Kris Holm, founder/owner of Kris Holm Unicycles and author of The Essential Guide to Mountain and Trials Unicycling was featured in an Innate blog post in May 2012. In this post, he explored his outlook on design in a Q&A session. He impressed us with his opinion that the best design ideas come from a deep understanding of their pure necessity for the end user.
It seemed only fitting to check in again with Kris as he rolls out his new line of Fusion Saddles, the culmination of years of design obsession for the tribe of mountain and trials unicyclists.
Innate: Tell us about the “aha” moment that inspired the creation of the Fusion Saddle.
Kris: To be honest, I can’t take credit for the original “aha” moment. The credit for this idea goes to Kiwi riders Ken Looi and Peter Barrell, who in 2012 discovered that a unicycle saddle with a low-curve profile, similar to a bike saddle, is more comfortable on long rides than the traditional banana shaped saddle. Unicycle saddles have been banana shaped for a century, and it’s not obvious in advance that a more bike-like saddle shape could work for a single wheel. Beyond a handful of home-made saddles crafted by Peter Barrell, no one had attempted to commercially produce such a saddle due to the expense and risk of developing a new product for a niche market. With Ken and Peter’s blessing, I took the plunge and designed this type of saddle for mass production.
Innate: You must have had some difficulty along the way. Could you tell us about a setback you’ve had during the design and development of this product? What would you have done differently?
Kris: Designing a unicycle saddle is probably the hardest design project I’ve personally encountered. Imagine designing a saddle that must be as comfortable as a bike saddle, even if riding hands-free, and that must also be as strong as bike handlebars because on a unicycle, it is your handlebar. As this is a niche product, this saddle must also have a shape that fits as many riders as possible.
Perhaps my biggest struggle came when I decided to design the saddle for Pivotal seatposts – a beautifully simple concept where the seatpost attaches via a single bolt through the top of the saddle. When the “final” production sample arrived, just in time for the first orders, the tooling had been done in such a way that made it incompatible with every Pivotal seatpost on the market. So I had to have the tooling sent back for modification. When it came back again, I discovered another issue that required a second tooling modification. I don’t think I could have reasonably foreseen these issues, but nonetheless, the lesson was this: Don’t promise orders until you’re 110% sure that everything is good to go.
Innate: So will the Fusion Zero change our lives? What makes it so special?
Kris: Few things affect riding enjoyment as much as saddle comfort. This saddle is analogous to the introduction of curved, ergonomically shaped shafts on ice tools. The changes might have seemed unnecessary in the beginning, but compared to traditional straight shafts, these new, comfortable tools were a vast improvement. This new saddle is different looking and incredibly different feeling in the beginning – riders can expect it to feel strange at first and may take a dozen rides to fully adjust. However, it’s something that, in a few years, riders may accept as the new normal. It could change the standard for unicycle saddles worldwide. It’s an exciting prospect.
Innate: The challenge with product design is ensuring that the process results in something that is possible to produce. Do you find it hard to find production partners that can work with you on complex, innovative designs?
Kris: In general I would say yes, although I’ve worked with Velo (the company who makes this saddle) for 12 years now and we have a good working relationship. It’s great when you find production partners who push back if you make unworkable suggestions instead of just going with it, or who come up with refinements that are better than what you thought of.
Innate: MUni is a pretty niche or even obscure activity, yet your attention to detail is well-known. Any final thoughts on the merits of obsessing over the obscure?
Kris: Details matter more in a sport where the equipment is purposely minimalist; in this case just a single wheel. Knowing what’s needed, what’s not needed and obsessing over little things that are invisible if they are done right is what allows good gear to disappear into the background. At the end of the day, it’s all about maximizing your enjoyment and engagement while riding. That was my goal with this new design.