By Karen Kefauver
June 16, 2013
Link to Sentinel Article
As much as I love bicycling, I am not a true bike geek. When friends talk about what gear ratios they use to climb hills or what new components they have purchased to improve their performance, I nod enthusiastically, but then I start to zone out.
On group rides, when people check out each other’s bicycle brands and models, I’m more likely to notice their jersey designs or helmet colors instead. During my 20 years riding roads and trails in Santa Cruz County, folks in shops and pals at parties have patiently explained to me about the workings of gears, cogs and chain rings, but it always seemed to go in one ear and out the other. That is until last week, when I had a breakthrough in my understanding of bike technology and got stoked about it.
I joined more than 60 people packed into the Cruzio conference room June 5 in downtown Santa Cruz to hear four cycling industry reps talk about innovations at the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup. That meeting was themed “Cycling Into Summer 2013.” There, I felt excited and engaged as I watched the show-and-tell style of presentations by Santa Cruz Bicycles’ Nick Anderson, Calfee Design’s Michael Moore, Easton-Bell Sports’ Rob Wesson and Strava’s Jordan Kobert. Except for Strava, headquartered in San Francisco, all are Santa Cruz County-based businesses.
I asked the New Tech Meetup organizer Doug Erickson why he chose the cycling theme for the group he founded in 2009
as a networking hub for Santa Cruz technology professionals.
“A significant number of meetup members have talked to me about their love for cycling,” said Erickson, a sales executive who rides his Specialized mountain bike at least three times a week. “Plus, there is a vortex of cycling companies and technologies in Santa Cruz.”
That evening, I learned from Rob Wesson, who oversees research and development at Giro, a division of Easton-Bell Sports, based in Scotts Valley, that what I had thought was a far-fetched, science fiction fantasy — making my own bicycle and helmet with a 3D printer — may not be that futuristic after all. Both large cycling manufacturers as well as smaller shops like Makers Factory in Santa Cruz are already using 3D printers to design and create a variety of helmet and bike part prototypes — even frames.
Nevertheless, don’t expect to see me wearing my own printed helmet around town. I prefer the lightweight, aerodynamic helmet designs that are safety-tested professionally. Nor can I currently use a 3D printer to create my own bike made of bamboo or carbon fiber like the ones made by Craig Calfee and his team at Calfee Design, located in La Selva Beach.
But Mike Moore of Calfee Design did mention a tantalizing prospect: Calfee Design is now at work creating a do-it-yourself kit that will enable people to build their own bike frames from either bamboo or hollowed-out tree branches using video instructions and a kit that includes the tools and metal parts
“We will be beta-testing it through the summer and hope to offer it this fall,” said Craig Calfee via email. “We’re trying to get the lowest cost kit around $150. But I think most will opt for the $500 option for the convenience. We are doing this to get more people involved in cycling by igniting a passion for the bike. There’s nothing like riding a bike you built yourself. It will be financially sustainable by selling the tools, metal parts and even bike parts. The videos will be usable worldwide as there is almost no language needed. It’s all visual.”
While last week’s meeting featured larger companies that have earned impressive international reputations, there are dozens of other highly esteemed companies and individuals in Santa Cruz County working on bicycling-related innovations. That group includes Chris Yonge, a native of Scotland and 15-year Santa Cruz resident who has patented a product called “VariCruz,” which he describes as a “continuously variable gearing system that is efficient, lightweight and simple.” In layman’s terms, he explained that his creation has the potential to replace a bicycle derailleur, which he calls “horrible” due its fragility and other limitations.
“I have the prototypes of the VariCruz, I have the patents, and I just need the investors,” said Yonge, an avid bicycle commuter.
The take-away from the meetup and talking to Chris Yonge? I think Traci Hukill, co-founder of Hilltromper, a new outdoor recreation website, who also attended the meeting said it well: “It was a powerful reminder that Santa Cruz is a capital of bike technology.” As for me, I am thrilled to discover to that I really do have an inner bicycle geek that is finally emerging.