LAWRENCE — Lance Rake and Nils Gore, professors at the University of Kansas, hit the road last month with John Bielenberg, director, Future Partners, to showcase a utility bamboo bike at the 2018 North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
“I love the Handmade Bike Show — seeing thousands of bikes that represent the finest expression of efficiency, function and beauty. Still, the enduring beauty of the bike is its ceaseless relevance. Bicycles are both our past and our future,” Rake said.
The bike on display, called “Dharavi,” was designed to be a simple, locally sourced bike-share bike for the IIT-Bombay campus. The idea to build this bike was borne out Rake’s Fulbright research in India.
The bike is built primarily using bamboo, and the working prototype looks to use plastic connector pieces that are molded from recycled water bottles.
“Our booth and bike were definitely unlike anything else at the show. Insanely low-fi in keeping with the nature of the bamboo bike project. It was what I call 'a dog with a hat.' You can't help but pay attention,” Bielenberg said.
This semester, Rake, Gore and Bielenberg are co-teaching a class called Utility Cycling for architecture and industrial design students. It focuses on designing bikes and accessories for more utilitarian purposes. The students are currently working on two main projects that focus on making scraper-bikes and cargo bikes.
Inspired by the grassroots scraper-bike movement in Oakland, the class hopes to take their designs to Kansas City, Kansas, to get middle school kids engaged in making their own expressive bikes with support from BikeWalkKC.
During a recent trip to Haiti, Rake realized the immense role donor bikes played in people’s lives. The bikes serve as cargo bikes so they can bring goods to market, haul fuel and water in rural communities. The current project looks at designing “hacks” to extend the hauling capacity of bikes in simple, inexpensive ways.
The class fits into a larger research and outreach agenda called CycloLab.
“Our goal is for CycloLab to be a fun and educational way for our students to learn more about bikes through hands-on play and then design expanded transportation options for people who need better ways to get around,” Gore said.
The multidisciplinary approach is an organic representation of how different disciplines are utilizing traditional tools and processes in a relevant way.
“Ten years from now we may not be driving cars, but we will still be riding bikes,” Rake said.