Interview: Gabriel Wartofsky on Designing for the 'Conscious Commuter'

From the Conscious Commuter video
From the Conscious Commuter video

Gabriel Wartofsky is a graduate of Art Center College of Design, with a degree in Transportation Design. Gabriel is not designing the next Ford, or the newest fastest BMW like his other alumni; he is designing for the "Conscious Commuter."

In our city of Los Angeles, if you don't have a car, you will get a head tilt and the question, "why not?" or "how do you get around?" Most of the time the questioner will think, "Oh, I hope I don't have to drive them around," not because of the cost, but because we hate driving in Los Angeles.

What if we ditched the car and used a folding electric bike to commute short distances, to the store, the gym, down the street to pick up ice cream? Of course you are thinking, "Hey I will get knocked over." Not if you follow the rules of the road and you are hyper aware of drivers around you. Los Angeles drivers are in their own bubble and not used to cyclists. Some even cause intentional harm to cyclists (Mandeville Canyon Road Rage). But in a city that seeks to transform itself every decade, the time of bike lanes and bike safety is here.

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Gabriel is on the leading edge of this trend. In other cities such as Portland, the community has embraced cycling, so the hard sell of Gabriel's bike is not needed. Gabriel has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to build his bikes, and will be launching the Conscious Commuter at the south campus of Art Center College of Design later this Fall. So far the Kickstarter campaign has raised more than half their goal with the deadline of September 29th in two weeks. Already nine backers have pledged $1,395 for their own signed limited edition bike.

This bike is not only a gift to the commuter, it is also born from the gift of the love of cycling from Gabriel's mother, a woman who rode her bike everywhere and never owned a car.

The following is a short interview with Gabriel about his design and his motivation behind the bike:

Screenshot from Gabriel's Kickstarter video
Screenshot from Gabriel's Kickstarter video

You can have the perfect product, but without the sales pitch, it will sit unused. You have decided to launch your folding bicycle in the city of cars, what is your sales pitch to people who love their cars?

Los Angelenos like options in their life, so this folding e-bike provides them with a tool to diversify the way they get around. A folding electric assist bike liberates you from that default voice in your head telling you the only way to practically get around L.A. is with your car.

It's a compact, lightweight, intuitively-folding electric assist bicycle designed to get you seamlessly from point A to B utilizing the city's existing infrastructure. It's inherently compatible with other modes of transportation, so it facilitates car pooling, public transit and even travel by air. Electric assist ensures you won't sweat in business attire and a chainless drive eliminates the risk of damaging clothing.

This e-bike fills in the gaps where public transit systems currently fall short: a lot of people don't ride Metro because it's inconvenient to get to the transit hub from their home.

This bike has a delicate, yet strong feel about it, it has a wonderful
curve, like the bend of a ballerina. In your mind, while you were designing this bicycle, who was riding it?

A commuter who has forgotten the magic of movement, and loathes the daily commute.

My primary inspiration for this project was my mother, and the love she had for her bicycle. The essence of her life was movement -- she was a dancer and a bicyclist. Growing up in Washington, DC, we never had a car. We lived our lives by bicycle.

Some of my best memories growing up involved bike rides: biking around on four leaf clover hunts with my mom, riding with my brothers through Rock Creek Park at 3 in the morning, and racing home from my various night jobs on vast, empty streets. Movement is life.

I want this bike to re-acquaint people with the joy of the daily commute.

I see people new to L.A. riding the bike, rushing from one job interview to the next in their business clothing.

I see my father, who loves his bike, but can't ride it due to knee problems.

"You feel so much more alive when you are outside in all kinds of weather. Your body stays in tune with what's out there," she once told the Washington Post. "Bicycling is always an ad­ven­ture and a mystery."
This is a beautiful quote, what is it about the feel of the air pushing past your face, as your legs turn the wheels? Is it about how the body has to stay in contact with each limb to stay afloat on the two wheels? Or is it the freedom of relying only on yourself to get from point A to point B? (A philosophy that can be applied to our lives in general. )

All of the above. The foundation of this design is a great bicycle design that enables you to enjoy the magic of a recreational ride in your neighborhood or park. Bike riding is a joy, it's therapeutic, it's just great for your body and soul.

People are busy, and I want to re-acquaint them with the joy of bicycle riding- so I want to provide them with a bike that enables their commute to be more enjoyable.

What I have added is the ability to empower you to utilize it for practical applications; like commuting to work in a business suit or a dress.

Why did you attach an electric motor to this bike? Is this to sell the product to people who have one foot in a car and one foot on a bicycle?

The electric motor makes this bicycle more accesible to people who cannot compromise their current situation: whether that be commute related, or health related. An electric assist bike enables access to a wider ridership demographic.

You recently debuted the prototype in Portland, a very bike friendly city. What differences did you see/hear from the Los Angeles riders to the Portland riders?

Our experience so far, boiled down to a few words:

Los Angeles = Design
Portland = Function

I'm a product of the industrial design department of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.

We gave our first test ride of the bike on campus. Our demographic included design students, faculty, staff and friends and family. Designers are a critical bunch, and we came away with consistently positive feedback. L.A. riders appreciated the universal design, the comfortable ergonomics, and the surprisingly familiar riding quality.

We are aiming to have some more test ride sessions in L.A. in the coming months.

We were recently invited to the Portland Art Museum's 'Green Car Expo', where we had hundred's of people test ride our prototype #001.

Portlander's are robust, weather proof, hardcore bike riders: they take pride in no-compromise riding. Our bike attracted a lot of attention from a diverse demographic- from long distance bike commuters to recreational baby-boomers.

They loved the functionality of the design, the low-maintenance aspect of it, and the comfortable riding experience. Riders instantly got the point of it, and many have pre-ordered our bike already off the Kickstarter campaign.

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