Building the Bike of the Future
Three Applied Craft and Design students spent their summer vacation designing the ultimate utility bike for art students.
While some students took summer “break” at its word – lounging along the rivers, or catching up on much needed hours of sleep – three students from PNCA’s joint graduate program (with Oregon College of Art and Craft) in Applied Craft and Design (ACD) toiled away with sandblaster and TIG welder in the school’s metals studio – as well as on months of extensive cargo bike research, hours spent with Google SketchUp and on building full-scale maquettes. Their task? Revolutionize the modern bicycle.
The goals of the 2011 Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Design Challenge were threefold: first, to provoke and inspire innovative bike designs for the modern lifestyle; second, to celebrate the resurgence of American craft, specifically bike design; and third, to posit that a well-made bicycle can, and should, be a reasonable alternative to a car.
“We need a bike that can be a real tool for living,” says Jocelyn SyCip, Director of Oregon Manifest. “One that makes more sense than a car.”
Greg Ware, Provost at PNCA, says, “Building a utility bike is a perfect problem for PNCA as we move towards a two-hub campus with the opening of the 511 Building in 2014. The question is how students will get back and forth between the two buildings. Could we design a bike that would help students commute?”
Current ACD students Andrew Lonnquist MFA ’12 and Karl Ramentol MFA ’12 and ACD alumnus David Boekelheide MFA ’11 stepped up to the plate.
“Working on a collaborative experience was very revealing,” said Lonnquist. “It was a unique experience, frustrating and with occasional head-butting, but offered insight as to how a design team functions. In the end, everyone was on the same page: we have to get it done.”
The trio spent the months and weeks leading up to the September 23 unveiling in focused – and occasionally frantic – construction. While other student teams spent an entire semester on bike design and research and another on construction, the PNCA team juggled the responsibility of jobs, families and their own studio practice with the demands of the project. The project’s limited budget forced the trio of designers to think outside the box for their solutions.
“Multiple times,” Lonnquist explained, “we chose to source stuff for free through connections, rather than blow our entire budget on particulars. We all drew upon our own resources multiple times for free materials. The metal grate was from one of Dave’s friends, the recycled wood came from the [MFA] studio and the bike seat was one that Karl had already repurposed.”
“The goal was to make a bike as inexpensively as possible,” Ware explains, “It’s a recycled bike, made from parts sourced from other bikes, supplies for the absolute minimum [cost]. We can’t support a fleet of $8,000 bikes. Once we develop a working prototype, and if it’s an interesting enough job, perhaps we can hire students to build two or three a summer so that in a few years we’ll have ten or twelve bikes.”
The team decided to design for a specific audience: the urban art student. And who better to design it than three urban art students? Thus, their bike has a sidecar that can act as both a seat for passengers as well as room for art supplies. The bike can also transport up to eight-foot lengths of lumber and metal stock.
Other design details include: an additional wheel for maximum stability and increased balance with heavy loads, versatile bungee cord tie-off options for keeping luggage and supplies in place, frames with integrated lighting, security and fenders, and sustainably minded repurposed bike seat, plywood grate, and frame sections.
The team hit a rough spot at 11pm the night before the competition. While testing the weight bearing capacity of the bike with an extra passenger, the team bent the back two wheels on a very tight turn. Fortunately, one of Boekelheide’s friends loaned the trio a set.
With a new set of wheels, the team was ready. Out of a field of 42 competitors, PNCA’s bike, ridden by Boekelheide, took 21st in the rigorous 50-mile road test on hills, byways and off-road sections, a phenomenal success.
The future of the team’s utility bike is still a bit uncertain, but they hope to build a few more of the bikes for use by PNCA students transporting projects and supplies across the city, a use which is especially important at an urban campus like PNCA and a bike-friendly community like Portland.
When asked what happens next, now that the formal Challenge is over, Ware responded, “We have to figure that one out. We’ll try and do that over the summer, to test out the bike and see how it fairs. We’ll be demoing it. We already know that the wheels have to be a lot stronger.”
“This project was about craft and art and its place in emerging cultures. The partnership with Oregon Manifest fits with PNCA programmatically and philosophically. Our graduate program in Applied Craft and Design is about hand-making and design, and our new Collaborative Design program looks at complex problems – wicked problems – such as transportation and reliance. PNCA has a commitment to sustainable strategies, towards leaving as light a footprint as possible. We’re always interested in where and how art can play a role in that.”