Builder Spotlight: Marty Walsh, Geekhouse

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

One of our big things is going to NAHBS each year. When we design for that show we build three or four bikes, and historically they’ve been customer bikes. For Oregon Manifest I can build whatever I want, for no one, not even myself. That frees me up to use things I’ve been ready to do for a while but haven’t been able to.

How far along are you in the design process?

It looks great on paper. I have a crew of guys I work with – a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a machine shop guy – we’ve been meeting, made sketches, created a laundry list of what we want to include.

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?

We’ve gone back to square one on this bike. My goal is to have it not look like a Geekhouse bike – something very different. It will incorporate some things that we’ve done in past bikes, but other than seeing the name on it, you won’t even recognize it as a Geekhouse. We’re starting with a huge list – we may not get everything in there, but more than we would have done.

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

It’ll be a mix of modern – not futuristic, but modern – and classic, together. There will be hints of retro. We like to keep what we’re doing close to us – we don’t share it; we like to surprise people and build anticipation.

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

Something you can ride through all weather and carry a fair amount of equipment – groceries, whatever you need on a day-to-day basis. It has fenders, you’re not going to get your pants greasy; you can ride it and be protected from the elements.

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

The competition is motivating me more than anything else. Some of the other guys are working with industrial design houses; I’m a huge fan of industrial design, so I’m fired up to have our bike be the best that we can possibly make it. Some people in the event, I have a feel for what they’ll do – others I have no idea what they might come up with; it could be completely new. These outside idea guys will push the envelope. I think the bikes will be very different than in 2009.

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?

That’s a tough question. The key factor in innovation is often budget. The Cannondale Duchess prototype, they had tens of thousands into that. For small builders on a budget, it’s a big challenge. In this industry you see incremental changes as well as big themes. I think you’ll see big themes at Oregon Manifest.

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?

For the last three years at NABS, guys come up and say “Hi, I’m the product development manager for X Bikes.” The big guys are coming and looking around to see what everyone’s doing. Not just to copy – they’re genuinely enthusiastic about the bikes. They’re taking notice of what we’re doing. A lot of our designs are things customers come to us with – ideas they’ve had in their heads – they can be very different.

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

The goal is to get more people on bikes. You can get the average person on a bike if it makes more sense for them. It’s more than just getting someone with a Vanilla to ride a utility bike. There are more people living in cities than rural areas now – cycling in urban areas is becoming more important. People want something they can live on every day – that’s the kind of bikes we make here.

Where is your workshop? Describe it in one short phrase.

Small but clean. I have a friend with a machine shop, really intelligent guy, very successful – but his shop is giant and a mess. Mine’s small and clean.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

It’s seeing the final product – seeing the person’s expression when they first get their bike. I love being done – looking at the product and knowing I did everything as perfectly as I could.