I’m Sue Knaup, the executive director of One Street, an international bicycle advocacy organization. I designed this bicycle shift lever after countless complaints from our partner organizations in all parts of the world. Programs that provide bicycles to people who need them for transportation, hauling goods and carrying their children can no longer find shift levers that hold up to hard use. They can choose from ridiculously complex and expensive shifters that are usually integrated with the brake lever or cheap shifters made of plastic and pot metal. Both types wear out within months of daily use and cannot be repaired.
I owned a bike shop here in Prescott, Arizona for 13 years before founding One Street in 2007 (read more about One Street at OneStreet.org). Even as a bike shop owner I was frustrated by the lack of dependable, affordable shift levers being made. But when I started hearing from One Street partner organizations that they were setting aside multitudes of donated bicycles because they could not repair the shift levers, I knew we had to do something.
I am a trained welder (stick, MIG and TIG) and have designed and built many varied items for my customers at the bike shop. I used this design and build experience to create the early prototypes, then worked with experts in aluminum casting and CAD design to produce this final prototype. The prototype lever and base were created with a CNC machine. However, the shifters funded by this Kickstarter campaign will be cast from scrap aluminum here in Prescott using a primitive casting method that anyone can set up in their backyard using a flower pot and household charcoal.
One element to be funded by this Kickstarter campaign will be the permanent casting molds. These molds will be CNC machined out of steel, which has a higher melting point than aluminum so that each mold will produce thousands of these shift levers. For the first production run, I will personally use the first mold with the primitive casting method and scrap aluminum I have already been collecting for this purpose. During this first production run, I will work with the casting experts to refine this method and capture every step in our manual for producing these shift levers.
The shifters that come from this first production run will be collector quality, marking the beginning of a new paradigm in bicycle parts production (we expect these shifters to be just the first of many bike parts from One Street Components). This new paradigm will center around local production using simple, even primitive methods and parts that are readily available in all areas of the world.
The funding goal for this campaign is set at $10,000, which is the minimum we need for the design and production of the early casting molds as well as the first production run.
If this campaign is successful and you are one of the lucky recipients of a shifter from this first run, I would very much like to hear your ideas for refinements. The next molds will be refined after receiving feedback about the shifters produced in the first run. These molds will be made available to our partners around the world who choose to license with us for producing and selling the shift levers themselves.
Even if someone does not want to license with us to produce and sell the shift levers, we will make our production manual available at a reasonable price. The manual will explain all the steps needed to produce the shift levers, including in depth guidance on the primitive aluminum casting method.
I so appreciate any support you can offer through this campaign and look forward to hearing your stories about helping people get their bikes rolling and shifting again with these shifters.
• Symmetrical – works on right or left side.
• Compatible with all bikes and all gear ranges, front and rear.
• Uses only six parts.
• Easily repaired and customized with common parts.
• Primitive casting using scrap aluminum.
• Simple, durable design for people who depend on their bike.
• Lever is slightly longer than others with a broad face for people with weak or injured hands.
• Supports upside-down bike during repair.
• Hose clamp is a common item found throughout the world.
• Friction is created by spring of stainless steel hose clamp and adjustable bolt tension.
• Bolt and nut are a common size, coarse thread; fits either an 11mm or 7/16” wrench.
• Nut rests inside recessed hex hole in bottom of base so bolt can be tightened easily from the top.
• Bottle cap visually emphasizes DIY design and functions as a slippery washer; customizable.
• Holes in bottle cap and hose clamp can be punched with large nail for easy repair and replacement.
Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge along the way has been convincing the experts and helpers I’ve worked with about the principles of this project. The first reaction from many has been to recommend outsourcing and mass production using high-tech methods and exchanging the common parts for complex ones, even plastic! Sound familiar? This has helped me to understand why bike shift levers (and other bike parts) have become complex, fragile and unrepairable. Just one slip – like adding an unusual part or succumbing to the enticingly cheap costs of outsourcing production – and we’d simply be adding to the flood of throwaway bike parts that miss out on supporting the local economies where they are used.
Another challenge I have yet to tackle is the creation of a simple, replicable jig to accompany each permanent mold for our license partners to ensure speedy production and assembly. This jig will hold:
• The bottle cap for punching a perfectly centered hole,
• The hose clamp for punching a perfectly centered hole,
• The lever for drilling one fine cable hole, and
• The base for drilling two fine cable holes (casting can’t handle these small holes).
One rather enjoyable challenge has been defining and clarifying the distinction between our license partners who want to produce and sell the shifter and folks who simply want to make some for their own use, DIY style. This challenge has connected me with other DIY designers who have solved it for their products. I am stunned and thrilled to discover so many great DIY visionaries! These peer connections are not only helping me with this particular issue, but many other inspiring ideas as we look ahead to designing and producing more bike parts that anybody can use, repair and even produce themselves.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The direct cost of each shift lever will be quite low, depending on where they are produced through our license partners, around $1 to $3 each. The retail price these partners use to sell the shifters should be about four times the direct cost in order to cover all costs of production, including the overhead of the organization making them. This includes the one-time cost of purchasing a permanent mold from us and going through the training for primitive casting. We hope to keep the cost of each permanent mold close to $1,000. Training costs will depend on travel expenses. We will help our license partners to raise these funds if needed.
Quadrupling the direct cost to find the retail price also gives enough room to work with a wholesale distributor for selling the shift levers in each area of the world where they are made. So a retail price of between $5 and $12 each is likely.
To estimate the direct unit cost for your area of the world, find the cost of the four common parts then add the labor cost to make the two cast parts, assuming all the scrap aluminum is free (include labor to collect and sort the aluminum, so it does have this cost). We will help our license partners find wholesale sources for the four parts to keep costs as low as possible.
We expect that organizations that license with us will also produce them for the bikes they provide through their programs, keeping their cost of each such shifter closer to that $1 to $3 mark.
We have covered all the costs to get this shift lever to this prototype stage. Now we need the funds to design and produce the first permanent casting molds and our first production runs.
The first permanent mold will cost much more than the estimated $1,000 per mold after we have worked out all the kinks. Designing and producing this first mold will be like starting from scratch on a different project. I will have to work with experts in casting mold design as well as the casting and CAD designers I have already been working with.
Not only will the mold be a negative of the shift lever and base, it must also take into account specific needs for casting such as the sprues, gates and vents to ensure that the mold will cause quality flow of the molten aluminum to all corners of each part. The parting line must also be perfectly chosen and designed to ensure that the shifter parts are not damaged when the two halves of the mold are separated. The holes for the housing and cables must also be precisely designed into the mold to ensure they fit a housing ferrule snugly and leave a perfectly centered divot for guiding the final drill through of each cable hole during assembly.
Once that first mold is ready for casting, I will oversee the production of our first run of shifters here in Prescott, Arizona. Costs of production will not only include the parts and gathering of scrap aluminum, but creating the primitive casting system as well as the system for selling and distributing the shifters e.g., product liability insurance, packaging, marketing, etc. I will capture all of these steps in our how-to guide for our licensees, which is yet another cost that must be covered by this Kickstarter campaign.
Once the first mold has produced the first run, including the collector edition shift levers that will go to our $50 and above Kickstarter supporters, I will work with our experts to refine the design of the mold. This refinement work will incorporate ideas from the feedback we receive from all of you who try out the shifters from the first run. This refined design will be used for the next molds to be produced, including one to be used here for the shift levers we will sell as well as those for our license partners.
That’s why the $10,000 goal is truly a bare minimum.
Rather than worrying about finding the exact same clamp, consider the function of the hose clamp and look for something that does similar work. There are many other types of clamps that could work. The beauty of it is that it’s just a strap. In fact, if the hose clamp were to break in a remote area, even a piece of cloth or leather could be used to strap the shifter onto the handlebar and make it home.
We hope to incorporate this simple principle into most of the parts we use for our future components as well. If the exact part cannot be found, it should be easily replaced with other common items.
The bottle cap acts as a slippery washer that allows the lever to move under the bolt head without unscrewing it. The very thin metal of a bottle cap works perfectly in this capacity. It is also easily prepared by punching a hole in the center and pounding out the hole’s edges. Also, bottle caps are found in all areas of the world, for free.
Even beyond the functionality and affordability of a bottle cap, it is an important symbol for this project that sends the message that anyone can repair this shift lever. These are not strange parts found only in the mysterious catacombs of secret high tech bicycle repair. These are items everyone can recognize, find at home and install with ease.
In short, the bottle cap is meant to inspire a DIY spirit and hopefully some fun creativity as folks customize and improve their shifters with their own adaptations.
No! These are cool! No matter what your income level, you will love having these shift levers on your bike. Not only can you display the bottle cap of your favorite beverage of the week, you can tell the story behind the shifter and how it was made. Also, when you buy one of these shift levers, either from us or one of our license partners, you will be supporting programs that help people who are living in or near poverty.
The friction shifters available today only last a few months of daily, hard use and cannot be repaired. The organizations we work with all over the world either set bikes aside or are stuck with using these cheap shifters, which forces the people they work with to bring their bikes in too often to have yet another pair installed.
If you have a pair of these cheapo friction shift levers with you, note:
• the housing hole is plastic—it breaks easily;
• the clamp is riveted—the rivet wears out causing the shifter to spin instead of shift; and
• the cheap metal of the lever breaks easily, usually when the bike is turned upside down for repair.
• Also, take one apart and you will find many strange and unusual parts that prevent repair.
The permanent molds funded by this project will stand up to casting thousands of these shifters. So once the molds are ready to go, the direct cost of each shift lever should be quite low, around $1 to $3, depending on the cost of the four parts and labor in the area of the world where the licensee is situated. This should allow a retail price of $5 to $12 in order to support their program costs. Organizations that license with us can also produce them for the bikes they provide, keeping their cost of each shifter closer to that $1 to $3 mark.
The shifters made from these molds will hold up to daily, hard use. If any part does wear out or break, they can be easily repaired by the owner without having to bring their bike to a shop.
The design requirements of this project include using parts that anyone can recognize, find and install themselves. Many years ago, friction shift levers were quite sturdy, but even they included unusual parts.
Over the two years of trial and error it took to design this shift lever, I stuck to this principle until I found the combination of parts you see here. They substitute every oddball part from previous designs and result in the exact same function as any other friction shift lever—pulling the cable and holding the cable tension—even as they ensure that anyone can install it, repair it and even produce it themselves.
Before we can make these Bike Shift Levers available for purchase, we first have to design and produce the initial mold. We will then use that first mold to produce the first batch of collector-quality shifters for our Kickstarter backers to test. Using feedback from those first shifters, we will refine the mold design and produce the next mold and then the next batch of shifters. This initial mold design and production as well as that first batch will be very expensive, thus the need for this Kickstarter campaign.
Ideally, the second batch will be ready for sale. There is the possibility that we will discover the need for further refinement and a third mold design. That would add some time to this projection. But if all goes well and the shifters that come out of the second mold hold up to good quality standards, they should be available for purchase in late summer of 2014.
One Street will sell them directly from our website. We also hope to sell them through bicycle parts distributors. Once we connect with license partners in other areas of the world, the shifters will be available for purchase through them as well.
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