As far back as he can remember, Toby Lunn, of the Intelligence & Systems Analysis group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has loved bicycles.
“I’ve been doing something related to mountain biking since I got my first bicycle, which was when I was 6 or 7 years old,” explains Lunn, who grew up in Kansas. “I lived right at the edge of town, so I rode my bike through dirt and ditches. Mountain biking became popular when I was a teen, and I fell in love with the sport right away. It’s become a big part of my life, and it was definitely a factor in coming to Los Alamos and starting a career at the Laboratory.”
Supporting intelligence work
Although he has experience working as an intelligence analyst, Lunn says that he works in a niche position, one where he applies engineering analysis and visualization techniques to support analysis teams’ assessments, which then inform decisions associated with national and global security.
“The bulk of my teammates are analysts who bring together different pieces of information to craft a more complete picture,” Lunn says. “In my position, I support analytical teams with my engineering experience to get at some of the technical details associated with intelligence information.”
To amplify what he does, Lunn provides an example: “Maybe there’s a system under analysis by a team in my group. I can use my skills in mechanical engineering and manufacturing to help us understand small details. I may not deal with the big picture behind the overall intelligence need, but I help with specific pieces that require clarification.
“When I came to the Laboratory in June 2017, I learned from the best intelligence analysts in the world, eventually becoming an analyst myself,” Lunn continues. “In my current role in intelligence analysis support, I get to work with a number of analysis teams, each working on a completely different problem that I can assist with. What satisfies me most is contributing in a small way to various projects that in the end make our world a much safer place.”
Lunn’s engineering experience before coming to the Laboratory involved a few years working in the commercial sector, followed by an eight-year stint at the Kansas City National Security Campus, where he first started working on issues associated with national security.
Making custom rides
When Lunn joined the Laboratory, he immediately started riding his bike around northern New Mexico. He was drawn to the challenging terrain—and the idea of building a custom bike for this specific landscape.
“Even before college, I was fascinated with metal work and welding—which is actually what led me to explore mechanical engineering and is key to being able to build bikes,” Lunn says. “A bike’s core is its frame, and so I design custom bikes from the frame up. About 10 years ago, I decided to try making them myself to find a bike that works better with the terrain and my own height. I really enjoy the science and engineering that goes into planning and building a bike frame.”
Lunn has put all that brain power into designing and building four different bikes, all of which he has tested on various mountain trails. Some bikes specialize in downhill trails while others are best for rocky paths. He’s working on his fifth.
“For me, building these custom bikes comes down to the fact that everyone’s body is different,” Lunn explains. “I’m on the tall side, with a very long inseam, so there are few bicycles that comfortably fit my frame. My bikes are built to fit me. The process is a lot of fun, and the bikes feel a lot better to ride.”
One of the key skills in building custom bikes is precision. Associated with precision is attention to detail. “These two things are key,” Lunn says. “The science is what’s behind the design, but the end result is a smoother and more enjoyable experience riding the trails.”