George Mandis


Tell us about yourself (who you are, what you do).

My name is George Mandis and I’m a freelance web developer and consultant mostly in Portland, Oregon, but I’ve been pushing the geographic boundaries as of late. Travel is a passion — I’ve tried to spend as much time as I can living and working from other countries the past few years. I’m also involved in musical projects and have no shortage of half-finished creative pursuits laying around at any given time, including some bicycle-centric ones.

How do bicycles fit into that?

It’s my primary mode of transport! Not sure why exactly, but I’ve never had a proper license. Between my bicycle and public transportation I’ve never had a problem getting where I need to go. Starting to think it might be genetic — my mom didn’t get hers until she was 36! It might help that we both grew up in Portland, OR, which is a city particularly conducive to these modes of transport.

I’m find it empowering trying to lead a largely “human-powered” lifestyle. Early in career I enjoyed it especially. Biking between coffee shops or to meetings was a visceral reminder that I wasn’t cooped up in an office. I also love that it builds exercise into my everyday routine.

It also gives me time to think about things I’m working on, things going on in my life or otherwise decompress. I find it meditative. Therapeutic. Even if it’s just a 15-minute ride.

I’m lucky to live in a good city for this kind of lifestyle. Traveling in other countries I find it interesting to compare bicycle infrastructure. Being able to use a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation in the U.S. feels like a luxury. In other places it seems more necessary. A common tool. I find myself thinking about that a lot.

Tell us about your bicycle-based project.

Ads-on-Bikes has been percolating on the back-burner for nearly as long as I’ve been working for myself. It’s a bicycle-driven project I’ve worked on with my friend John — in fact, it’s how we became friends! — to explore how everyday cyclists can monetize their normal commutes. The inspiration was AdSense, Google’s advertising program. Biking on my way to a meeting in 2006 I thought to myself, “Riding my bicycle is my favorite part of my day. Sometimes I kind of wish someone would just pay me to do this…”

It’s seen many iterations. The original concept involved tracking routes on a GPS device and determining the “value” of a route based on a myriad of factors — time of day, how busy the particular streets were, what other businesses you went by and census data for the neighborhoods your path took you through. This was all before the iPhone was even a thing! It was bizarrely ahead of the curve, conceptually at least. It was a very nerdy service that provided a solution to a problem nobody really had…

When John reached out to me, we came up with many more iterations and concepts to explore over the years. Spin-off ideas and concepts emerged. We spent a humorous number of hours sketching out what an ad on a bike would actually look like and built an industrial-strength sign.

The website is still there, although the project has been relatively dormant for a while, it’s interesting to see what kind of inquiries and feedback we get from people still. The concept has traction and it’s encouraging to see people still stumbling across it or even trying to emulate it.

Pedal Driven is the most recent project. The idea there is to profile people out there with bicycle-based projects, not unlike Ads-on-Bikes. We’ve stumbled across so many interesting ideas in our discussions and found so many clever people out there with bicycle-centric visions it just makes sense to try and build a resource to capture it all in one place.

What inspired your project?

I think it’s the idea of human-powered accomplishment. After Ads-on-Bikes I was kind of intrigued with the idea of (blank) on bikes. It’s funny at first, but it’s surprising where that can lead you. Art-on-Bikes. Movies-on-Bikes. Barbecues-on-Bikes. Coffee-on-Bikes. Wifi-on-Bikes. Bikes-on-Bikes.

There’s a wonderful Steve Jobs quote about how he sees computers as “bicycles for our mind” — tools that allow us to exceed our mere-mortal limitations. I like that idea and I guess I also like taking the metaphor full circle… Maybe you can take humanistic pursuits and add bicycles to propel them further?

What motivates you to keep working at it?

At the core of the thing there’s an idea there that appeals to a lot of people. Even if the idea itself never becomes fully realized, it’s introduced me to interesting conversations, people and ideas I otherwise might not of.

What other bicycle-based ideas would you like to pursue?

I have a couple bicycle-based ideas stuck in my head:

1. I want to go on an extended bike-ride across the country while continuing to manage my life and work remotely. An extension of the sort of remote work and travel I’ve explored in my life generally.

2. I’m not sure what practical benefit this would have, but I want to hook up a Raspberry Pi to my bicycle and have it powered entirely by solar and dyno-hub energy. Then turn it into a roaming wifi hotspot or Bluetooth beacon or some such thing. Typing that up I realize what I really want is a hackable cycling computer.

3. This is basically a different version of the first idea, but I would love to go on a tour by bike, playing shows up and down the west coast.

What kind of bicycle do you personally ride?

My bicycle is a gray Marin Four Corners Touring bike. It has a Brooks canvas seat and two axiom racks on the front wheel. I use the second-cheapest Planet Bike lights you’re likely to find at any bicycle store plus these InnoLife waterproof LEDs on Amazon. I’m kind of in love with this bike right now — perfectly fine for everyday commuting and works in a pinch for light touring, which I’m starting to get into.

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