Observation Checking in with California College of the Arts (CCA)

One of six student teams competing in Oregon Manifest this year, the California College of the Art’s (CCA) team is a group of design students from the school’s far-ranging disciplines. Leading the group are advisors Nick Riddle and Brandon Walker, both CCA graduates, instructors, and professional designers (Riddle has recently left CCA to serve as a composites engineer at Easton Sports.). The team has received hands-on instruction from veteran Bay area builders—and Manifest competitors—Curtis Inglis (Inglis Cycles and Retrotec) and Paul Sadoff (Rock Lobster).
HQ, Riddle and Walker’s office (which they share with a gaggle of architects), is tucked into a mixed-use warehouse in San Francisco’s up-and-coming Dogpatch neighborhood. One wall is covered in hundreds of inspirational images and CAD drawings of various bits and bobs; worktables are littered with samples of laminates, molds, bisected test lugs, and  welded intersections of scrap tubing. The room swims with potential.

And the bike? Still in its formative stages. Identifying their target audience has been a major concern. High on the list are small businesses that can benefit from economical, low-impact transportation. For inspiration, they’ve interviewed, among others, food delivery riders to suss out the demands placed on both bike and cyclist.

With San Francisco’s uniquely vertical terrain in mind, any bike the team develops has to function well going both up and down. Riddle says geometry, then, as well as load-carrying capacity is of the utmost concern to the team.
And then there are the materials from which the bike and its accouterments will be crafted. With the military gobbling up exotics like carbon fiber and titanium, much less the dubious ecological footprint and huge expense of these materials, the CCA team is experimenting with a host of offerings outside those typically used in the bike industry. As Riddle says, it’s important to “be using materials appropriate for 2011.” For example: hemp composites, which can be remarkably strong and cost effective. With the availability of the school’s high-tech rapid prototyping facilities, its quick work to experiment.
Without, as Riddle puts it, “ a brand to defend,” or a deep-seated “native knowledge” of cycling lore and retro aesthetics, the students are wide open to innovation and unconventionality.

by Matthew Card