Kim on the cover

In June 2011, Kim Tolhurst was interviewed by The Geelong Times about Cruzbikes. The following material is taken from Issue 275 of the paper when Kim made the cover! Note that this is not the first time Kim has been in the news in Geelong. In 2010, the Geelong Advertiser ran a story.

Kim is riding a Cruzbike Quest.

Recycling an old invention

Two brilliant minds: one burning ambition, to make cycling an easier and more comfortable experience. Ian Kenins meets the Geelong half of two brothers who have reinvented the two-wheeler.

According to local cycling encyclopaedia and collector Rod Charles, the bicycle was invented during the 1820’s. Rod, who is currently compiling a history of two-wheeled transport, says the last major structural change came in the 1960s with Alex Moulton’s invention of the small wheel bike complete with built-in suspension. But in 2004 Geelong resident Kim Tolhurst and his Perth-based brother John applied their fertile minds to modifying the bike which is starting to attract some serious interest.

The two boys (with two sisters) were raised on a property in semi-rural Ocean Grove in the 1950s and 60s. Kim says his first form of transport was a pony. He got his first bike – a repainted old one – as a Christmas present when he was 12 years of age. Soon after he found another old abandoned one, took the crank off, attached a car steering wheel, and went tearing around the neighbourhood without brakes.

At 15 years of age Kim wanted to join a sailing club but to do so he had to own a boat or hold membership to a yacht club, but he had neither. "I had an interest in woodwork at Queenscliff High School so dad got the plans for a yacht and I built it in one year - an eight foot, three inch Sabot. At the same age I made a wooden pencil case. Two years later it was cars that attracted Kim’s attention. "Dad said he’d help with the motor if I could do the rest, so one weekend mum and dad went away and I mowed the lawns and took apart a 1938 Hillman Roadster and neatly laid it all out on the front yard. It was there when they came home up the driveway."

Kim says his and John’s inquisitive and inventive nature stems from their father John who was a chartered accountant with numerous other skills. "He trained us. We just wanted to be with him and do things with him. Dad built radios, and a tape player by hand which was very difficult at the time because parts were in short supply. And he built a pipe organ over 18 years."

However, when Kim finished high school he headed north, far from the technological centres of Australia, to work as a jackeroo in outback WA, SA and NSW for three years. He returned to this region to study at the Marcus Oldham College then left for New Zealand where he managed several farms. During his spare time, and in between jobs, Kim has also built a microlite aircraft, renovated several homes, restored antique furniture and a 90 tonne miamiayacht, run an English language school in South Korea, and operated a window cleaning business.

While cleaning the window of a New Zealand travel agency in 2004 Kim washed over a poster advertising cheap return flights to Perth for the bargain price of $680."My brother John lived there and he’s 11 years younger than me and I’d never seen him as an adult. So I rang John and said I’d visit for five weeks." You get the kind of person Kim Tolhurst is when he explained to his brother why the visit had to be five weeks: "I told him two weeks was too short and six weeks was too long." Nonetheless, John was pleased and told his older sibling he had something for him to do upon arrival.

You get the kind of person John Tolhurst is when you learn he has degrees in fine arts and architecture, a Masters in business administration and works as a management consultant. John had been thinking about making a better version of the longer, low-riding recumbent bicycle best known for its laid-back seating position. However, recumbents have never been embraced by the cycling market despite being considerably faster. Kim says this is because "Recumbents haven’t solved all the problems, only the seat. “In a recent time trial in the USA, the top of the range Vendetta model Cruzbike took an astonishing 28 minutes off the world 100 mile (160 kms) record set by the same rider on a conventional racing bike.

The two drove the streets of suburban Perth during what turned out to be a hard waste collection period and returned home with several boot loads of bicycle parts. John had already made a prototype of a long low cruising bike (the Torp) with a colleague named William Croft. In an interview for the Cruzbiking website John "It’s a great design and I give him [William] the lion's share of the credit for it."

When Kim arrived in Perth John had progressed some way on a front wheel drive bike he named the Corker. In the same magazine article Kim attributes the bulk of the design to his younger brother, saying he only "felt like a midwife assisting in the delivery. “The most radical alteration John Tolhurst made to existing bicycle technology was to move the rear Y-frame that holds the drivehouse (a design that had been a feature on bikes for well over a century) to the front on a standard mountain bike. A patent for a FWD bike had been taken out in 1982 by Tom Traylor who sold a copy of his plans to John for $15. However, there was a problem with the front tube being too close to the tyre so John and Kim hammered the fork around a tree so it would curve over the tyre.

The result says Kim, is that "The FWD retains the triangular drivehouse but doesn’t have the very long chain to the back that recumbents do, and that vision, while slightly lower, is still at a height where people expect to see a cyclist amongst traffic. Plus the head is balanced in almost the same posture as driving a car. It’s totally natural way to see the road ahead and allow you to comfortably and safely talk to a fellow cyclist."

Being an avid cyclist I was keen to give the Cruzbike a try. Kim assured me that two 15 second lessons were all that was needed before I could confidently cruise the Barwon River bike path. However, like one of the judges on the ABC’s New Inventors program which featured the cycle last week, I found control didn’t come naturally which lessened the joy of ease that cycling affords.

Rod Charles says new bicycle designs have historically required adaptation. "When the boneshakers (so named for their wrought iron frame and wooden wheels) appeared in the 1860s there were schools in most towns that ran courses on how to ride them. And people had to read manuals on how to ride the safety bikes when they were introduced in the 1890s. They took about three weeks to learn."

Nonetheless, Kim says there’s no strain involved with his and John’s design. Setting off begins with a roll start, and rather than holding on with a firm grip, Cruzbiking requires gently resting the palms against the upright handlebars. The rider also leans back instead of forward. "I’m no athlete," said 60 year old Kim. "I’m a social rider but I’m almost speechless to describe the feeling." Almost. Kim is a naturally warm and engaging person but is effusive when it comes to talking up his invention, and you can’t blame him. The bike won the previous week’s episode of the New Inventors and following our photo shoot Kim was off to Sydney to join brother John for a segment on Channel 7’s popular lifestyle program Better Homes and Gardens.

The two will spruik the four models currently available, ranging in price from $995 to $4235. A $395 conversion kit is also available to modify a standard pushbike. The laws of supply and demand suggest that when orders and production numbers increase the prices will decrease. The bikes can be purchased online at www.cruzbike.com.

Kim now works as the company’s Australian distributor and for exercise rides Cruzbikes while delivering the Geelong Times. The brothers will be chuffed that due recognition has come their way, but Kim is happy for a more personal reason. "While trying to bend that bike fork around the tree in Perth, I said to John, ‘Our dad would be proud of us working like this together.’" He’d have also been impressed with their results.