Builder Spotlight: Folk Engineered / Discovery Charter School

Ryan Reedel and Marie Pasquariello

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

RR: I had been working with the Discovery Charter School on a bike refurbishing class. At some point the kids came to the same conclusion I did: You can refurbish bikes and their components, but you reach a point where you want to work on the frames. I heard about Oregon Manifest, and the kids loved the idea. I went to the administration, and they were on board right away. They like a big spotlight; a national design competition? Bring it on!
MP: It’s a very creative school; they have a lot of innovative programs and projects. I worked with them for three years on a boat-building class; we built boats up to 16 feet long and launched them on the river, so I knew they were capable of pulling this off. They’re inspiring and smart kids with lots of ideas.
RR: Discovery wants to open a school in Kenya in the future, and a utility bike would be very practical to use in that setting, so this project fit into that idea as well.

How far along are you in the design process?

RR: We have a very full piece of paper, with lots of notes, little knockouts… as far as actual construction, we’re sourcing the materials and components right now. We’ll start building frames and testing them in the next few weeks.

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?

MP: We went back to square one, to the basics. We had the kids take their measurements and our measurements, so we could design for ourselves. Then we went out to the clouds, getting inspiration from the kids and their crazy ideas – “We should put a mini-fridge on the bike!” – and picking the ones that might actually fit on this bike. They had lots of ideas.
RR: These are kids in 4th through 8th grades – they’ve ridden a bike, but that’s all the experience they have with bikes. I had to explain the difference between a tire, a rim and a wheel. We had to explain the basics and lay down a foundation of knowledge first.

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

MP: This is something all-new, something we’ve never done before. It’s going to be extremely versatile. We’ll be integrating some interesting features into it.
RR: We’ve both gone to art design school, so when I hear “modern” I think 1950s modern. This bike is more post-modern. It’s more about uses and social constraints… the parameters of how you use a bike in all kinds of life circumstances. It’ll be a bike for anyone anywhere.

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

MP: It’s going to fit in a lot of different habitats – urban or suburban, mountains or beach. You can use it in your area, and customize it for the use and environment. If you live in mountains you need gears. If you live at the beach you want stainless steel racks.
RR: It’s general enough to be suitable for many uses, with allowances for different tire clearances or different load capacities.

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

RR: We’re not only competing against other builders and against ourselves, but also the 2009 entries – a bar has been set. We would love to win, but this is not something we can train for. It’s not like we can put in a few extra miles to get ready. It’s about having the competitive spirit, but that’s not the driving force.
MP: The hardest part about competition is keeping things a secret – we can’t talk to everyone about it!

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?

RR: What is the standard for bikes? You can say, “BB30 is the new standard.” Is it? Time will tell. Racers and ingenious custom builders will push the envelope, but it takes a while for homogenization. We won’t see a paradigm shift at Oregon Manifest, but a little something new on every bike will add up.
MP: A bike has to fit the human body; there’s only so much you can do with design.

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

MP: It’s really important that people be comfortable on a bike, with the capability to get from one place to another. No one’s going to ride a bike if it’s hard to ride. What we do makes it easier for people to ride, and that’s important to us.
RR: The bikes we have now are good at what they do, and the riders are good at riding them – what we need is for the infrastructure to improve before riding can really expand.

What about collaborating on this design challenge is the most interesting/challenging/rewarding?

RR: With no hesitation: working with the kids. I went into the class with an idea for what we want to accomplish for each day. The kids take those ideas wherever they want, and you never know where they’ll go. It’s very inspiring, and challenging – their design drawings always have booster rockets on them, and other things that aren’t quite feasible.
MP: It’s the kids’ ideas – they come up with things I would never think of, like putting two seats on the same bike post, so one person could pedal and the other could just kind of wrap around the pedaler. We’re really excited to be doing this – it’s our passion. We’re so excited to do the ride, and see all the other bikes.