In 2012, I was completely fed up. Owning a car in the city was growing increasingly inconvenient, and I had finally had enough. Between dealing with $80 parking tickets on my own block to enduring 40-minute drives to work every day, I decided it was time to part ways with my car. When my lease was up, I turned it over to the dealer. That’s when my Brompton folding bike came along and changed my life forever.
It was like I had hacked the city. My morning bike ride on the Chandler Path became a meditation. Amazingly, my commute to work was only a measly 15 minutes longer since I didn’t have to sit in traffic. Soon I discovered I could even take my folding bike on an airplane. I took it to places like Amsterdam, Prague, New York, and DC. Today, cycling is an integral aspect of my marriage. Man, how could I have been such a sucker driving a car for so long!?
I envisioned the possibility of a utopian future. But, still, I saw room for even more value in biking. For every benefit I derived from trading in my car for a bike, there was a corresponding improvement needed. Cycling was amazing, but there were still some flaws in the user experience… so I got to work thinking of how I could make it better.
A Prototype is Born
Back at my day job as an animator, I was inspired by a conversation with my collaborator, PES. The conversation led me to modify a vintage Nintendo Power Glove to control my animation software, which then became the subject of a hit documentary (Playing With Power). Science was becoming really inspiring and fun.
While teaching animation at Hampshire College, I had to learn 3D scanning and printing so I could teach my students. I also had the opportunity to take classes in sculpture and Arduino programming for fun. It turns out I was learning techniques that would, once again, change my whole life.
I started talking with my uncle and advisor about another invention idea: something to improve my daily bike ride. With his guidance and my newfound resources, I immediately began fleshing out a prototype. It started with a block of clay, which I smushed onto the bare handlebars of my Brompton, molding it where my fingers fell. The goal was to make an ergonomic grip that actually fit the shape of my hand.
Once the basic shape came together, I used my new 3D scanning skills to create a digital model of the sculpture. Next, I used Zbrush to clean up the geometry and add buttons, finalized the design, and did some basic mechanical engineering in Maya. Finally, I 3D printed it again on the Form2 printer.
Using a host of resources, I was able to cobble together enough understanding to write the first firmware for what would eventually become RODL's technology. I’ll never forget the day I got the code to work for the very first time: I was in Prague a few weeks before my wedding. Sitting at my fiance's dining room table, I changed the song on my phone through the grips. What a feeling!
Several hundred dollars of failed prints later, my dream version of the prototype grips was born. I called it 'The Do-Everything Grips’. Three months later, I had a demo video. Now equipped with a solid presentation, I was ready to share my invention with the world.
Introducing RODL to the World
I happened to mention my grips to an old friend, Alex. It turned out he was searching for his next investment opportunity. It was like the stars aligned! So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. The first order of business: give our product a catchy name.
It wasn’t easy nailing down what to call our grips. Quite a few options emerged: 'The Do Everything Grips, 'HANDLIT,' 'GRIPZ,' and many, many more silly variations. Then one day my wife, Sanda, mentioned an obscure Czech slang word only used in Brno: 'rodle.' It means handlebar grips, and it had a nice ring to it. Over the next months, we landed on the name RODL and a product that was much more streamlined and sexy than the original 'The Do-Everything Grips’.
Now to revisit the design. Sanda was instrumental in the fabrication process. Her background as a puppet costume fabricator in stop-motion animation proved useful in wrapping leather hide onto the forms. She also worked soldering circuit boards for medical devices, which would also come in handy! The final prototype could never have been completed, constructed, nor looked anywhere near as good if it wasn’t for Sanda’s help.
Jussi Timonen, our Lead Industrial Designer, is another person who deserves a huge amount of credit for helping to create the ProtoRODL. Jussi and I met by chance in 2013 at a metro station. We were both on our way to work – me at Stoopid Buddy Studios and him as a Creative Designer at GM. We got to the entrance of the escalator at the same time and we both had Brompton folding bikes (a rarity). He was researching it for a design project. We geeked out over the engineering of Brompton bikes and how brilliant they are. We would often run into each other at the metro in the morning and ride together to work, and it was always a great conversation. It was a dream to be able to bring him on as our Product Design Lead.
With all this amazing support, the final result was an attractive prototype featuring all the core functionality of the original concept.
Enter the RODL Team
From the beginning, it was important to maintain a completely decentralized operation. My aim was to offer our collaborators the ability to live their lives and organize their time on their terms. Decentralizing was also integral in keeping overhead almost nonexistent. We simultaneously have access to the most effective, talented, and intelligent team all the while maintaining low extra expenses.
Currently, our operation spans the globe. The core RODL team is based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Our design group is in San Diego and Melbourne, Australia. Research and digital development are in Denver, firmware prototyping in Florida, industrial design in Finland. The list goes on!
When we started Ride DNA and began our outreach efforts, which coincided directly with Covid-19 lockdowns around the world, we reached out to potential partners and strategic collaborators directly, without spending a ton of capital on travel and office space. Decentralizing as a core foundation has given us the ability to bring on the best people for each task. It gives them the freedom to structure their work/life balance as they see fit and survive an unexpected global pandemic all while helping to create RODL grips.
What’s Next For RODL
I am so excited for the future of RODL grips. The response so far has been incredibly positive. We’re making cycling, especially urban city cycling, so much safer. The ability to control my music, easily send texts with voice commands, answer calls, and generally control my phone without taking my hands off the grips fundamentally changes my cycling experience. And the ergonomic shape has immensely relieved the wrist pain that I had with other grips.
In my opinion, RODL grips should be standard on all bikes; there’s absolutely no reason to use any other grip. I'm dying to share this product with the world and improve biking safety everywhere! Stay tuned for all the excitement.