Builder Spotlight: John Cutter

How far along are you in the design process?

Not far enough – my wife’s getting very nervous. But I’m so used to getting things done at the last minute… I’ll get nervous around the beginning of August.
I’ve almost totally nailed the design on paper: tube configuration, wheel format, component package. Then I’ll add the stuff that will really make people look.

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 look at the design teams and everyone else involved in the Design Challenge, and I think “I’m going to have to revolutionize the bicycle to compete – what, do I make it out of cardboard?” Really, I’ll just capitalize on things I’ve learned over the years, and then try some things I’ve thought of. I’m playing with some options, like carrying weight over the front of the bike, and handlebar shapes.

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

For me, it’s the ability to carry weight on the bike in more than one way – a modular load system: fore, aft, weird shapes. And it always comes back to the fact that it’s a bike – it has to be fun to ride when it’s empty.

At its heart this is a competition – how do you feel about the competitive aspect? Will it drive innovation?

Part of me thinks, “It’s a contest!” I’m not really competitive athletically, but I’m pretty competitive at my craft. But it’s bicycles – shouldn’t we all get together and just make a better bike? There are some builders coming to this event that I’ve always wanted to meet – it’s going to be great just to meet them and see what they bring. To me, sharing the things I’ve come up with is part of the event.

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?

Now you’re talking evolution versus revolution – and it’s awfully tricky to come up with revolution. Evolution is much safer; I’m not sure which is the better approach. I don’t know if anyone is going to come up with a true revolution. A bicycle’s genius is in its simplicity – how do you improve on that?

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?

I’ll be disappointed if the big companies don’t rip us off! (Laughs) I’ll be sad if what we come up with isn’t good enough to be get borrowed. It’s the way of the industry, so I just don’t worry about it. My best defense is to come up with another better idea after one gets ripped off. It’s not the last idea I’m ever going to have.

What about this design challenge is inspiring you the most?

What’s inspiring me is the idea of integrating all the required features and doing it in a way that they won’t look like individual thoughts; they’ll look like a system. Can I make it seamless? I’m inspired to pull this off.

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

Messy, tiny and complete. When we built our house I included a garage knowing it would be a shop. I work in about 600 square feet.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

The person you’re building for – they make or break the job. If they’re excited about getting the bike, and they give you feedback when it’s right. It’s like I can vicariously enjoy their adventures through them.