An Interview With Josh Bechtel, The Inventor Of The Bicymple

There’s been quite a bit of disruption in bikes recently and the Bicymple is no exception. Designed by Josh Bechtel, the bike aims to be easy to ride, trouble free, and less expensive than traditional gear and chain models. You can check out a video here but we got a chance to talk with Josh a bit about his new design.

TC: What’s the impetus for this?

Josh: Ultimately, my passion for bicycles is the driving force behind the Bicymple. I’ve been riding bikes regularly since I was a child. I have more bikes than I care to admit to strangers on the web and people I’ve only just met. It’s a problem. I love cross country bikes, downhill bikes, road bikes, single speeds, fixies, cruisers, city bikes, clean bikes, rusty bikes, light bikes, heavy bikes…shall I go on? I think unicycles are great, too!

I built my first home-built bike back in the late 90’s. It was a traditional full suspension bike and I even successfully raced it. At the time, you could get away with that sort of thing, but as bike technology and building methods and materials advanced, it became tougher and tougher to compete in that way–especially for an average guy with a full time job and bills to pay. When the movement toward minimalist bikes came back around, it revitalized the bike builder in me and got me thinking about ways I could leave a mark, no matter how small it might be, in the world I am so passionate about. I started riding a single speed with a coaster brake that I had built up mostly out of used parts and it just made me so happy it got me thinking about how far one might be able to go in that direction. I started with a sketch of a standard bike and began crossing off parts one by one and addressing the problems created with each deletion until I ended up with a direct drive, freewheeling bike. From there, I felt like it might actually have become too simple. I felt it needed something else–a surprise in its back pocket–and the rear-steer was just the solution. I fully realize the contradiction this presents with the concept of simplicity and like the tension that creates.

TC: Is this the first bike of this particular type? I seem to remember seeing something like this before, but why this style and why now?

Josh: Yes and no. There have been swing bikes before, for certain, but they were all chain driven. There have been direct drive bikes before, too, but none (as far as I’m aware) had any lockout mechanism for the rear steering and they were all non-freewheeling and had smaller wheels, which severely limited their real-world practicality and left them in a purely “trick-bike” niche. I imagine most are familiar with the old penny farthing, too, and there are obvious connections there, too.

The bicymple might, however, bring these previous concepts together in a way that hasn’t been seen before. There seems to be a misconception out there on the web that I think that the established bicycle design is somehow lacking or insufficient, but that’s simply not the case. To me, that would be like thinking that anyone who ever picked up a paintbrush thought that Michelangelo just couldn’t hack it. I think that idea is a bit silly, really. The bicymple provides yet another outlet, another opportunity to accomplish the same goals as many other bikes, it just does it in a different way! Part of what makes life so great, in my mind, is diversity–and the bicycle world is a great example of this!

TC: What did you have to change to get it work properly? Is it really like a unicycle with another wheel? Something else?

Josh: At first glance, especially when you see someone riding it, it’s easy to see the similarities with a unicycle. Right away “the two-wheeled unicycle” became a nickname for it and the obvious oxymoron created by that name is pretty entertaining to me. It’s actually how I tend to explain it to those who haven’t seen it. The things that set it apart and make it special are obviously the rear steering, but also the fact that the rear steering can be locked out, allowing it to be ridden just like a regular bike. Many comments out there on the web overlook this key fact. It’s one of the subtle surprises that the bicymple has up its sleeve. The overdrive hub is another surprise. It is currently in development and has caught the attention of many in both the bicycle and unicycle communities. The classic thinking is that the only way to go faster with a direct coaxial drive is to increase the size of the wheel, which was the famous fatal flaw of the penny farthing. A few clever designs out there for unicycles have gotten around this but at quite a price. We’ll be able to accomplish the same goal at a price that should be quite affordable. It’s a compact, sealed, zero-service unit so you’ll never have to think about it–and it certainly won’t get your pants leg greasy!

TC: How much does it cost to build? How much was your prototype?

Josh: We’re not addressing dollar amounts until we’re able to offer an accurate
retail price.

TC: Bummer. When will you be ready to build some? Will you sell it via Kickstarter?

Josh: Our plan from the start has been to get an initial run built and provide them as test bikes to select bike shops. The incredible support and enthusiasm and sheer number of purchase requests from around the globe has made us consider a different approach. There is a very good chance we will be on Kickstarter in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that. Crowdfunding is such a fantastic way for people to get their hands on products they never would have been able to before, so we’d be silly to not pursue that.

TC: What would you say to people who say it looks pretty goofy? Does it look as weird as those recumbent bikes?

Josh: I think it’s great if people think it looks goofy! I think it looks goofy too! It’s just not something many of us are accustomed to seeing. Ultimately, though, many, many people have expressed a great deal of interest and think it is a beautiful sort of goofy. From the first sketches, that’s how I felt about it. Wait, recumbent bikes look goofy?

TC: Have you ridden around on this in Bellingham? What do people think?

Josh: Oh yes, the bicymple has been out and about plenty. The reception has all been incredibly positive. I get yells from people across the street, from over fences and through windows, all curious and wanting to understand what it is they’re looking at. It is certainly eye-catching and incredibly unique. Those who are adventurous love the fact that the rear can be set loose to swing freely and really like the challenge it presents. Those less adventurous appreciate the ability to lock the steering out and pedal normally. I look forward to the bicymple getting in the hands of some really skilled trials riders to see the sorts of things they’re capable of doing with it–unicyclists, too! Thanks again, and let me know if you have any other questions!