Builder Spotlight: Team RISD / Ryan Murray

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

I had already designed a bike as part of my thesis show. My thesis was on nomadic furniture, and my professor said “You need a form of transportation for this furniture.” We both have a history and interest in bike-building, so it was an easy decision. I had to make all the furniture I had built in the last year fit on the bike, and then I added some personal touches for myself, because I’m going to keep the bike when I’m done.
Then I saw information about Oregon Manifest on Core 77, and it looked interesting. And it was fun to see that every design requirement for OM was something I’d already done.

Who is involved in this team – students, instructors, builder consultant?

Each person on my thesis committee has been involved. Academically, the committee asked, “How does this event help tell the story – how do these objects relate to each other?” I started working with Brian and Chris at Circle A Cycles; they helped quite a bit with technical bike skills. I drew up the bike on their computer and built the main triangle with their jig, then went back to school for the rest.

How are you integrating the competition into your curriculum?

It just worked in; it matched up well. My professor was immediately excited about it, and she encouraged me to apply for a graduate-studies grant to take the bike to Oregon Manifest, and I got that. Once I found Oregon Manifest, it put a new fire under my feet – I redesigned a bunch of things to make it more efficient – like to handle better for the race. It was a whole nother level of excitement and energy. I would have built this bike anyway, but what a nice coincidence.

What kind of questions did you ask in the design process – what was your approach?

My thesis was a narrative, and I wrote in some requirements. I had built a collapsible stove and some folding lounge chairs, and they had to fit on the bike. I decided to use a front-end loader – that way I could keep an eye on my cargo, and it’s also a way to carry more weight with a lower center of gravity, down between the wheels. And it distributes the weight evenly between the wheels – all this pointed to a front-end loader.
I just started drawing in a sketchbook, doing quick drawings, then thumbing through and picking out the best ones, and then narrowing it down to sections of the bike. Then I studied my current bike’s geometry, because I had no experience with bike geometry. I played with the design in Photoshop, and then did 3-D modeling.

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

It means any person can just jump on it and ride it comfortably, without feeling vulnerable, and without having to think a lot about it because things have been thought of for you. My thesis bike varies a bit from what I would have built if it was just for Oregon Manifest – the front wheel on a front-loader bike is a little strange to get used to. But as an example of not having to think, I used a dynamo hub for the light – it just lights up when you start riding. You don’t have to think about it, or wonder if you left your blinking light attached to your pants when you go to a party, which I’ve done many times. And I decided not to use toe clips or any kind of cages on the pedals – I want someone to just be able to jump on and not worry if their feet are in the right position.

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

I think it’s good; anyone with a competitive thread will be excited. It pushed me to reconsider everything in my design. I’m pretty confident I’m going to get whupped in the race, but riding on and off-road will be a challenge.
I’ve looked at other profiles online, like the collaborative teams – I’m really excited to see what they come up with. It’ll be great to see them and talk to them.

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

I hope we can change why people ride bikes. It’s such a great opportunity for everyday travel, plus all the health benefits. The most important part of riding for me is the community that comes along with it. Commuting to work, riding alongside someone else who’s doing the same, is nice. And just the chitchat at Circle A – the ideas that fly back and forth, coming up with new things. They repeatedly said that every idea for a bike has been thought of and tried a long time ago – but today’s materials and technology are so advanced that we can make some of those ideas work.

What is the most enjoyable part of this project?

Hanging out at Circle A – I learned so much in the little bit of time I was there. And riding the bike brings the most joy to me. Today I had to pick up a 5’x5’ sheet of plywood, and I used my bike; it was so weird. I love watching people’s reactions – the everyday person is not used to seeing a front-end loader bike hauling stuff.