Team Spotlight – California College of the Arts

How was this team put together?

There was an open call – who wants to join? We wanted an interdisciplinary team – art, fashion, design. At first we had about 25 people during spring semester, but we ended up with a core of 5 or 6 undergrads and one master’s design student with fabrication experience.

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

The students wanted to build it themselves; the frame-building class helped, plus we have two students with other experience in frame-building. I’m the faculty advisor, kind of the ringleader while being as hands-off as possible. I organize a bit, help them distill their thoughts… keep the cats herded and focused. There other watchful eyes on campus as well, plus great support from the administration – we’ve had unfettered access to workshops and the campus, which is not the norm in the summer.

How are you integrating the competition into your curriculum?

It’s not for academic or internship credit. They’re doing it because they want to do it – they’re passionate about building. A lot of students are into biking because that’s the best way to get around. This gives them a practical approach to the project; they’re not dreamy or nostalgic like us old-timers.

What kind of questions are you asking in the design process – what is your approach?

They knew the parameters of the competition; their major thesis was: What social problem are we addressing? In what context does this vehicle make sense? They talked to small business owners, a soup delivery company – they got interested in the small-food-vendors environment, doing a lot of research in that area and making sure their project fit into our San Francisco context.

How far along are you?

The bike is built, the parts are in, but it’s not assembled or painted yet. They’re making the compartment modules now. It’s a week before school starts, so they’re enjoying a relaxed week – and then they’ll be at 24 hours a day for the next three weeks. They have a typical student attitude toward scheduling: they hang around and have fun for nine-tenths of the allotted time and then work like crazy the last 10 percent.

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

We’ll see. I haven’t been exposed to that a lot; I’m more involved in the pragmatic stuff. I know they’re taking a modernist approach – utility and functionality are their concerns. It’s a very stripped-down, straightforward approach to everything.

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

The bike they’re building is a platform to build a small mobile business – something that can support a brick-and-mortar business or be a stand-alone. They’ve designed the racks-and-carriers system to carry goods. They must be flexible, low-energy-intensive modules that are customizable to any business application. The modules provide unique configurations for different businesses.

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

We realize it’s a competition. The individual builders around our area have been super-supportive: “You need to cut some tubing? Come down and use my tools.” We know we’re not competing with them. But the other schools, yes. We have a competitive mindset, and these students know how to create a display among multiple exhibits that will have a dramatic presence and create a visual statement.

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

Part of our early conversations was about why we were engaging, and what we were building. A lot of builders are putting out high-end, expensive boutique bikes. We wanted ours to be affordable. The cycling culture is feeding off the fact that in San Francisco cycling is becoming endemic – planners are including bikes in their overall transportation plans. Like Market Street – there are bike lanes, and entire sections open only to transit and bikes. Bikes will become part of the everyday culture here. Along with that will come increased mobility for businesses – there will be less need to go to a physical business. Our project is feeding off that whole idea.

What is the most enjoyable part of working with a student team?

First is their complete, unfettered abandon and openness to suggestion. They’re not burdened with history or nostalgia that shapes a point of view. They have tons of new ideas. Second is that they’ll work 24/7 to make something that’s cool and interesting. Some of their ideas don’t work out, but almost always there’s a gem in there, a smaller idea that’s really good. They have complete dedication to the task; they focus 100 percent on what they’re doing.