As the founder and creative director of Biomega, Copenhagen’s Jens Martin Skibsted is one of the most respected names in bicycle design. But to hear him tell the story of how he got there, you’d think he’d done everything in his power to avoid that fate. After believing for most of his life that he would grow up to be a poet, he decided to study film in Paris — “writing sci-fi movies about giant ants” — then dropped it altogether and took up philosophy for six years. It was during that time that he took a trip to Barcelona with his girlfriend and was struck by the random conviction that he ought to start a company making city bicycles. “I started drawing bikes, but tried to forget about it because I have so many ideas, and I can’t do everything,” recalls Skibsted, who as a child filled notepads with inventions like chopsticks connected at one end, many of which he says exist now. “But this was one idea I couldn’t really forget. I thought ok, maybe I’ll buy a nice designer bike instead, but I couldn’t find any. So I figured I’d just read about them, but 20 years ago there were no books on bike design that weren’t about technology or sports.” Ultimately, once he had resolved to launch Biomega in 1998, he made the most potentially self-defeating move of all: Approaching Marc Newson — as a philosophy student with no company and no experience — to design his first model.
Luckily, he found a kind of kindred spirit in Newson, who shared his love for the designs of the ’60s, when optimism about the future gave rise to boundless experimentation with new materials and organic forms. “But the main thing that caught his attention was that I’d looked into a host of technologies that were sitting there waiting to be exploited by the bike industry, and no one had done it,” says Skibsted, who figured that building a city bike with superior construction and design was the only way to get people to give up their cars. “He liked that there was a vision behind it, and we signed a deal a few weeks later.” Newson came up with an idea that had never been tried before — making a continuous aluminum body using a superplastic forming technique, bonded with Formula 1 epoxy — and while shepherding the bike through a long, arduous production process, Skibsted felt he’d learned enough about the technology side to try one of his own. With the Copenhagen model, he officially became a designer himself. “In many ways I’m very humble, but sometimes I get these ideas that I’m good at something,” he says. “I was sure I could do it, and I wasn’t really doubting myself. My first design was driven by the idea of integration; I knew it was possible to make a shaft-driven bike, and otherwise it was very Scandinavian, very essential in style.”
Skibsted recently joined with the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and product designer Lars Holme Larsen to form the supergroup Kibisi, whose portfolio includes Aiaiai headphones, chairs for Hay, and the bikes Biomega designs and releases under its Puma license. The firm also developed a Transformer-style flying car concept for Terrafugia, which touches on Skibsted’s wider interest in transportation innovation, an area in which he’s also considered a thought leader. The bikes are a small part of his ecological agenda that begins with improving the earth, and ends with colonizing other planets. “Realistically, we’d love to do an electric car,” he says. “But my big dream would be to make a zeppelin or an airship, which would take a few days to cross the Atlantic but could be made C02 neutral faster than any other means of transport. Of course if we were able to do a space ship, that would be even crazier than the zeppelin.” For other insights into Skibsted’s fertile mind, check out the slideshow here, which reveals some of his longstanding inspirations.
The scientific process behind many of life’s workaday phenomena is something called capillary action, which is the molecular attraction that makes liquid flow through a porous medium, for those in need of a high-school refresher. It’s what makes tears flow through your lachrymal ducts, what gives micro-fiber its super-absorbent properties, and why groundwater naturally spreads into areas of dry soil. It’s also what powers the Ink Calendar by Oscar Diaz.
When you arrive in Zürich, you arrive with a few certainties: The trams will run like clockwork, the city will be spotless, and at least a third of the population, it seems, will be carrying a Freitag messenger bag. During my weeklong stay in Switzerland this spring, the Freitag bag — with its recycled truck-tarp shell, seatbelt strap, and inner-tube edging — began to seem something like a national accessory.
This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.