CLAS art professor embarks on bike trip across Iceland

Steve McGuire, professor, and director of the UI School of Art and Art History, sets out on a 601-mile biking trip across Iceland to collect climate information about the area.
Wednesday, August 2, 2023

By Charlotte Brookins 

Steve McGuire, a director and professor in the UI School of Art and Art History, and leader of the design-build-ride program and teacher of the fabrication and design: hand-built bicycle course, spent July traveling to Iceland to bike 601 miles across the country. The entirety of the course has been filmed and tracked via satellite for people to view from anywhere in the world. 

McGuire, who introduced the design, build, ride program and its related courses to the University of Iowa in 2010, says the purpose of the program is to take students through the process of designing and building their own bike, which they are then able to fully operate. 

“What’s important is that the bike was designed and then built for a specific location to do a specific thing,” says McGuire. “Riding the bike, in a sense, completes the process.” 

McGuire previously took a similar trip from 2001 to 2003 and built a tandem bike that he later rode across Iceland to visit different farms that were settings for Icelandic Sagas—long, classical Icelandic prose. Now, McGuire is collaborating with Aaron Kennedy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of North Dakota, to construct a 50-gram weather station that will record climate data during the trip as he bikes across both volcanic zones and glacial crossings. 

Steve McGuire and his bicycle in Iceland

McGuire hopes that this trip will help to disseminate the concept of design, build, ride, as well as promote its connections with the 3D design curriculum here at the University of Iowa and in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

“I want to market what we do here at the university, and at the same time I want to advance my work as a sculptor and a designer,” McGuire says. “I think the main focus is to move the curriculum forward and share with other people what’s going on.” 

McGuire’s program has begun to spread to other locations outside of the university, with institutions such as the University of Arkansas starting their own hand-built bike program that mirrors Iowa’s. The growing popularity of the curriculum was part of the inspiration for McGuire’s upcoming Icelandic endeavor. 

“The inspiration has been coming together for a while now, and a lot of it has to do with the invitations for people to come and start programs at other universities,” adds McGuire. “It’s made me think about why I do what I do.” 

For more information on McGuire’s projects and trip, and to see how his journey went this summer, visit his website

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.