In 1895, Albert Einstein’s teacher said to his father: “It doesn’t matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.”
In 1911, Marshal Ferdinand Foch said: “Airplanes are interesting toys, but they have no military value.”
In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine said: “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
And in 1987, Peter Lumley, editor of a British bicycle trade magazine, said the newly-introduced Brompton shouldn’t win a ‘best of show’ prize because – a ’sad sign of the times’ - it was just a bike “you fold up and chuck in a car boot.”
As it happens, the Brompton did win the ‘best of show’ prize and went on to become the iconic legend we all know today.
David Henshaw, author of a forthcoming book on the Brompton, asked me to scan in the Brompton pages from my copy of the April 1987 Cycle Trader magazine. He told me: “I don’t think many people there that day would have guessed that 20 years later Brompton would be the only mass-produced bicycle to be made in the UK.”
Peter Lumley long ago recanted his dismissal of the Brompton. And those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones: also in 1987 I was asked by an industry magnate whether a standalone mountain bike magazine could work, I said no, and MBUK was launched soon thereafter. Shows you how much I know.
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The New York Times is reporting that the UCI could be about to stage one of its irregular stabbing attacks against the sport it claims to represent. The Lugano Charter – a charter for stifling innovation – might be about to be upgraded.
It’s worth reading this charter. It’s the philosophic basis behind the organisation’s much more difficult to digest technical regulations.
The Lugano charter
Tuesday 8th October 1996
Being aware of the potential dangers and problems posed by a loss of control over the technical aspects of cycling, the UCI Management Committee has today, Tuesday 8th October, taken a number of measures here in Lugano.
In doing so, the UCI wishes to recall that the real meaning of cycle sport is to bring riders together to compete on an equal footing and thereby decide which of them is physically the best.
The features which have contributed to the world-wide development and spread of the bicycle are its extraordinary simplicity, cost-effectiveness and ease of use. From a sociological point of view, as a utilitarian and recreational means of transport, the bicycle has given its users a sense of freedom and helped create a movement which has led to the considerable renown and popular success which cycle sport enjoys. The bicycle serves to express the effort of the cyclist, but there is more to it than that. The bicycle is also a historical phenomenon, and it is this history which underpins the whole culture behind the technical object.
If we forget that the technology used is subordinate to the project itself, and not the reverse, we cross the line beyond which technology takes hold of the system and seeks to impose its own logic. That is the situation facing us today. New prototypes can be developed because they do not have to take into account constraints such as safety, a comfortable riding position, accessibility of the controls, manoeuvrability of the machine, etc. The bicycle is losing its “user-friendliness” and distancing itself from a reality which can be grasped and understood. Priority is increasingly given to form. The performance achieved depends more on the form of the man-machine ensemble than the physical qualities of the rider, and this goes against the very meaning of cycle sport.
The many effects of this rush to extremes risk damaging the sport of cycling. These include spiralling costs, unequal access to technology, radical innovations prepared in secret, a fait accompli policy, damage to the image of cycle sport and the credibility of performances and the advent of a technocratic form of cycling where power is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful players, to the detriment of the universality of the sport on which its future and continued development depend.
Sounds reasonable, but had this charter been around in the early days of cycling we’d have had no derailleur gears and no quick release wheels. Taken to its logical conclusion we should have no MTB suspension forks; no power meters; no composite frames. Just a steel diamond frame and a single gear.
In fact, the UCI could be seen to be at the very nadir of cycling cool: give the wonks their way and we’d all be riding around on fixies.
The other weekend Gary Fisher was in London buying yet more snazzy duds but he also appeared at a screening of Klunkerz, the mountain bike history documentary. The next day I interviewed him for his views on transport bikes - audio and story here - but at the screening I recorded his answers from a detailed and entertaining Q&A session.
This is the original trailer for the Klunkerz move:
And this is the brand new trailer:
Here are some keyword highlights from the audio above:
George Lucas. Grateful Dead. BMX cruiser class. 29er bikes. Panasonic 32lb bikes. Gearboxes. Girls looking good on bikes. Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Steel v alumunim v carbon. New tech: 10 years of failures. Dashing Tweeds. Living in the same shack as W.C. Fields. Carved tokers. Avenue of the Giants trail, California.
Gary Fisher: “I could have been a frame builder, I know how to braze but I didn’t want to get into metal therapy, I wanted to build a company that covered the earth with bikes.”
YouTube’s genius was to translate a multitude of clashing video formats and mush them into Flash, a cross-platform format most any computer can handle. Issuu.com has done the same for non-movie files. If you produce PDFs, Word docs, Powerpoint presentations and other files that otherwise remain static on your machine, you could load ‘em to Issuu.com and get flippin’ beauties.
Strida designer Mark Sanders sent me and Bicycle Design’s James Thomas a link to some PDFs and Powerpoint files of his ‘Blue Ocean’ presentation at the Taipei trade show. Downloading a PDF and reading it in Adobe Preview is sooooo 2008. Converted to Flash, and given the Issuu touch, Sanders’s documents now jump from the page. Click on full-screen to get the full effect.
Issuu is where I’ve parked the sampler for the Bike to Work Book (it’s had 51,000 views so far). Snow Books created an Issuu account recently and placed on there a teaser chapter for my ‘Family Cycling’ book. Many big-name publishers are now placing their books and mags on Issuu.com. But it’s not just for the mammoths, the minnows get to play, too. Digital democracy. God, I love Issuu.
The Factor001 crew are cock-a-hoop with the media coverage gained for today’s unveiling of the power-measuring, £20k+ superbike, inspired by F1, and built by an F1 supplier. Here’s a BBC video of today’s launch:
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Check this 1983 TV advert for Bickerton folding bikes. Brompton wasn’t the only British folding bike maker of the time.
The advert was put together for Bickerton Rowlinson Ltd by Sharps advertising, who subsequently became Dorland (part of Saatchi and Saatchi). I don’t think the scriptwriter won any awards for this ad, but you got to love the idea of putting a nun on a bike.
The ad aired on national telly. It went out on the young Channel 4. Bickerton scored a great deal because there was an actor’s union strike at the time and few ads were able to beat the Equity blockade.
Mark Bickerton, son of the bike’s inventor, said:
“The name Bickerton is still synonymous with folding bikes, and it is amazing how many people still remember this advert 24 years on.”
“For years, I have been searching for a copy of this advert and the other day someone e-mailed me with a digital copy. It’s a little bit of history.”
Mark Bickerton has been the UK agent/importer of Dahon folding bikes since the mid-1980s.
This product may never get to market - think of the lawsuits - but it’s an interesting take on bike security. It’s a bike lock that, when cut, sprays marker ink on the thief.
“This bike lock deters the opportunist thief by making the abuser’s experience as unpleasant as possible without having a detrimental effect on the user.
“SmartLock is a cable lock that has cores of compressed air and liquid running through its body. If cut, the liquids spray out over the perpetrator, his tools, the bike and the scene of the crime. A bike that has been stolen will be covered in coloured dye (the dye renders the bike undesirable and therefore unsellable ) as well as transluscent Smartwater - an invisible forensic property marking liquid.”
“Do you have an idea for a bicycle that might persuade the average person, with no prior interest in cycling, to park the car and pedal to work? That is the main idea behind this competition. The scope is up to you- choose to come up with a whole new form factor for a pedal powered machine, or focus on specific details that you consider key to accomplishing the goal of getting the average non-cyclist to consider riding a bike for transportation. Don’t be constrained by products that are currently on the market, but do make sure that your concepts are based in reality (don’t break the laws of physics, etc) and that they are manufacturable using existing technology.”
I’m one of the seven judges for the competition. The other judges are James Thomas; Torgny Fjeldskaar, Director of Industrial Design & Advanced Products Division at Cannondale Bicycle Corporation; Mark Sanders, principal of MAS Design Products, designer of the Strida and IF Bikes; Steve Zwonitzer, principal of Propane Creative, a strategic brand and product design consultancy; Agnete Enga, Senior Industrial Designer, Smart Design/ Femme Den, NYC; and Michael Illukiewicz, an automotive designer.
As the editor of BikeBiz magazine I’ve been on judging panels for all sorts of bicycle-related products and services. It’s fun to sift through entries, weeding out the ‘you can’t be serious’ from the ‘that’s interesting.’
I wonder how many of the entries will plump for traditional chain driven bicycles and how many for polychain drives , internal hub gears or NuVinci-style variable transmissions?
I don’t yet know the thought processes of the other judges but I’ll be looking for simplicity, ease of mass production and cost-awareness (not everybody could afford the $8500 Moots Comooter). I’ll also be looking to place the winning entries in later editions of the Bike to Work Book, of which here’s the very latest cover: