The global village, first described in Wyndham Lewis’s work and later popularized by Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher (among other things), is now more than ever a reality. These days, China, also aptly called the Middle Kingdom, plays the role of the place du village of that global village – the place where everybody meets to see what’s new and interesting. A few years ago, doing just that, Alexander Host, a young Danish designer, arrived from Copenhagen on the Trans-Siberian railway, in search of inspiration for a fashion project and came back with…a bike! In the following interview Alexander tells Nicely Made in China (NMiC) about Sanitov, and how the coolest « san lun che » (三轮车) came to life.
Alexander, what is Sanitov and what does it mean?
Sanitov Studio is a design think-tank based in London and Copenhagen run by 3 Danish friends: Frederik Wiesenborn, Marcus Hannibal Madsen and myself. We collaborate with various people and companies on all sorts of design-related projects. Back in 2006 I was still studying in the fashion section of the Danish Design School. In search of some inspiration for a line of clothes I was working on, I took the train to China to undertake some research. As soon as I arrived I noticed the typical Chinese 3 wheeler -san lun che- I thought it was very cool with the cargo at the back. « Sanitov » is what I understood when I first asked the Chinese name of the 3 wheeler. And so we decided to adopt that word when we were looking for a name for our company.
What happened next?
I bought a machine and shipped it back to Denmark with the idea of working on it. With the help of the designer Marcus Hannibal Madsen who was very interested in bicycles, we improved the design and changed a few things. Since 80% of the world’s bike parts are made in China, we then went back to China to produce our first prototype. In August 2009 with the help of a sourcing company we found a factory near Shanghai to work with us. However, the prototype did not look right and did not work well, so we went back to the drawing board with the goal of being ready for the United Nations Climate Change Conference which was due to be held in December 2009 in Copenhagen. And we were!
What did you add to the Sanitov Cargo cycle?
We wanted to keep the traditional Chinese look but with a minimalist approach, we got rid of a few details and made it look a bit more Scandinavian at the same time. We re-thought some functions to improve the performance of the machine: now it has 3 gears and we plan to make it with either 3, 5 or 8 gears for instance. We also added a GPS – it’s only a tracking device – which is optional but it can help track your Sanitov if it gets stolen, and also enter our art project when you activate it -more on that here.
The electronic motor system runs on a battery housed in a wooden compartment. To recharge it you simply take it home and directly plug the Sanitov into a normal electrical socket. One fully recharged battery lasts for about 8 hours or 50 km at 20 km/hour. Since we assume it will not be used continuously, we estimate it only needs to be recharged every 3/4 days.
We added an on/off switch (for the battery) to the handlebar. The grips are made of leather, as is the saddle, to add a touch of luxury to the whole thing. Last but not the least, our Sanitov can carry up to 150 kgs (including the driver).
How did the Chinese react when they saw your version of their machine?
The people at the factory were immediately interested. Then, at the gala dinner of Velo-City 2010, a Chinese man came to see me: he found it funny and intriguing that we would want to turn the San Lun Che into a fashionable object. As it happens, he is on the board of The Shanghai Urban Economic Institute. We exchanged cards and will meet the next time I am in Shanghai.
How much does it cost?
At the moment it costs 1,500 pounds (excluding VAT) or roughly 16,000 Rmb (US$ 2,440). We hope to reduce the price once we produce higher quantities. Anyone interested in buying a Sanitov can order one by contacting us directly on the website:http://sanitov.com