By: Tricia Brown
UI Strategic Communication
The dozens of emails Steve McGuire receives each semester typically begin like this:
Dear Professor McGuire,
I am a freshman at the University of Iowa, and I chose to come here because I knew I would be able to take your bike-building course. I would like to meet with you discuss what I need to do to prepare for the class and how I can get the most out of this opportunity.
They are love letters to the craft of bike building and testaments to the renowned reputation McGuire has built for the UI through a single, six-year-old class, Fabrication and Design: Hand Built Bicycle.
McGuire, professor of metal arts and 3-D design and Studio Division coordinator in the UI School of Art and Art History, created a curriculum for the class in 2010 to foster collaboration between the College of Engineering and the School of Art and Art History. The class also unites four artistic disciplines: sculpture, ceramics, jewelry/metals, and 3-D design.
It was an idea conceived from McGuire’s passion—bicycle riding and epic endurance races—but conveys exceedingly practical information to his students.
“The idea for the class was to develop a course in which students learned a variety of skills that would be applicable across a range of disciplines. When you’re building a bicycle, you are modeling, you are fabricating, you’re designing, you’re doing a number of things that are pretty important in terms of being successful in both engineering and art,” he says. “So I set that side by side with what I love to do—I ride my bike.”
The class, informally called “Bike I,” has grown to include an advanced section—“Bike II”—for those taking it a second or even third time. The class size is limited by the number of frame jigs the UI has, currently 15.
Securing a spot is competitive, as evidenced by the emails McGuire receives. He reads every application and schedules personal interviews with finalists. He looks for undergraduate and graduate students who express a strong desire to take the course and who demonstrate a high level of commitment to their studies. Fall 2017’s Bike I and Bike II sections both were filled by March.
“I get really good students,” he says. “I won’t deny that I choose the best.”
Though male students have often outnumbered females in classes over the years, McGuire says that for the first time in the fall of 2017, women will outnumber men in Bike I six to four.
Chase Stevenson, a senior mechanical engineering major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is taking Bike II this semester to build an adventure touring bike with 29-inch wheels. Two semesters ago, he took Bike I and built a hardtail mountain bike with a suspension fork and 29-inch wheels, which he rides daily.
A professional motocross and supercross racer, Stevenson has always wanted to work in the bicycle industry. The hand-built bike class has fast-tracked his dream.
In 2015, Stevenson completed a summer internship at Trek Bicycles in Waterloo, Wisconsin. He’s one of two students from McGuire’s classes who have spent summers working in the manufacturing division of one of the largest bicycle companies in the world. This summer, Stevenson will intern at Soteria Bicycles, a start-up company in Cedar Rapids co-founded by UI graduate Allison Kindig, who took McGuire’s class while she was an engineering student.
Stevenson’s dream job would be work full-time at Soteria after he graduates in December.
“Without this class, I don’t think it would have been a possibility,” he says. “But this class has opened so many doors. It’s a huge gateway to endless possibilities—especially in the bicycle industry.”