About the time Robert Dumaresq was choosing his project for the final year of his industrial design degree, Melbourne commuters were being banned from carrying bikes on trains during rush hours.
The controversial ban was reversed but the issue inspired the then 22-year-old Monash University student to create what he now calls the "switch commuter bike" — a high-performance bike that folds into the footprint of just one wheel.
"The trains are there for everyone and to just kick bikes off I thought was a bit unfair," said Mr Dumaresq, now 23.
He said it was clear to him that carrying bikes on transport would continue to be a problem as the city's train network got busier and more people started to use a train and bike combination to get to work. This, plus the glares he received from travellers when he took his bike on crowded trains, meant he quickly set about making a bike that would fold and be easy to handle on board.
"There was nothing on the market that fulfilled what I wanted," he said. "I wanted to try and avoid relying on a big block that can be a weak part of the frame and also having to take parts off the bike to actually fold it."
First, Mr Dumaresq used a full-size cardboard cut-out to work through the initial stages of his design. Later, he started "body storming" — brainstorming with bike pieces.
"Then I started developing it through sketching and 3D modelling and prototyping to a point at the end of first semester where I had a rough mock-up to prove the concept."
Mr Dumaresq was awarded the coveted 2009 gold Australian Design Award — James Dyson Award for his prototype on Friday night. "I am still blown away by people's reactions to it and the amount of attention it has got," he said. "It's something I have been so close to for a long time now that it is really satisfying that people can get into it and see the demand out there for it."
Mr Dumaresq, of Armadale, and the 12 other finalists will be entered into the James Dyson Award international competition, where they will vie with students from more than 20 countries for a $20,000 prize.
Mr Dumaresq said he always wanted to design and showed early signs of having a technical mind. He loved Lego as a child and said he can think "a lot better three-dimensionally".
It is his dream to design for the cycling industry, a combination of two passions. He is looking for an investor for his bike and for a full-time job. "We are trying to encourage a greener lifestyle and get more people using environmentally friendly transport — and cycling is the best way," he said. "The more we can do to encourage people to cycle, the better."