Uk based designer /engineer, Mark Sanders recently came by Diginexx in Lavender Street, Singapore to share with cycling enthusiasts his views on designing folding bikes, particularly the renown Strida and IF Mode. As the current newest addition to the IF series, the IF Mode has already made its mark in the folding bike arena by snagging both the coveted Eurobike Award 2008 in Germany as well as the iF Product Design Award 2009. Togoparts managed to uncover some insights by speaking with Mark on his distinctive innovations, and the future of folding bikes.
Togoparts: You have designed varying types of products such as the one-can touch opener, Chop2pot, Strida bike and IF mode. Can you share what inspired you to design these products, and not others?
Mark Sanders: You see…what I specialize in doing is designing things that are completely new, and to try and make life easier for people…generally. That’s my number one thing, in using engineering. I particularly like functional products, entirely new innovations rather than different variations of the same products. Yeah..it’s a bit vain, but I’m trying to make the world a better place.
Basically the advantage of a folding bike is that u can take them with you…onto the trains. Folding bikes link your journey from your house to the station. If you can get guys like those driving a Porshe to choose the bike, you can get the rest of the population to see it as an “aspirational” product, which was the basic premise behind the IF mode. The idea is that once they see that the bicycle don’t have to look like what it has always have been, it will make them rethink what the bicycle is all about.
TGP: Using chains as a transmission system have been a norm for off-road and road bikes, what spurred you to come up with the idea of using belts instead of chains?
MS: IF mode uses chains that are enclosed. The Strida uses belt. Imagine you’re going on a train and wearing light-coloured pants, the last thing u want is oil. I always wondered about the ideal solution for that. It’s only recently that other companies have started to use belts as well.
TGP: Most bikes have interchangeable parts such as the handlebars and stems that are adjustable to suit individual riders. Do you think that despite a fixed stem and handlebar, the IF mode would be able to suit most riders comfortably?
MS: Yes, the company that makes it is a specialist manufacturer of bikes. They’ve got really good expertise on all the different sizes to make a bike ideal to most people. They fix those sizes to be average, best for most people. But they also make different sizes and different variations to suit a full range of people.
TGP: Throughout the years, Strida’s design as an “A” structure frame has not changed significantly whereas the IF folding bike has evolved in terms of its looks, what are the reasons behind this change?
MS: The Strida, although it hasn’t changed and is still a triangle for twenty years, every part of it has got little improvements, nothing is interchangeable with the earlier ones. And it’s a better stronger product now. Though the basic idea of a triangle is still the same, it doesn’t suit everybody, unlike the handlebar position. But it’s very good for urban use for everyday use like in Holland, its riding position is actually very good.
IF mode is worn over a series of bikes that is based on e IF mechanism. The key thing is that it makes the folding automatic and guides the wheels together. It’s designed to be very simple and clean. The speed version, IF Reach uses the same key mechanism that allows it to fold very quickly but has the advantages of full suspension, gears, an adjustable stem and seat that enthusiasts like. The IF Cross, on the contrary is built based on standard parts, like the 700c wheels. The typical use for this product is for someone who wants to go really fast but still wants to be able to take it onto the tube.
TGP: Which design- the Strida or IF mode do you personally prefer?
MS: Personally, I use both IF mode and Strida. In other words, I spent twenty years trying to convince people that the riding position of the Strida is good but majority prefer the traditional riding position, everybody else says, “ No, no, no, I want to be a racer please,” rather than fighting that..I say, “Ok, I’ll give you a bike that has a more conventional riding position.” Yeah…I listen to people rather than doing it my way.
TGP: How would you rate the Strida and IF mode in terms of its competitive edge (in races) and how user-friendly it is (in terms of comfort-level)?
MS: If there was a race for folding bikes where you have to fold and unfold a lot, I’ll take the Strida, faster than anything else. It can fold faster than any other bikes and you can run with it when it’s folded which you can’t do with any other bikes. I’ll take the IF reach if it involves a long bit of cycling. If there’s off road riding, I’ll take the IF mode because it has big wheels. There is no way that small wheels are good off road. More user friendly– I would say the IF mode. Not necessarily fastest but it’s clean, you can wheel it along, no oil on your trousers.
TGP: Having won the Eurobike award, are you motivated to come up with more designs along the IF series or will you venture into a totally new innovation?
MS: Different wheel sizes different gearing ratios, ultra light fibre like hyper-carbon. One of my goals is to get more people into cycling. It would be great if everybody use more bikes. Another direction is to focus on non-folding bikes that is low-cost and still good for urban use. In America, only 13 million people who use bikes all the time. 160 million don’t. And if you talk to people who have never used a bike, they’ll say “Oh, I don’t understand the gears, it’s a bit tacky, what about the rain, what about getting sweaty?” If we can address these reasons, I think we can get more people to use bicycles as a utility, not just because you can’t afford a car or you’re into racing but simply to get from A to B. There is an amazing statistic that 50% of all journeys in the UK that are under 2 miles-a perfect distance for bicycles.
TGP: If I am new in the cycling arena, without much knowledge on the Strida or IF mode, what would you regard as a compelling reason for me to choose IF mode or Strida over other foldable bikes?
MS: Well…because they are simple. You don’t need to worry about gears, clamp and screws, you can wheel them along. Everything is simple to use. And they are clean.
TGP: What are your plans for the rest of this year and the 2009 season?
MS: Yeah…development. I’m not involved in the Strida development anymore because it’s owned by a Taiwan manufacturer but there is possibility of a lighter version and increase in speed through addition of gears. There are most developments going on with the IF range, the IF reach and IF mode currently. Very soon there will also be the IF cross, a full size track bike. Very simple diamond frame bike but adds the fast simple folding system. The other thing right in the future that I would love to design is an automatic folding bike. You just press a button and the bike automatically unfolds as you are wearing your helmet, getting ready. Now…wouldn’t that be cool?