Which Road: Easy or True

Shaking Up the Collaborative To Challenge Our Assumptions

Lots of iterations of design

Lots of iterations of design

Someone asked a question regarding why the Collaborative is trying to work with lugs when it seems pretty clear that off-the-shelf options aren’t working for this project.  Or at least, preexisting lugs didn’t work for the Seven Cycles Shop Bike we just built.

Answering this question quickly becomes a circular discussion.  In the context of the Collaborative, an example might look something like this.  In fact, In order to explain one of the reasons why we’re committed to using lugs, and simultaneously frustrated by using lugs, I’ll provide a real world example.

But first, remember that one of the elements of the Collab’s mission is to work with lugs.  I’ve provided some of the compelling reasons we’re dedicated to lugs for this project—and I’ll be providing more reasons in the coming weeks.

On To the Example

I’ll oversimplify this example, a bit, for the sake of brevity but this situation actually occurred—it was a bit more convoluted than I’m presenting here.

The three Collab designers responsible for the Shop Bike design got together and laid out the bike.  One of the design parameters was a bike that anyone at Seven could ride—it is a Shop Bike after all.  This is no simple feat but certainly a good requirement for any community based Shop Bike.

Within about ten minutes of evaluating this design, it became clear that frame geometry and performance compromises would be needed, if we were going to stick with the goal of using three stock lugs out of the four required to build a frame.  Remember, we only wanted to make one lug from scratch—in order to expedite the build process.

So, the first directive defenestrated—it’s my favorite word—was the idea of a bike that fit everyone, and was safe for everyone to ride.  The second directive defenestrated was the idea of a tubeset that would ensure decent and handling with 30 lbs. of beer, donuts, hardware store supplies, babies, etc, in the front basket.

The Collab was about to begin production on that watered-down design when we realized that we were suddenly building a bike that didn’t come close to our design directive.  How’d that happen? So, we backed up and thought about how we ended up with a bike that no one really wanted.  The reason we ended up here was simply because we let preexisting standards, or options, dictate the design.  I know that this kind of tradeoff happens every day; maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal.  Regardless, I was still amazed that we fell into this mode so easily.  In part because we design bikes everyday in which we have very few design parameter limitations—all custom, no lugs, lots of component options.  So, I kinda thought that we’d naturally push back against whatever lug limitations arose.  But, that didn’t happen naturally; we had to force ourselves to stop and reexamine the situation.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the learning road when there’s a very clearly defined, and attractive, well traveled road.  Many of us grow up thinking design rules exist for good reasons, without every asking the question why.

So, that’s one of the reasons we’re working with lugs.  To push ourselves and learn stuff that we wouldn’t otherwise learn.  It would be easy to bail on lugs and design a bike like we always do—but then we wouldn’t be learning as much.  Where’s the fun in that?  For better or worse, my Collaborators know that I’m not interested in working within pre-existing methods.

Essentially, we had to decide between being true to the design intent, or making our lives easier.  Guess what, in my world view, design intent is primary; making our lives easier is about 20th on the list.  So, we go where the design directive leads us.  In this case, it definitely led us to a learning spot.  And that spot didn’t include compromising the number of employees that could ride the bike.  Unfortunately, it did mean spending a lot more hours making lugs than we’d hoped.

We’re making the lugs fit the design rather than the design fit the lugs.

Not to get too, artsy, but I can’t help but quote Robert Frost:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Before anyone thinksI’m getting heavy or righteous, I’ll be the first person to guarantee that the Collab has—and I have—I’m sure, taken some easy and fast roads along the way.  But, lugs aren’t yet one of them.  And, the Collab isn’t trying to take the fastest road, the simplest road, or the easy road.  The entire point of the project is to learn.  Part of the learning is doing all we can to take the road that’s true to our directive.  For Frost that was the one less traveled—and that often seems to be the learning road, in my skewed world.

Which leads to one of the Collab Fundamentals, so stay tuned.

One Response to “Which Road: Easy or True”

  1. Peter Says:

    Through the planning stages you uncovered the biggest limitation would be the materials, right? Instead of settling for the learning experience of building with lugs, you’ve increased that learning experience to include fabrication of lugs even though it meant refining your original goal of using mostly pre-existing materials.

    Has this limitation of the materials been the biggest learning and take away so far? Has the collaborative thought about how this limitation could be overcome on a larger scale? In other words, how could you create the materials you need to make lugged bikes that are as custom as the tig welded bikes you make?