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Designer Bikes….

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Mick Allan

Forgive me in advance for my cynicism. Whilst I appreciate the value of ‘concept’ vehicles and other flights of fancy I can’t help but be annoyed when I see what happens to the bicycle when product designers turn their attention to it. A bicycle is a beautifully resolved and mature piece of engineering. It has taken more than a century of continual development to get where we are today.

Occasionally new materials come along which, after a period of assimilation, are adopted whole-heartedly by the bicycle industry. We rather take it for granted nowadays but aluminium required a great deal of development before it became widely used and carbon-fibre composite construction has been knocking on the bike factory door for twenty five years. Every so often new technology (indexed shifting, suspension) or new thinking (mountain bikes) comes along which have a major impact on the world of cycling. Very rarely an engineering genius comes along (Burrows, Moulton, Andrew Ritchey, Paul Turner, George at Pacific Cycles and whoever the guy was who invented the Crank Bros Egg-beater pedal) whose influence exceeds that of most folk in the industry but aside from these few blips  technological development has been very gradual.

A concept bike for the real world. By Giant Bicycles.
A concept bike for the real world. By Giant Bicycles.

Part of the reason for this is that bikes,  for the most part, and unlike most other consumer durables, are not styling exercises. The components are there because they provide necessary function or structure. That top tube isn’t where it is because it looks pretty, it’s there to do a job. Its diameter, wall thickness, method of attachment and the precise mix of materials used to make it weren’t arbitrarily decided, they were essential design parameters.

It’s the nature of the thing. Bikes have small engines so they need to be light. Excess weight has been pared down over the decades until only that which is absolutely necessary remains. When you look at any half decent bicycle you are looking at a refined, pure, stripped-down, minimalist machine.

Every so often a product designer takes it upon him (or her) self to redesign the bicycle.

This? stupidbikeOh gawd.

stupid electric bike train No. No. No.

ifalloverWTF and LOL.

A second year industrial designer looks at the beautifully simple, elegant, refined and evolved top-tube of a bicycle and thinks; ‘That doesn’t look right’, it would look better with a kink/ hole/ spiral/ flower motif in it’. They make the mistake of thinking that the top tube was placed there because someone thought it looked good there. They don’t get it. It’s willful ignorance. And possibly arrogance.

I was checking out the finalists of The International Bicycle Design Competition recently. Some neat concepts, wonderfully fresh thinking, great rendering. Slick. The trouble is, even if you could build them most of them couldn’t be safely ridden. Structural integrity? Ahem. Nope. Steering geometry; castor, trail, rake, off-set? Not in evidence. Leg length adjustability? None whatsoever. Infinitely variable hydraulic transmission? Check. Hub-less wheels running on polytetraflourohelium bearings? Check.

I have no objection whatsoever to concept bikes, art bikes or even un-rideable low-rider show bikes. My real complaint is that the monkeys who work for the lifestyle magazines and gadget blogs pick up on these lifeless renderings and present them as the ’solution’ to the ‘problem’ of boring old bikes.

Without ever appreciating just how fabulous bikes already are.

Having said that….. some of these are pretty cool!!!

*

…. and Rat Rods

But not a tiny fraction as cool as these guys: Ratrodbikes.com is the home of a fast growing global community of individuals who share an appreciation of homebuilt bicycles and Kustom Kulture. Inspired by hot rods and muscle cars,  custom choppers and vintage motorcycles, tiki, rock ‘n’ roll and the spirit of do-it-yourself. I love it, I hope you do too.

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3 Responses to “Designer Bikes….”

  1. Eldon says:

    Occasionally though, presumably, some designers do come out with something genuinely great by accident (it’s a statistical certainty! – if they try enough times, they’re bound to do something right eventually). Don’t do too much to discourage them ;)

  2. Brightbird says:

    In the same way that its a ’statistical certainty’ that if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters for a long enough time, they’ll write Shakespeare? …

  3. Miguel says:

    Biomega has been producing really nice bikes, with works by Marc Newson, Jens Martin Skibsted and other designers: http://biomega.dk/
    They also produced de Puma Bikes: http://www.puma-bikes.com/