Adam McDermott (right) and Chad Kushner (left) are co-founders of Linus Bike, a Venice, CA-based company that specializes in durable city bikes that evoke the image of European two-wheelers. Inspired by the desire to encourage more cycling for shorter trips, they designed a line of functional bikes whose color palette was inspired not by other two-wheelers but by. . . 1960s automobiles.
McDermott says they wanted to design something “pretty enough that works as an object and an accessory that inspires people to ride a bike for that short commute.”
Linus Bikes will be featured among other vehicles including e-Bikes, vintage alternative fuel cars and more on May 18 at Helms Bakery Reinventing the Wheel, a DnA event that will explore the future of mobility in the Southland.
Following is an interview with Adam McDermott, who explains the thinking behind the creation of a bike company for city riders: no Spandex required.
DnA: When did you start Linus bikes? And what inspired you to start the company?
Adam McDermott: We started development back in 2005, and it was in 2007 that we had the final product.
The idea on the most basic level was wanting something that didn’t really exist. What I was running into was wanting a bike for simple, short transportation, and feeling like there wasn’t a model for that in the States.
Everything was geared toward sports, or recreation. The culture of cycling in the U.S, has been about the weekend rider, people who put their bike on the back on their car and ride for 50 miles. There hasn’t been a bike for an under five-mile commute.
We wanted to make something that was classic, it wasn’t about trying to reinvent itself each year. For me it was about creating a beautiful, simple bike, with an original, useful form that could exist from year to year. It almost works as a uniform, it’s a reliable form that you can always go back to, like a VW bug, converse shoes, Levis jeans. It doesn’t need to constantly reinvent itself.
The aim was to make something that was pretty enough that works as an object and an accessory that inspires people to ride a bike for that short commute.
It was a design solution, not a technology solution. After all, bikes have been around for 100 years.
DnA: What inspired the design of Linus bikes?
AM: Originally it was looking at classic European city bikes. We wanted to make something that’s more lively to ride. What it delivers to the rider is the upright riding position, you’re seeing the world as you ride. It has a rack for carrying your groceries.
DnA: Your bestselling bike is called Dutchi (second is the Roadster). Are your bikes inspired by Dutch cycling culture?
AM: The bike is based off of classic Amsterdam bikes. We took that as a sort of model of the bike. It’s a little lighter than a traditional Dutch bike which is kind of like a tank.
DnA: What inspired the color palette of your bikes?
AM: We looked at old Porsches, Mercedes, and the color palette of Charles and Ray Eames. I just love a lot of colors from Mercedes color palette. We looked mostly at the ‘60s.
DnA: Is the market for these bikes growing? Is it a growing market in L.A.?
AM: I definitely think it is a growing market, we went to a trade show back in 2009 Interbike, it happens every year in Las Vegas. When we started going there there was no category dedicated to urban bikes or bikes for commuting and now there’s this whole segment for people who use bikes for transportation. The bike isn’t necessarily for sport or recreation, you don’t have to wear spandex to ride it.
In my mind there shouldn’t be any clothing consideration between walking and cycling, it’s really one in the same.
DnA: What is your largest demographic? Men? Women?
AM: I always thought we’d be more appealing to women but what’s interesting, from the data we have on our registration forms, is that we are actually split pretty even. Most other categories in cycling is 80% men and 20% women, so I think it’s an accomplishment that it’s close to 50/50 with Linus riders.
DnA: Has L.A. been a tricky place to start a cycling company?
AM: Venice, where we started, is an environment where people were really using bikes. When you start making a product you’re looking at the immediate goal and what you hope to deliver, and I kind of felt that if I could make it then people would get it and see its value and buy it. It was really about making something that I thought would be successful in Venice, and Venice as a community responded to it and it grew from there.
L.A. is one of our biggest markets, but New York is probably our biggest market and Portland is also a big market.
Any dense urban environment makes sense. It just has to make sense to ride a bike versus a car if your trips are under five miles.
But we are really excited about L.A. and what’s happening downtown. As we get denser and denser, and there’s more goods and services within each community and people start to live and work in one space then a bike starts to make sense.
AM: I guess the limitations are where a bike really starts to lose its appeal when the geometry starts to get weird is trying to fit every size of person. When a bike is designed to fit both someone who is five foot and 6 foot tall. We have to make geometry for different heights of people.
We have to carry more sizes in order to fulfill that. And it doesn’t have to affect the overall design.
To really make a bike useful to someone you need to be able to add racks so that people can take groceries to work.
DnA: What kind of materials do you use for your bike? Is the focus on sturdiness or being lightweight?
AM: We use steel, we don’t use aluminum or carbon fiber. Steel is strong and it’s also more flexible than aluminum. But primarily it’s strength, it doesn’t crack as easily. The bike is meant to carry the weight of the rider. It’s not really about a weight question for us.The bike isn’t designed to be light, it’s about being functional.
DnA: Was this bike intended to be a commuter bike or a leisurely weekend bike? Or some combination of the two?
AM: The mission of the company was that hopefully this bike and the design of this bike would inspire people to ride a bike instead of driving a car for those short trips where people usually ride in a car.
But the bike also works just as well on the weekend riding on the boardwalk.
DnA: The accessories — the bags, baskets, lights — seem as if they were intended to be more stylish than just ‘gear’ (see Portlandia sketch ‘Get the Gear‘). Was that the goal?
AM: I think the accessories work in unison with the bike and make the experience easy. They tell a story and make you feel a certain way. They are intended to complement you and your individual style.
We’re trying to build around longevity. They show their life.The accessories work on a lot of other bikes as well.
DnA: Did you include specific features for safety?
AM: We have a reflective tire wall, when you’re riding at night, the whole circumference of the tirewall shines. It’s worth the extra money to have a reflective tirewall.
DnA: Many assume bikes are a cheap alternative mode of transit. But the Dutchi (above) costs around $600.
AM: A bike is the most amazing value per dollar, when you really think about it and break it down. If you take care of your bike it will last for 20 years. It will last longer than the TV on your wall. It’s a simple machine, it’s extremely sturdy. It’s transportation. It can take you places. They are amazingly simple machines that deliver so much, and the price tag is really nominal considering what a bike delivers.
I think we are delivering good value for money, when you consider the components that go into it, and I also believe that a bike should be bought from a bicycle shop.
DnA: Why should people buy bikes from bike shops?
AM: Because you’re buying a relationship.
You can find a cheaper bike in a department store, but you’re probably not going to have that bike for 5-10 years.
There’s also something interesting about bike shops in general, I think of it as the last true independent retailers out there. We have about 250 dealers in the U.S. and they are all mom and pop stores.
There are also online retailers, there are bike companies that are direct to consumer, but what I’d like to impress upon customers is that a bike is a mechanical object and it requires a degree of expertise to put together and maintain. Having that relationship with bike stores is wonderful, I think it’s worth your while and worth the money you might have to spend.
I think in the long run, you’ll end up saving money, because you aren’t replacing your bike. Cheaper bikes aren’t meant to be maintained, they’re meant to be replaced.