Builder Spotlight: Greg Heath / Donkelope

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

Just because I’ve been to the event before – it’s always a super-fun event, and I always want to come back. It’s a good little challenge: figure out a bike to build for specific reasons.

How far along are you in the design process?

Not as far as I would like to be… not very far. There’s no metal being cut, but I know what I’m going to build, and I have some pieces. It’ll be similar to the last bike I did, but I’ll add some and take away some.

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?

It’s mainly adding a few things; I didn’t have a lock setup on the last one, and I have an idea for that. This time it seems like we’ll be judged more strictly on the criteria, and that’s a good thing. It seems similar overall; the ride will be shorter and we’ll be carrying something a lot bigger than last time.

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

I guess it would mean it’s not built specifically for one thing. It’s not like it’s a racing bike, where you just figure out where to put water bottles. It’s got to be versatile – you can build something that can handle a lot of weight, but you wouldn’t want to ride it out on the islands. It needs the ability to let you do a lot of different things with the one machine.

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

Yeah, it drives me a little bit. I want to make a bike that people will look at and say, “That’s pretty cool.” Competition motivates you to think of something that will stand out a little. Everyone at the event is going to build a sweet bike; I put pressure on myself to try something new.

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 tried to think of what major things could change, how a bike could be different. It really seems just like it’s materials – that’s kind of the limiting factor. A lot of people use steel, and there’s the whole bamboo thing… you could do a lot of crazy stuff with carbon, but that would take a huge amount of machining capability. A small builder wouldn’t have the resources to do that.

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?

A lot of builders ride what they build, and that’s how you figure stuff out. Making one at a time, you can try something new, even one little part. If it doesn’t work, you try something else. Yes, you see a lot of bigger companies take ideas from small builders, but that’s just how it’s gonna be in corporate America; you gotta deal with it and not let it get you down.

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

In this country there’s a kind of closed-mindedness toward the bike as a vehicle to get you where you need to go – the country is built around the automobile. It’s hard to change the way people think, but building a utility bike is the perfect way to try to do that: there are plenty of bikes out there that can do everything you need. The cool thing about Oregon Manifest is that it spotlights that and shows people, “Hey, you can do this on a bike.”

What about this design challenge is inspiring you the most?

It’s fun because it’s building city/commuter-type bikes, and they have so much stuff on them. They have everything on them, and you want it to hold up to weather, and crappy roads… it’s just fun to build this type of bike.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

I love to ride. I love a lot of things about bikes – it’s just the passion for the whole bike world. I want to contribute to that – to get people stoked to be on bikes. When someone orders a bike from me, it makes me want to build something really sweet that they’ll be proud to ride around on.