Builder Spotlight: Andy Newlands / Strawberry

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

Shannon and Jocelyn have been pestering me – I think they just want to laugh at what I put up there. I went to the party last year and thought, “How many parties like this are you going to miss if you don’t do this?” It sounds like fun, and what else am I going to do? I need to make a utility bike for myself anyway.

How far along are you in the design process?

The fork’s done, I’ve got the fenders, the tires, all the parts. Just have to work the tubes and start brazing. And I know I’m going to go buy a $5 kickstand and bolt that on there.

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?

Not at all. Basically, I’m just working on a line of commuter bikes, and I’m going to enter one. I hope my entry won’t be thrown out. I’m not really pointing at this event. I’ve been around for 40 years, and I just do what I do.

The competition stresses fresh and modern – how will that affect aesthetic decisions?

I’m using a 650-B wheel bike; the only wrinkle is a commuter wishbone casting I’ve been working on. I use steel tubes, with brass brazed construction. The only thing that’s really changes is the metallurgy; I’m using air-hardening steel. When you heat it up to 1500 degrees, as it cools it actually gains strength in the heat-affected areas rather than losing it.

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

Be able to turn on the lights, ring the bell and have fenders… that kind of thing. It’s just a bike made for our climate and topography – you can ride it to the top of Council Crest and it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. It’s not like a racing bike, with no fenders, no clearance for fenders, no lights, no bag.

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

That’s a non-starter. I’m just a guy out to have fun. There will be beer stops, right?

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?

I’m sure there is some possibility for a big jump. But bikes have been around for more than 100 years. In the 1890s everything was already being done. You try to change things a lot… take the recumbent, for example: It’s fast on flats and downhills, but it doesn’t climb worth a damn. I don’t know how you get around that.

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

I hope to bring bikes to more people. The top end is completely gone to carbon-fiber; I think steel is the ideal material – it’s a natural fit for a commuter bike. I think it has a real future.

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

I have a 50×52 poured-concrete structure, with lots of production machinery, lathes, mills – everything you need. It’s 40 years of buying old tools and new ones.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

Seeing the smile on a person’s face. Getting a call from them where they say “I rode really well.” That’s nice.