You are here

A better bicycle?

This is not a bike you can buy, so don’t bother asking the price. This is a sketch, or a concept. An exercise in imagining a future in which bikes might be better.

This is of course heresy, as it is widely assumed that bicycles have achieved some kind of perfection and that all that remains is to make them lighter, give them more gears and change the colour scheme. There is even a reactionary tendency which believes that the pinnacle was reached in 1975, or 1965, or 1895, depending on tribal loyalties, and it’s all been downhill since the invention of gears, or aluminium, or carbon fibre.

Mike Burrows likes to think that it might be possible to make a Better Bicycle, and “Gordon” is one idea of how it might be done. For a start it is light, and strong and has plenty of gears, as we have the right to expect. But there is no exposed machinery, as this is a bike to be used, not to be kept indoors and cleaned by your personal mechanic. The 9 speed gearbox from Pinion Drive is enclosed within the frame, running in an oil bath and shifting with a twist of the handlebar grip. The brakes and transmission are also fully enclosed, reminiscent of Dutch bikes which are designed to live below sea level, but the frame is made of carbon fibre and the entire bike weighs less than 11 kilos. Front and rear monoblades are stronger and lighter (do the maths!) and keep the structure simple and beautiful.

There are a few distinctive ergonomic innovations. Short cranks put less load on the body and enable the rider to spin the pedals more quickly. They also lower the centre of gravity make it easier to reach the ground when you stop. The bike has a low step through for ease of access, and distinctive handlebars which maintain an efficient but comfortable riding position.

Charles Eames said that the role of the designer is to be a good host, anticipating the needs of his guests. From this point of view Gordon has settled you in a comfortable armchair and poured you a large gin and tonic.

This bicycle is technically advanced, which need not concern the user,who is not assumed to be an aspiring mechanic. All that's required to keep it in perfect condition is an occasional wipe with a rag. Gordon has not abolished punctures, punctures are life's way of reminding you of reality. When you have to fix one yourself the mono-blades mean there's no need to remove a wheel. After a little practice it will take less than a minute.

Once a year you can take Gordon to your expert mechanic who, having checked it over and wiped it with a rag, will charge you an unfeasible amount of money. Not really but we all have to live..

Is Gordon realistic as a mass produced product? Absolutely! Carbon fibre frames are almost mainstream nowadays and this one would be cheaper and simpler to make than most. Internal transmission systems are currently expensive and elitist but the economics of mass production would soon change that. And if bicycles were universally valued as the amazing problem-solving, life-giving machines that they obviously are, then something like Gordon would universally be considered an absolute bargain.