Builder Spotlight: Curtis Inglis / Retrotec

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

I needed a bike I can go to UPS on, carrying frame boxes. I wouldn’t have done Oregon Manifest if I didn’t have the need for this bike. Instead of a real customer, this time I’m the customer.

The design criteria are aimed at inspiring new solutions and flexibility – how did this influence your thinking? Did you take it back to square one?

Most of what I did I’ve already done before. I’m meeting the criteria, but I didn’t set out to re-invent the wheel. Every time I think I’ve come up with something new, I find out it was thought of 70 years ago. I wanted a bike that I could take to UPS, and then out to dinner – something I would look at and be inspired to ride it.

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

Most of my aesthetic is European, from the 1950s. It’s what I’ve always enjoyed. Retrotec as a company has been stuck in the ‘50s and ‘60s – we’ve come into and gone out of fashion several times – and it’s what we like to do. Aesthetically pleasing and usable bikes are something we’ve been doing for quite a while, and we’re staying true to what Retrotec is. If this bike didn’t have decals on it, I’d still want someone to see it and know it fits Retrotec’s style.

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

I have my own set of criteria. I looked at this bike as, I’m the end user, so build it for my needs. Have to be able to go to UPS without a lot of hassle, and then go out to dinner with my wife and have it be nimble, light and fun. A lot of things fall in between there.
At its heart this is a competition – how do you feel about the competitive aspect? Will it drive innovation?
I can’t wait. It was the main reason I did it in 2009, and it’s the same reason now. I get to ride my bike with my peers in Portland on a nice day, and achieve all the criteria. I took a month on this bike – which is the time I would take to build four regular bikes. I took it seriously making it, but not beyond that.

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?

Sure. (Long pause) Is that enough answer? Look, it’s possible, but Oregon Manifest gets a little excited about re-inventing the wheel. You can learn a lot from the past, from when the bike was the main way to get around. We have new materials now, but the ideas have been there. We can refine, make it better, but it’s kind of arrogant to think you’re going to come up with something radically new.

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

If a bike motivates you to get out and ride it, use it for multiple tasks, then it does what it’s supposed to do. I like to build good-looking bikes that can do a lot, too. Part of what motivates me to ride is that the bike looks good while it’s functioning well. No one’s going to buy a bike from me without the aesthetics.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

Seeing people out riding them. Yeah, you make your own hours and all that, but I really enjoy seeing people out on my bikes. That’s the most inspirational part: seeing people get out and ride a utility bike for what it’s made for.