Builder Spotlight: Dave Levy, Ti Cycles

What inspired you to enter the Constructor’s Design Challenge competition?

I’ve been building more and more city/commuter bikes in the last two years than ever before, and it’s changed my appreciation for this genre. I’m enthused about finding better solutions for real-life situations; that’s engaging from an intellectual standpoint. And this year’s Oregon Manifest format is closer to what I see as real transportation – the way people will really use these bikes. It’s a test for real-world situations.

How far along are you in the design process?

I’m in the concept phase. I still have my 2009 (OM) bike, and I’m using it as a departure point. It was really a randonee-style bike – a more stable long-distance type ride, rather than a simple, upright, around-town commuter bike. I want to depart from that bike, and move toward building a strictly city bike – something you can take for a 20-mile jaunt and enjoy, but specifically functional for getting around town.

The design criteria are aimed at inspiring new solutions and flexibility – how is this influencing your thinking? Are you taking it back to square one?

I’m starting with the idea of “How do we make the bike easier to live with?” This is not going to be a pipe-dream concept bike. For example, I’m mentoring a class of U of O students, and we’re trying to figure out different ways to develop new solutions. It’s interesting listening to somebody who lives in a dorm – what a bike needs to be and do for that person.
I’ve been working with building a single-side fork and rear triangle – a bike where you could change a tire without taking the wheel off. Just lay it down, take the tire off, put in a new tube, pump it up and go. And a simple locking concept, something that’s always there, is a part of the bike, and takes about 10 seconds. There’s a bunch of concepts at play. This could be a project that involves two months of cocktail-napkin drawings, then two weeks to build.

What does true flexibility in a modern utility bike mean to you?

My big goal is simple: to build a bike that’s aesthetically pleasing, easy and pleasurable to ride, light to carry and nearly maintenance-free.
At its heart this is a competition – how do you feel about the competitive aspect? Will it drive innovation?
I’m a competitive person – I’ve been racing since I was 14, and there’s a big chunk of competitive drive in everything I do. So, sure, it’d be fun to win the competition. But the piece that’s engaging to me is less about winning and much more about showing up and being part of new and interesting solutions. It’s interesting and satisfying to be part of the industry moving forward, and moving this segment of the industry forward. The competition is secondary to helping move things forward.

With bikes, innovation seems to be incremental – shaving weight, finessing shifting – but this competition is asking for BIG innovation – do you think that’s possible?

There’s a lot of room for the intellectual process of innovation, but in this competition it’s difficult to make giant, wholesale changes. Something new has to have economic viability built into the concept; when I do something really new I always think, “If one person likes this, I’m going to have to build it again; can I do that? Do I want to do that?” It’s not like creating art, and that’s one thing I like about Oregon Manifest – it’s not one-off art projects; it’s functionality-driven.

In a way, indie builders are the R&D lab for the cycling industry for utility bikes. Where do see yourself and Oregon Manifest fitting into this innovation?

Oregon Manifest has a huge potential for pushing the utility-bike lifestyle forward; that’s a young concept at this point. I see the position of builders as taking different bits and pieces floating around in the bike industry and combining them in a way where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The parts used and developed for Oregon Manifest could lead the industry’s direction.
As far as our ideas being copied, well, there’s no higher compliment than someone plagiarizing your design. If you realize people are going to share ideas and no one’s really going to get hurt by that, it just pushes the industry ahead. The end result is a higher level and quality of product – and the end user is served by that.

Why do you think innovation is important for the everyday citizen cyclist? How can it change why and how people ride bikes?

My hope is not necessarily bringing new people in (although this may be short-sighted of me). We can make the cycling experience easier and more enjoyable for someone already doing it. Riding a bike has always been part of my lifestyle, but for the majority of the population it’s a necessity because they can’t do something else – like college students on campus. We can make it easier to integrate riding into their everyday lifestyle. Then if we expand this to even a slightly broader market, that’s fantastic.

What about this design challenge is inspiring you the most?

Mentoring the U of O students. It’s fun to be around young people who aren’t looking at the world through my experiences and perspective. They look at things really differently. For example, they want to build a bike that’s so enjoyable as a strictly transportation experience that people would take the bike with them after school and make it part of their everyday lifestyle going forward.

Where is your workshop? Describe it in one short phrase.

“Specific tools for specific tasks.” A way to do everything as easily as I can. I’ve been building on my own for 21 years; I’ve come up with a lot of stuff for specific needs. No one else could figure out my pile of stuff.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

I like working with people. I go through and help someone with a project, building something that hasn’t ever existed. Custom bikes are something different; they’re innovative solutions that are simple and effective. To be able to do that in a fresh and different way.