The idea-smothering power of the humble box is well known. Hurtful slurs involving boxes are freely bandied about—think outside it, that car is boxy, you’re such a square. Robert Egger doesn’t like boxes. He doesn’t like creativity being confined by them. When it comes to professional racing bicycles, we all know that box is lovingly constructed with regimented precision by the UCI. But what about bikes for the rest of us? Egger believes it should be less about what’s allowed and more about what if?
As with many of Robert’s more conceptual side-projects, this Very Special Thing is not the answer to a question, it’s a question in itself. What if there was no box? What if there was no need for the ticky-tacky? Would all bikes look the same?
Meet Eff You See Eye, affectionately written fUCI—an appetizer for what could be.
Background & Inspiration
“If at the start of a competition or stage the commissaires’ panel considers that a rider arrives with a technical innovation or an equipment not yet accepted by the UCI, it shall refuse to permit the rider to start with such an innovation.” – Excerpt, UCI Technical Regulations
When it comes to design, Specialized’s Creative Director, Robert Egger, don’t gotta-lotta time for rules imposed by others. He believes that like lions on the savannah, designers should be free to wander the glorious ‘what if’ landscape, joyfully unfettered by limits imposed on imagination. With fUCI—a cheekily named concept bike with nothing but curious intentions—he let his own sketching hand roam free, ignoring the basics of the UCI’s technical regulations to imagine one potential evolution of a bicycle. No rules. No restrictions. Just a teaser for the future.
It’s somewhat blasphemous to say this while walking the halls of Specialized, but race bikes aren’t everything. But just because you don’t race the Tour de France, doesn’t mean you don’t want to ride something that’ll blow your hair back, and there’s certainly no need to comply with regulations to get that speed you’re looking for.
“The UCI really caters to a very small population,” says Egger, during a chat in the recently re-designed ‘concept gallery’ at Specialized HQ, “but there’s so many other people out there who couldn’t care less about the UCI. They don’t follow the racing and they don’t even know all the limitations that are put on bikes for the UCI riders. So, my feeling was let’s design a bike for someone who really just wants to go fast on a road bike.
“I didn’t look at every UCI limitation per se,” he says. “I just started with the fact that I’m not going to be limited by wheel size, I’m not going to be limited by tubing diameter or tubing shape, I’m not going to be limited by aerodynamic advantage, and I’m not going to be limited by, you know, not being able to have a cargo area where I can carry stuff. So really, there were no rules.
“Going from working with a lot of rules to no rules is really intoxicating. No one can tell me what to do. For me personally, it’s actually why I do a lot of these bikes. Because I can just do whatever the fuck I want, right? It’s important to be given that freedom to do whatever you want, where no one can say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’ We need that as creative people—to do things that are innately ours and innately different than what the confinements tell us to do.”
He pauses and looks over at the bike. For the next twenty minutes, he walks us through the various features of the bike, from obvious UCI technical rule infringements, to more subtle explorations of what could be done with bicycles in the future.
“It’s kind of everything anti-UCI. Basically a ‘hey, here’s a totally different way of doing things. It doesn’t fit into your box, but the people who would appreciate this bike aren’t concerned with that box.’ The whole thing was really just an exercise in working outside of the UCI box.”
RULE BREAKER, FAST MAKER
“The bicycle is a vehicle with two wheels of equal diameter. The front wheel shall be steerable; the rear wheel shall be driven through a system comprising pedals and a chain.” – Excerpt, UCI Technical Regulations
One of the first things you notice when you see the bike from a distance is the obnoxiously large rear wheel. Big, brassy, bold and flashy. Whatever the race–downhill, BMX, track–the UCI requires the front and the back wheel be the same size, yet the rear wheel on fUCI is so obviously not the same as the front. So, why, Robert? The answer has two parts.
“It’s a 33.3 inch wheel,” Egger explains. “And it’s a flywheel. Now, we all know that once you get a flywheel up to speed it’s very efficient, but getting it up to speed can be pretty tough. The bigger the wheel, the harder it is to get moving, right?” We pause for a small lesson on wheel size. “For example, BMX bikes have 20-inch wheels, not only because they’re maneuverable but they accelerate really fast, which is what you want for a race like that. Anyway, the idea behind this,” he points to the bottom of the bike and continues.
“This is an e-bike. It has a motor here, in the bottom bracket. So just like when you ride the Turbo and you put your foot on the pedal and it lurches forward, the same thing here. This little motor will get the flywheel up to speed so when you’re stopped at a stop sign, or when you’re starting out of your garage in the morning, this’ll be that burst of power to get the flywheel up and running.”
TRIANGLES ARE FOR SQUARES
“For road competitions other than time trials and for cyclo-cross competitions, the frame of the bicycle shall be of a traditional pattern, i.e. built around a main triangle.”
“These elements, including the bottom bracket shell, shall fit within a template of the
«triangular form» defined in article 1.3.020.” – Excerpt, UCI Technical Regulations
The shape of the bike is something that definitely bucks against the two-triangle design most common to UCI-friendly bicycles. It swoops and arcs, a look made all the more dramatic thanks to the splash of bright orange that accentuates design lines and makes the bike more visible.
“The line of the bike has a little bit of an anatomical, human type feel to it,” says Robert, indicating specific regions of the bike that mimic the shape of a body. Once he’s planted that idea in your brain, you can’t help but make out the form of a person crouching, ready to spring in the frame.
“If you look here, at the back,” he says, pointing to the seat stays. “These are like your knees, right? And we’d get some compliance out of those small seat stays. Because you still want a bike that rides really soft. You’re going to get some suspension out of this. I don’t know how much but I think there’s something there where we would get a really comfortable riding bike.”
“And it’s also got a lot of stuff a car has. I mean it’s got a trunk right?” At this point, he flips the little door out of the bee-tail rear, behind the saddle. “You can put your windbreaker in there, or food, or your wallet. You know, all those things that a car has. Spare tire, tubes, all that stuff. And see all these holes? Those are brake lights that go through there.”
It’s well-known that Robert Egger is a huge motorcycle fan, so to hear a guy so enamored with bikes talk about cars for a change is surprising. But the topic of cars—of innovations made in the auto industry—flow in and out of the conversation. It’s a theme he returns to when talking about how technology could be integrated with bicycle design.
PRESS ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS
“The bicycle shall be propelled solely, through a chainset, by the legs (inferior muscular chain) moving in a circular movement, without electric or other assistance. […] The addition of mechanical or electrical systems that serve to assist the rider is prohibited.” – Excerpt, UCI Technical Regulations
A ‘smart’ bike that’s both energy efficient and tech savvy? It’s not a new idea, but Egger believes we need to be thinking about it more, not just in how bikes are powered but how they function.
fUCI has a lithium battery that you can remove if necessary by pressing the silver button, but as Egger explains “There’s probably no need to take it off if you have a docking station like this.” He talks us through the silver stand the bike is currently mounted on. On a mount coming off the stand, a solar panel mount sits, which could be used to charge the bike and take fUCI off the grid.
“Think about it: you do your ride, you come home, you set it in there and it would start automatically charging. That’d be cool.”
There are endless ways to incorporate some of the technologies we see in modern vehicles into the bike. In this instance, a rider’s smart phone could control much of the data and functional aspects of the bike’s operation.
“The idea would be that your smart phone runs the whole bike. Everything from disabling it if you want to lock it up, to being able to program in your ride route, or suggest alternative routes if you’re trying to get to a specific place. It knows when it gets dark and turns the lights on, lets you know when tire pressure is low, or senses a car getting too close to you and warns you. It’s infinite how many things digitally and electronically we could do with a bike like this. It’s like, you could program this bike and say, ‘I wanna burn this many calories’ or ‘I wanna produce this many watts.’ Well, that could tell the motor only to work so hard, so that you’re producing on average 200 watts for the whole ride.”
And for Robert Egger, that’s it’s all about—possibilities.
“Like I said before: I want to tell the story of ‘what if?’ What could be? This is a bike all about what could be, not what it necessarily is right now, but what bikes could be. We should embrace cars,” he says. “Let’s not hate on cars, let’s embrace the technology they have and where it makes sense, infuse that with bicycles.”
“Any device, added or blended into the structure, that is destined to decrease, or which has the effect of decreasing, resistance to air penetration or artificially to accelerate propulsion, such as a protective screen, fuselage form fairing or the like, shall be prohibited.” – Excerpt, UCI Technical Regulations
This one is self-explanatory—it’s got a faring so, UCI denied!
But on the subject of the faring, from the front the bike looks sleek, fast, and definitely catches eyeballs. Its high visibility is magnified due to the choice of a bold orange, with hits of that color also accentuating some of the faceting on the bike. The faring and the wheel in particular, but also on the underside of the tail. No doubt, this bike is made to be seen out on the road.
“Yeah, the visibility aspect is important. You get that orange from the front, you get quite a bit of orange from the back, quite a bit of orange from the side, and you’re going to see motion in that single orange spoke as the wheel spins.”
Not that the fUCI needs bright colors to draw attention to it. As with all of Robert’s Very Special Things, the very look of it waves a ‘yoohoo!’ hand in your face.
“With all these bikes I do, a certain part of it is selfish act of just designing, right? But at the end of the day, I’m trying to make something that people just completely lust after and go ‘oh, shit, I’m going to sell this and this and this to get this bike.’ That’s our job as designers—to create products people feel they can’t live without.
“We need to make people look great in our products, whether it’s a shoe, glove, bike or a helmet. Not only look great when they’re on their bikes, but to feel great and to have a great ride. And you know the saying of if you look good, you feel good, right? There’s a lot to that. I’ve always thought eyewear does a great job of that. Eyewear can make someone look beautiful, or make someone look devious, or make someone look intimidating. So, I wanted this bike to make someone look like they wanted to go fast.”
Special Thing Rap Sheet
CREATOR: Robert Egger
WHAT IS IT? Concept Flywheel e-bicycle
TIME TO COMPLETE: “Probably 6 months on and off.
I made a little quarter scale model to start, and that got me thinking about how to make a full-sized one. And it’s always good to have that little scale model because you can see what’s working on what’s not working. So once I got the scale model done I immediately started to work on the full sized bike. And this one actually took longer than normal. I never work on these bikes full time, because I have a day job , so I kinda try to fit things in when I can, but it probably took about six months.