Builder Spotlight: Jay SyCip / Cielo by Chris King

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

Chris King is a big believer in the bicycle movement – not just because of his business interests in the industry, but bicycles as a valued form of transportation. We encourage all our employees to commute to work. And this is an opportunity to design an urban-style bike to enter in Oregon Manifest – it allows us to partake in something we don’t normally do. An urban bike is not in our normal agenda, so this is a good experiment for us – and maybe a new model to build and sell in the future.

How far along are you in the design process?

The design is complete. We’re about to start the build – we have to put our normal production and delivery ahead of the Oregon Manifest bike, and we’re a little behind on normal delivery – but we’re ready to start.

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?

We didn’t want to re-invent the wheel; the bicycle has been an amazing design since 1890, and we don’t think it needs much new. We wanted to build our bike for an urban environment – somewhere where the user could take a bike up to an apartment or lock it securely, and carry things safely and easily. There are lots of popular designs out there that are cargo-centric, but our design is more so you can take the bike on a long ride with a few things you need to carry – not a whole family or a pile of firewood.

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

Ours is a mixture of classic and contemporary. Cielo bikes are pretty straightforward; our road bikes are kind of based on a mid-80s racing bike, for example. So we don’t want to go too forward. But there are new materials we can use… so it ends up being very contemporary in ways, but still classic.

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

I think it’s about two things: the rider and the cargo. We want to allow the rider to transport from point A to point B, safely and with everything they need right there – a lock, a stand, lights. And then it also needs to be able to carry two bags of groceries. We sat down and discussed: Who is the customer for this bike. We decided it was a single person who lives in a city, so what will they need to do? This bike is not part of their job – they’re not messengers – but it should be a user-friendly part of their life.

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

I think it’s good – it’s going to push new designs. We’re sticking to the materials we use for other bikes, but for other builders playing with new materials can be a big variable, and we hope we’ll see some of that stuff at 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?

The bicycle was pretty much perfected in the 1920s and 1930s. There are new materials, more aggressive angles and the geography changes a little, but it’s kind of hard to improve on something so good. We took the classic approach to the bicycle and added elements we thought we could improve on – but we haven’t altered the original idea.

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?

You can’t beat the big companies for R&D budgets – they bring things to market that small companies just can’t. But in the last eight years we’ve seen that we as small builders can start trends. It’s the first time we’ve seen the big companies pay attention to what we’re doing. We’ve turned a corner – the big companies pay attention to how we appeal to buyers on a more individual, personal, heartfelt level, and that can work for a broader market.

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

If there are more options for people entering the market or making lifestyle changes, that increases the ability of people to imagine themselves as part of the biking world. In Amsterdam they have all these different design options – it gives people more choices, which appeals to a bigger spread of people. We need to be more welcoming; that’s the key. Yes, we need infrastructure, but we also need equipment that feels good. It shouldn’t be a sacrifice to get on a bike every day.

What about this design challenge is inspiring you the most?

I would never have thought of some of the design criteria on my own. I’m an industry veteran – my brother and I have been building bikes for 20-plus years – but I wouldn’t have taken into account all these criteria, integrating all these elements, to build a utility bike. And those are keys to making it easier for people to use the bike. That’s what Oregon Manifest brings to the table.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

I think back to seeing some of our first mountain bikes out on the trails, when we started back in 1992, and knowing that they were being used in a positive way – that’s the biggest compliment and the biggest reward. Our bikes are being used, people are having fun and getting healthy, there’s no pollution being produced when they ride, it’s basically a free activity.