Mark Sanders.

1. Office (for drawing and Computer aided design)
2. Workshop (for making things) … note the tidiness contrast – I’m one of these people who let the work bench fill up with cr*p then have a big clear out.
“I tend to work on stuff without tidying up, which spoils concentration, so eventually the workspace becomes so cluttered that I cant find anything, then I have a big clearup – the office picture is at one end of this cycle and the workshop is at the other.”
Mark Sanders trained as a Mechanical Engineer at Imperial College and Rolls-Royce.  After working in the engineering industry for several years, he also trained as a Designer at the Royal College of Art in London. This combination of science and art usually gives efficient, elegant product solutions (engineering), that are also appealing and straightforward for all users (design). Mark has combined these professions for 25 years as an engineer, inventor, and design consultant.His award-winning products sell in 10’s of millions, globally. He is a visiting lecturer at various schools and colleges in UK and abroad, including the RCA and Imperial College in London.

FROM YOUR DESKS: Growing up, childhood to your university days; what was your main means of transportation?

MARK SANDERS: As a child (or ‘Nipper’ as we said in Yorkshire, Northern England), I learnt to ride at about 4 on a second-hand kids bike. Then at 11, I got my 1st new ‘proper’ bike: 26 inch wheels, steel frame, flat handle bars, 3 speed Sturmey-Archer gears with a new innovation which I thought was THE coolest ever .. a twist-grip gear-change! I loved that bike, even though it was a bit big for me at first – it took me everywhere, and introduced me to true freedom.

Being the eldest of 4, my folks were busy with the 3 other ‘nippers’ so I could ride away from home for hours – usually in a triangular route, with the 2nd leg by train (another transport I loved!). At 16 I got my 1st ‘drop-bar’ bike, but by 18, I passed my driving test and found cars (even my Mum’s) were more appealing to girls to be taken out in – hormones pipped the bicycles personal services. Through university I rode bicycles but after 2 were stolen, in quick succession I turned to motorbikes and cars for main transport.

Designing bicycles never feels like ‘work’.

FYD: Your Strida bike was born out of your masters degree project at London’s RCA.  How did your professors react?

MS: At first my Professor, Frank Height at the RCA, (and his opposite number at Imperial College) were really against me looking at a new bicycle – they said “bicycles were designed 100 years ago, the diamond frame is so well established, what makes you think you can do anything different?” In hindsight he was probably trying to protect me from failure, but at age 23, optimism (and ignorant naivety …”why not?”) charged me up to try to create a new, simple bicycle!

FYD: Which came easier to you; the engineering or the designing?

MS: Neither (or both)… they came together with amazing serendipity. If I got stuck on an engineering detail, I ignored it and moved onto sketch how I would like it to look … the amazing thing is this often suggests new engineering solutions, the visual exploration acting as a ‘brainstorm’ for alternative ways of doing things…and vice-versa. I love working on projects that combine both engineering and aesthetics, and bicycles are a wonderful mix of these.

I love working on projects that combine both engineering and aesthetics, and bicycles are a wonderful mix of these.

FYD: How many tweaks or design changes did you make from the first generation Strida to what is currently on sale now?

MS: The basic shape and function is the same – quite a few original features are all still there: triangle – where the front tube is also the steerer, clean belt drive, one-sided wheel mounts so the wheels can come together to make the ‘rolling stick’ when folded. The big changes came when production was moved from UK to Taiwan, where metalwork costs less and so flexible injection mouldings could be replaced. Also better, lighter, components became available – for example; disc brakes are perfect for one-sided wheel mounting, and being narrow, they allowed Ming to re-position the freewheel from the unconventional front position, to the rear. Over the years minor tweaks to the steering geometry and handlebar position have made the bike feel better to ride – being an unconventional frame, traditional steering geometry rules were gradually replaced by new settings based on user feedback and adjustable frame results.

FYD: What is your favorite city to ride a bike?

MS: Amsterdam – where the whole culture is based around classless personal transporteveryone rides bicycles for transport. No sporty machismo, no weird clothes, no bicycle tribes – no class, wealth, gender or age divides – just people using ‘human-amplifiers’ (aka bicycles), as the most efficient way to get about.

FYD What is next in the bike world for you?

MS: In my mind, and gradually crystallising on the CAD system, I imagine a folding bicycle which is the spawn of a Mercedes SL automatic folding roof and a small piece of rolling airline luggage!  Whether I’ll ever achieve this level of automation, clean appearance and ease of use – at least it is fun trying. Compared to designing other (usually more profitable) products, designing bicycles never feels like ‘work’ .

(Image One: Sturmey-Archer gears Two: Inspiration & 1st Sketch (of 1000’s)  found retrospectively. Image Three: Strida 1: 1988  *Image 34 from  MAS Design Gallery; don’t miss the photos.)

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