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BikeHacks is a huge fan of the Monkey Light. I have been rocking the Monkey since last December and love it. Dan, the inventor of the Monkey Light, graciously agreed to an interview. Enjoy!
BH: Are you an avid rider? What bike(s) do you currently own?
I've been a more and less serious rider for about 20 years. I first started biking around 8th grade because we had a bike touring club in my school. I remember it was very liberating once I learned I could bike 20 miles all by myself, basically go anywhere. Teenage car liberation, no car required! Now I like bike touring a lot. I've done a race here and there but I never liked the competitiveness much. I bike around the city as well.
Bikes-my main ride is an unbranded titanium MTB frame that I built up with XT components and 650c road wheels. I prefer MTB frames and components (minus the shock) even for road riding - it's pretty hilly here in nocal :)
I've got a Stumpjumper hardtail for actual MTB riding, I did a 30 hour adventure race with that bike. I've got a 100% plastic frame custom art bike that i assembled (my friend did the CAD design) and then installed custom LED edge lighting into it. I ride the plastic bike to the movies sometimes! It's a fun ride, but super wobbly. I've got a Haro Betty cruiser in hot pink that I did a custom lighting job, my lady rides that sometimes. Also a Haro bmx bike, I just learned to do a bar spin on it last year! I think I've got about 5 more besides that but I gotta clean up the garage sometime yikes!
The Plastic Bike
BH: What is your educational background?
If your mom asks you why you went to school for 23 years, do not crack up when you say: 'to make awesome bike lights!!!'
BH: Is the Monkey Light part of a side gig or do you design full time?
It started out as a side gig for sure, at the time I was working on Instructables.com and Electronic Rope, which was a Time magazine invention of the year. I made the first "Monkey light" system as an art project. Perhaps the transformative moment - I was riding by a real sharp scraper in West Oakland, a metallic green buick with the big rims, tinted windows, thumping stereo . . . this guy rolls down his window and with smoke pouring out, he says to me - 'nice ride'.
BH: How did the idea of the light originate?
The basic idea has been around forever, at least 30 years. There's been lots of toy implementations in clocks, computer fans - and bikes. I personally got the idea at a hacking club at MIT, that club (miters) was into bikes and electronics, so it was almost a coming of age thing where every new electrical engineer in the club would build their own wheel light. Adafruit's SpokePOV kit also came from that hacking group. My light was the first one to have full color.
BH: How long did it take to go from concept to ready for sale product?
Hmm, well I was riding around my original art wheel in 2005, then it was on the back burner for quite a while. I started developing the current product in 2007, and Xander Hudson came on board about that time also, he had just seen the art wheel at Maker Faire and was excited about the possibilities. We had 30 prototype units riding around San Francisco by December 2007 and we released the commercial product in May 2008. Then we sold out the first manufacture run in 6 weeks!
BH: Why did you call it the "Monkey Light"?
Why are they called 'The Beatles?'
BH: Where do you live and what is the furthest place from where you live that the Monkey Light has shipped?
Our web store went live in June 2008. With little more than Google Adwords for marketing we've shipped orders to practically every part of the globe - Punta Arenas, Tasmania, Mauritius, Latvia, it's really mindboggling how the internet has connected the entire world. There are people in the most remote places and they are on all the same websites that you are every day.
BH: Have you developed any other bike related products or do you have anything in the hopper?
We've developed a fully functioning video display in a bike wheel, it's the first one ever developed. We've also got some new consumer level products coming out later this year that we've very excited about. Gotta keep those in the bag for now though ;)
BH: What inspires you? What resources do you use for inspiration?
I've been really inspired by our customers. Many of them are quite dedicated to a bike lifestyle and write us long emails about their experiences and their local bike culture.
BH: What is your own bike hack that you are the most proud of?
The Monkey Light for sure. I've got several fun ones on my Instructables page - instructables.com/member/dan. I recommend the wobbly bike (aka swing bike) as a great "my first freak bike" project. At an even more modest scale I'm a fan of using old innertubes as chain/cable/frame protectors. Just slit them and wrap! And they come in handy for bundling an extra jacket onto the frame if you get hot.
BH: Dan is the man. Now go get your Monkey on!