Tag Archives: design
The bicycle is one of those rare inventions that seems to have arrived on the scene fully formed. Take a quick glance at a bicycle from a century ago and in size and shape it won’t seem all that much different from a modern bike – the old familiar diamond-shaped frame, wheels, handlebars, saddle, pneumatic tyres and pedal-powered, chain-driven means of propulsion.
How different that is from, say, the changes in automobiles, airplanes or telephones over the same period. A Tin Lizzie bears no resemblance whatever to a modern Ford, any more than a Curtiss Jenny calls to mind an Airbus 380. And as for telephones, well, one of the quirky joys of watching ‘old’ movies from the 1980s is seeing those clumsy bricks they were lugging around with such dated ‘jet set’ savoir faire.
But bicycles are another matter. With bicycles they pretty much got the nail on the head, first time around. To date, and in spite of a century of valiant trying, nobody has really been able to improve terribly much on the overall design and mechanical efficiency of the bicycle, 19th century though they be – or at least they haven’t to the extent that the betterments put a bicycle beyond immediate recognition.
Looking more closely of course, a host of evolutionary improvements over the past century have made riding a modern bicycle easier and more pleasurable than in the past – better frame materials, for one thing, more sophisticated derailleurs, to say nothing of Tullio Campagnolo’s brilliant invention of the quick release levers.
Perhaps it is my age, but I feel as though the pace of change is starting to accelerate. The bicycle on which I rode around Australia fifteen years ago was a twenty-one-speed Cannondale – two extra sprockets on the rear hub from the ‘ten-speed’ racers of my youth, and with a new-fangled cassette thingy instead of the old freewheel – but pretty much a standard tourer, not too dissimilar from those of earlier decades.
Fast forward to 2012 and bicycles have electronic shifting, as many as eleven sprockets on their cassettes, cables are internal, and shifting is performed with integrated brake-shifter levers. The old quill stem has gone the way of running boards and rumble seats on cars, as have square-tapered bottom brackets. Clipless pedals have usurped the old toeclips, and disc brakes are finding their way onto road bikes. Tourers now tour on 14-speed Rohloff hubs, with belt drives an increasingly common option. Thinking about all this brings two things to mind – one a renewed marvelling at the sheer genius of the bicycle’s original 19th century design that for all the wonders of 21st century technology we are still but tinkering at the edges; a bike still looks like a bike. The other thought is a a wondering what changes the next century of tinkering will bring. And a thought that perhaps it won’t be tinkering at all, but wholesale change. Who knows? As a former geologist – before I took up journalism many years ago – I am still intrigued by the process of evolution and so I put it to you:
I wonder what we’ll be riding in 2112?
A couple of years ago Dario Pegoretti was one of six independent frame builders whose works were exhibited as pieces of fine art in New York’s Museum of Art and Design – the others in the group being Sacha White, Jeff Jones, Peter Weigle, Mike Flanigan and Richard Sachs. In all, twenty bikes were on display. They ranged in style from racing bikes to mountain bikes, cyclo-cross, commuters, tourers and randonneurs but they all had one thing in common; they were all beautiful, hand-made pieces richly deserving of their place in an art gallery. They were, and are, indisputably ‘art’.
I am lucky enough to own a Pegoretti – one of his made-to-order Luiginos, a retro-classic road bike he designed and built as his tribute to the great Italian builders of the 1960s, most particularly his own father-in-law Luigino Milani of Verona. I’ve got one of the original ones with the double box crown which, I’ve been told, is no longer available. I particularly like this feature, with its very Italian ‘Buonasera Signorina’ engraved on its face, and in my general babying of this beautiful road bike I usually take good care to keep it shiny and clean.
I’ve had the bike out on the road the past couple of days and as I was wheeling it back into the shed this morning I happened to glance at the crown and noticed that it was getting kind of gritty and grubby, in need of a clean. I frowned at this and yet I stayed my hand and reached for my camera instead, because there was an element of truth and honesty and beauty in this road grime that appealed to me. This bicycle is a piece of fine art, yes. But it is functional art as well, a kinetic sculpture. It was built to be used, to spin down country lanes and along city streets in exactly the sort of manner I’d been using it, not hung on the walls of an art gallery. Dario Pegoretti said as much himself, many times, of his frames. And so I saw in the grime on the crown this morning an expression of that, and thought it worth of a photograph.
I see that Aston Martin has joined the growing list of automobile manufacturers who are seeking to cash-in on the new-age bicycle boom. The legendary sports car maker, purveyor of fast stylish transport to the likes of James Bond, has launched its own super-high-tech, limited edition, high-performance bicycle – the One-77 Cycle – yours to pedal home for just £25,000 (that’s about forty grand if you think in US dollars). By any reckoning that is a fair chunk of coin for a bicycle. And what do you get for your money you ask?
Well, you get what is claimed to be the world’s most technologically advanced carbon-framed racing bicycle, each one individually designed and built in Britain by Factor Bikes (whose parent company makes components for F1 motor racing) with input from Aston Martin. Naturally it has electronic Di2 shifting and to slow you down for those tight curves a custom-built hydraulic disc-braking system. An integrated computerised performance feedback system with a 100 channels of data – everything from speed and cadence, compass bearing and elevation to a welter of medical-quality biometric data such as heart rate, respiration rate, left leg power, right leg power, and even core body temperature according to one report I read. You get a hand-stitched leather saddle and hand-stitched leather bar tape and your choice of seven different finishes. You get an invitation to come to the factory, to watch your bicycle being built and involve yourself in the process. And of course you get exclusivity – only seventy-seven of these machines will ever be built, worldwide.
“The One-77 Cycle is a fitting partner for the Aston Martin One-77, the most elegant, sophisticated and powerful road car the company has ever built,” the company says on its webpage. “Both machines have much in common; a clean sheet design, developed from the ground up to showcase the most extraordinary potential of modern design, craft and engineering.”
Aside from my peasant curiosity about where the probe goes for those ‘core body temperature’ readings, I find myself wondering to whom this bicycle is meant to be marketed. Certainly not to me; I prefer steel for one thing. And I’d say it’s probably a safe bet that the general run of cyclo-tourists and commuters are not in the picture either. That leaves the sporty, speedy set, if it is going to be ridden at all and put through its paces. But are even these guys going to be slathering over it? I wonder. High-tech though it be, with its touch screen monitor set seamlessly into the headset, and oozing all that Aston Martin cachet, in the final analysis the One-77 Cycle weighs in at 9.5 kilograms – or about 21 pounds – making it a fairly hefty bicycle by modern road bike standards. I would have thought that most serious road cyclists who were willing even to consider dropping that much money (or even half that much!) on high-tech carbon would be wanting something rather nearer the UCI racing limit of 6.8 kilograms, or 14.96 pounds. On that front Colnago’s C59 Ottanta, a limited edition (only 80 to be made) brought earlier this year out to mark Ernesto Colnago’s 80th birthday, would seem a better bet. Not only does the Colnago have oodles of road-racing history, pedigree and credibility behind it, but at 15.51 pounds it is considerably lighter and at a mere $US19,000 it is considerably cheaper as well, although I suppose such vulgar considerations as money are out the window at this end of the price spectrum.
Be that as it may five of the One-77 Cycles have apparently already been snapped up; clearly the marketing chaps at Aston Martin have a much better grasp of their millionaire and billionaire clientele than I do.
And that’s probably the way it will stay, a garlic-and-onions fellow like me. I don’t suppose I shall ever see one of these Aston Martins flashing past me on my early morning rides across the Pevensey marshes, but if I ever do spot one I reckon I might at least have a niggling idea why the rider is riding out of the saddle.