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Designing the World's First 100 Percent Recycled Bicycle

A new Kickstarter project features the world's first 100 percent recycled aluminum bike.

It started with that idea cliche: a flash of inspiration. That unparalleled moment when an idea comes to you fully formed and begging to be followed. In this case, that meant finding out how to start a company, research and secure trademarks and design, fabricate and market bikes. I was looking at a reusable grocery bag, that kind that stuffs into its own pocket, with the “ingredients” printed on it. Reading through the list—recycled aluminum, recycled PET, recycled polyurethane—it occurred to me that you could make bikes out of that stuff. “Re-Cycle…huh. Is it possible no one has done that already?”

My first step was find out if I could register the trademark and whether it was even possible to make bikes out of 100 percent-recycled aluminum. Two and a half years into the process, I was able to register the trademark, and I had learned that aluminum is remarkable stuff. Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced since the 1880s is still in use. It’s infinitely recyclable with no loss of strength, and takes 95 percent less energy to produce than virgin stock. It also creates 95 percent fewer CO2 emissions. I was able to track down a local aluminum producer to create ingots that are then shipped to an extruding company that produces bicycle tubing.
Next, I had to find a designer. After a bunch of research, I was lucky enough to read a blog interview with Michael Downes, an Art Center College of Design graduate, ex-designer for Giant Bicycles and, in my humble opinion, a design genius. From there, it was the big-picture dialogue of design intent followed by the all-important minutiae of components, marketing pieces, PR and accounting. All the stuff of starting a small business. Along the way, Michael pointed me to a builder with the experience to make our prototypes.
The seed to this process was sustainability. I had an idea of how to communicate that desire, but it was Michael who pushed us even farther. “We needed an iconic design with a strong brand identity to stand out from the herd so that people would be drawn into a conversation about where the bikes we ride come from and how they are made,” he says. “We wanted the bicycles to be a wedge and our customers to be willing advocates in this discussion.”
We peeled away ideas until hitting on what Michael calls “American Deco,” which refers to a certain optimistic muscularity combined with a puritan industrial pragmatism and an organic, flow-centric modernism that speaks, “This is the new new: responsible resource use and a continual mindfulness of our interconnectedness.” Part of that process included removing the seat tube, which became a metaphor for reduction, as well as giving us another unique design feature.


Logo design was another challenge. I wanted something that matched what I considered to be fairly remarkable bikes, and ended up turning to two designers, Jody Schaeffer, an illustrator, logo designer and my cousin, and Liz Downey, graphic designer and branding expert, to create the essential expression of our ideas. In another wonderfully cliched design moment, Jody agrees to the project and we go to lunch the next day. “Yeah, so I’m thinking something like this,” he says and grabs a napkin and pen, and proceeds to sketch an image amazingly close to its final form. Liz adds font and overall layout to solidify our brand identity.

And now, prototypes and merchandise in hand, people are responding to our mission and design. The look grabs them, and then we can tell our story and do our part to move bicycles—the greenest transportation option—into true sustainability.

If you’d like to help us, head to our Kickstarter and tell all your friends.

Images courtesy The ReCycle Cycles.


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