How does someone go from being a sound engineer and working with the Foo Fighters, to getting their Ph.D. in philosophy and working on electric bikes? Austin Duggan, a philosophy lecturer at Cal State Fullerton, refuses to be limited to just one interest.
One of Duggan’s biggest passions is building bikes. After experiencing the long commute to Los Angeles to CSUF, he began working on a titanium electric BMX bike with a “High-Drive” system in 2019.
“I need a better way to get to work and it needs to be fun,” Duggan said.
Duggan said he looked at other ways of transportation such as motorcycles, various trains, busses and finally landed on an electric bicycle. He said he previously heard about them before, but he found that all the electric bicycles on the market were very heavy and did not go very fast.
“I got discouraged at first until I realized that it was pretty easy, at least for me, to just start pulling parts off the shelf and building something of my own,” Duggan said.
In 2019, Duggan pieced together his first version of the bike made from an old BMX frame that he converted into an electric bike weighing in at 41 pounds and going around 40 miles per hour, to help him get around quicker.
“I guess no one had really done that before — it was an electric BMX. It made going to and from work a blast,” Duggan said. “I would go from Koreatown down to Downtown L.A. in like 12 to 15 minutes, in rush hour traffic. While everyone was sitting in their cars miserable, I could be speeding the whole time to get to the Pacific Surfliner, the train that takes me down to Fullerton.”
After seeing the positive looks that he was getting while on a bike he put together from spare parts or as he calls it his “Frankenstein” bike, he became excited to refine the design.
Nick Nieminen, a mechanical product designer and colleague of Duggan who he met at Cornell and Aaron Laniosz, a designer, who also works on electric bikes, hopped on the project to help Duggan design the first official prototype of the bike.
One of the main features that Duggan wanted for the bike was for it to be lightweight. Many electronic bikes on the market tend to be on the heavier side. To combat this, Duggan decided to go away from the traditional location of the engine system on electric bikes and ended up putting it higher up on the frame, hence the name “High-Drive” system.
Laniosz said he has been helping Duggan with building a 3D printed housing which holds the battery, while Nieminen has been helping virtually throughout the design process from his home even during the quarantine period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working on the bike while also working as a lecturer doesn’t come without its cons.
“I don’t have much of a social life and I don’t sleep much,” Duggan laughed.
This drive to get the project done while also learning how to do it as he goes is what has impressed people.
“It’s super impressive how far he has gotten working on a pretty tight budget with still another full time job,” Nieminen said. “It’s cool to see somebody waltz into a new thing and learn really quickly.”
But building bikes wasn’t always a hobby of his. Duggan’s first career path came from his passion for music. Though he initially didn’t plan on attending college, his close proximity to Nashville — a national hub of music — led him to Middle Tennessee State University, which offered a Recording Industry Program that taught people how to become recording engineers.
Duggan said he moved to New York in part to pursue a career in sound engineering, but also to pursue his own creative passions. When Duggan arrived in New York, he said he ran sound for the Foofighters, Peaches, Ministry and other huge acts. Still, he didn’t feel fulfilled.
“I was really at the center of it all and I was so unhappy,” Duggan said. “As fun or as cool it might’ve been, it wasn’t challenging to me anymore.”
To make up for the dissatisfaction he was feeling, Duggan said he turned to literature. Non-fiction works interested him the most — in particular the work of Jorge Luis Borges.
Like Borges, Duggan said he was intrigued by philosophy so much that it became a bit of an obsession. He enrolled in courses at Brooklyn College City University of New York, where he realized he wanted to go to graduate school and pursue a degree in philosophy. His time at Brooklyn College led him to getting into a doctorate program at Cornell University.
At Cornell, Duggan said he developed his dissertation around the notion of moral responsibility and whether humans have free will. His research found that a main concern that humans have about free will is that “we are worried about the value of our actions.”
He also said he found that there weren’t many authors who were pinpointing the meaning behind these ideas which is why he decided to write his dissertation on the topic and that led to him getting his Ph.D.
Duggan said as he was nearing his graduation, he felt he needed a change which led him to move to Los Angeles in 2017. Duggan first worked at Cal State Long Beach, but eventually found a position at Cal State Fullerton in the philosophy department.
Although Duggan enjoyed philosophy, he was missing something that was more physical — something that he could see in front of his eyes and measure the success he was having and not just be told he was doing good. This is what led him to woodworking out of the garage of his apartment in Los Angeles.
“What’s nice about when you do something like woodworking is when you get done with a project, you can sort of look at it and tell whether it’s any good or not,” Duggan said.
The same concept applies to his current projects with BMX bikes, which he said was a lot of hands-on work.
Duggan’s “High-Drive” bike is coming closer to being released to the public. He said he hopes that in two or three months his company, Chimera Cycles, will be able to go ahead with a launch.