Get ready for Quirky, our next original series

Though we’re sad to see Ludo go (the series finale of Ludo Bites America airs tonight at 9P), we’re very excited to announce the premiere of the upcoming Sundance Channel original series Quirky, as well as our series-long partnership with Core77. Ben Kaufman’s company, Quirky, is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products, and Core77 is all about covering the best and latest in design and technology. Throughout the series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process – and all without the help of a company like Ben’s.

Today we bring you the story of Skatecycle, winner of the Core77 Design Award for Transportation. Designed by Alon Karpman of Brooklyn Workshop.

Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited, and why?

As a kid, I started sketching out this concept. I was always fascinated with hubless wheel technology, I just didn’t see anything that actually made real use of it. When I began working on the Skatecycle, I wanted to make sure that the final product would be what I envisioned over 20 years ago as a kid making sketches in my notebook.

The idea for the Skatecycle took shape when I moved to New York from Los Angeles and immediately missed the easy access to ski resorts that I enjoyed out West. I wasn’t happy with my job at the time, and was excited enough about Skatecycle to leave my job to pursue its production. With the Skatecycle, you don’t need a hill, you don’t need a half pipe – you don’t need anything. You can just swerve and carve and get that same thrill from the slopes all year round. The Skatecycle’s 9″ donut hole wheels enable rides with power, quickness and a small (2′) turning radius. The rider stands sideways while maneuvering his or her feet and upper body to propel forward and “carve” deeply over flat surfaces, much like a snowboarder on a slope.

What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?

As both the inventor and designer of Skatecycle, I didn’t just set out to make a prototype or concept; I invested fully in the project with the goal of mass production. After working out the mechanics of the project and having a final form, I realized that the aesthetic design is secondary to your production means. Once I found a factory willing to make it, the final outer aesthetic design had to be reworked according to production capabilities. So there are a few design elements that I had to let go in order to move forward with production. Each design tweak requires new tooling so you end up settling on the best you can get with what you can afford. Hopefully sales will allow for improvements on future generations of the product.

When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audience, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc.)

Since I invested my own money into the project, the interests I considered were:

1. My original vision for the product
2. Likelihood of production
3. The retailers’ willingness to put a new product on the shelf
4. The consumer’s riding experience (the fun factor)

Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc.)

I was aware of all the downsides of manufacturing hubless wheels, and why one was never mass produced before. Previously, all hubless wheels where using rolling pins or regular skate bearings as rollers. But this takes away from the opening in the center portion. With that type of construction you end up with an oval or a much smaller opening in the center of the wheel. I wanted a complete 360? smooth inner circumference that would hug the inner side of wheels. In order to achieve this, several different materials had to be used. I used Delrin for the outer rim core. This core is fused to the polyurethane tire, essentially making it one piece. The inner rim is solid aluminum, and the ball bearings are steel. This combination of heavy steel balls and the lightweight Delrin groove which they roll over is what allows the tire to spin freely without the use of grease or lubricants.

What is the social value of your design?

I believe that any product that gets people outside and riding is a good thing. I also believe that a lot of what we see in science fiction movies and comic books stay in the concept stage because large companies are unwilling to take a risk and get involved in projects that are heavy in research and development.

This product is part of an ever evolving culture of those who are willing to ride something new. Children grow up and see skateboarders and snowboarders pulling off some amazing acrobatics and don’t have the same barriers of what’s possible to do on something you ride. The Skatecycle adds a new element of coordination to sideways riding (snowboards, skateboards) where your feet don’t need to leave the machine for momentum. Adding this skill to the language of riders will continue to further the evolution.

If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?

I would have presented the earlier prototype to the factory and skipped the last two prototypes which focused more on the aesthetics. I didn’t realize that I would have to redesign the aesthetics according to the constraints of that particular factory.

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