is such that if it gets majorly banged-up after a few years of solid use, it’s not the end of the world. (On that note, the bike comes with a 10-year limited warranty on the belt drive and a 25-year limited warranty on the frame).

SLADDA is also reflective of IKEA’s increasing effort to cater to nomadic city-dwellers who appreciate good design but also don’t have a ton of space to call their own. Mobility and sustainability is key here and SLADDA, responding to an “increased need for easy and flexible transportation options,” demonstrates both.

SLADDA, a versatile and lightweight city bike from IKEA
This utilitarian unisex bike is one IKEA product that you really want to assemble correctly. (Photo: IKEA)

Speaking at a recent press preview in New York City, IKEA North America design spokesperson (ahem) Janice Simonson refers to IKEA’s low-maintenance foray into pedal-powered transportation as “one bike for the many.” Simonson goes on to call SLADDA “gender neutral and activity neutral.”

However, one specific activity seems, somewhat predictably, to get more play in SLADDA press materials than others. And that would be shopping.

Along with the adjustable bicycle itself — it’s available in 26" and 28" sizes, by the way — IKEA is releasing a slew of SLADDA bike accessories for easy customization: a minimalist polystyrene helmet with extra-cushy padding; an easy-to-use bike pump; an all-important U-lock for keeping “this nice-looking bike safe when shopping takes a little longer than expected;” and a nifty bicycle bag that converts into a backpack.

And then there are the larger, shopping-centric add-ons: a bamboo and powder-coated aluminum bicycle trailer that can also be hand-towed as well as front and back snap-on racks made from the same materials. Some press photography for the bike might seem to suggest that, in addition to regular shopping trips to the local market, SLADDA is ideal for IKEA shopping trips — that is, quicker shopping trips in which large pieces of furniture aren’t involved.

The perfect bike for IKEA shopping trips?

An IKEA-produced bike as a method of hauling home IKEA-produced goods is a lovely idea but also one not entirely rooted in reality. In the U.S., most of the 40-some car-dependent IKEA outposts are located off major freeways in the far-flung suburban hinterlands of major cities. Translation: IKEA, a retailer with sprawling big box stores that require significantly more land than your average Target or Home Depot, is very much not an urban store despite the retailer's enthusiastic endorsement of largely urban means of transportation like cycling.

An exception is the bike-friendly — and public transportation-accessible — New York City outpost perched on the Brooklyn waterfront. As someone who lives within a 10-minute walk from IKEA Brooklyn, I can think of several instances when a trailer-equipped cargo bike, IKEA-made or not, would have come in very handy. (IKEA is the kind of store where the “only buy what you can carry home” is hard to abide by).

SLADDA, a versatile and lightweight city bike from IKEA
SLADDA, a versatile and lightweight city bike from IKEA. (Photo: Matt Hickman)

Outside of the U.S., SLADDA would seem a shoo-in for visits to IKEA’s pilot Citystore concept launched in Hamburg, Germany, in 2014. The Hamburg-Altona Citystore is the first IKEA outpost to be located within an urban pedestrian zone and the first store to be devoid of a sprawling, state fair-esque parking lot while offering for-hire cargo bikes. (There are some parking spots available, however.)

“It is an absolute pilot project for us. We want to get closer to people and know people are consciously choosing not to have a car," Johannes Ferber, IKEA expansion chief for Germany, explained to Reuters. "We want to learn from this project and see what we can improve that we can then apply in other locations."

In addition to lending itself to a range of uses such as shopping, commuting, transporting all of your worldly possessions, cruising through a park on a sunny day, or selling pencils and pantyhose door-to-door like IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad did as a child in rural southern Sweden, SLADDA is remarkably unfussy and low-maintenance. The belt drive is rustproof and oil-free, the two-gear system is automatic and the rear coaster breaking is reliably old-school. A bell is integrated into the frame as are front and rear lights.

In total, the bike weighs a relatively lightweight 33 pounds, making it a bit easier to haul up and down stairs and on and off trains. (Although I've only taken SLADDA for a brief stationary spin, the Guardian has a full review on the bike's performance).

For now, an inoffensive grey is the only color offered. And because this is IKEA we’re talking about, some assembly is required.

SLADDA, a versatile and lightweight city bike from IKEA
Lightweight and adaptable, SLADDA is designed to make 'life as easy as possible for the user.'. (Photo: IKEA)
SLADDA, a versatile and lightweight city bike from IKEA
SLADDA: A U-Haul alternative for urban nomads?. (Photo: IKEA)

The SLADDA Bicycle is being released in tandem with the 2017 edition of IKEA’s triennial-ish PS (Post Scriptum) collection, which, much like the 2014 IKEA PS range, caters specifically to young and on-the-move urbanites. Offerings in the 2017 PS collection — the retailers ninth since 1995 — spans over 50 products and includes a self-watering plant pot, a modular folding couch, lovely marbled vases made from recycled waste glass and a weird sort of quilt-vest hybrid that’s billed as a “wearable throw” (IKEA’s take on the Snuggie?) and is meant to be used on chilly days when apartment dwellers might be tempted to pump up the thermostat instead of donning an extra layer or two.

Both the SLADDA bicycle and the 2017 PS collection will hit stores in February. It goes without saying: be sure to check ahead to make sure that your nearest IKEA store has these new releases in stock before you head out via car, bike, bus, train, covered wagon, mule, pogo stick or however you choose to get around town.