Bicycle Design

The Rudge Coventury Rotary and Carrier Tricycle, and below the Singer Omnicycle and Starley and Sutton Meteor of 1883. Copywrite MIT PressBicycles are having quite a renaissance especially in cities where the car is no longer seen as the most efficient form of transport. Apart from the obvious environmental, financial and health benefits, two-wheels can offer a novel way of navigating urban and rural settings. You discover so much more pedalling your way around. Gently cycling in the countryside, as I was to discover on a recent trip to a little island in the Mediterranean, allows for an immediate connection with your surrounding. The pace is slower, your senses come alive as you get to smell, feel, touch your surroundings…

The recent popularity of two-wheels has facilitated a wave of creative energy. Designers and manufacturers are interpreting classic shapes, experimenting with new materials and flirting with sustainable design. Philippe Starck, for instance, recently collaborated with Peugeot to create a cross between a bicycle and a scooter for Bordeaux’s bike sharing scheme. McLaren’s Venge is a lightweight, stiff, aerodynamics and super fast machine that utilises materials technology and manufacturing methods from Formula One. Elsewhere, French designers Claude Saos and Thierry Boltz’s WOOD.b is an urban bike concept with a unique frame system that draws functional elements from traditional bike parts packaged in a refined metal and layered wood veneer package.

Bicycle Design tells the story of this humble machine through the scholarly work of leading historians Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing. Generously illustrated with drawings and photographs, we learn of the early evolution of the bicycle before it achieved its most successful and enduring diamond-frame safety form. The authors trace the story of the engineers who decided to find a way of balancing on two wheels, the development of tension-spoke wheels, indirect drives and pneumatic tires. We learn of bicycles designed for racing, off-roading and portability; and of the developments of some of the key components such as the seat, brakes, lights and carriers.

We’ve clearly come a long way since the earlier bicycles of the 19th century. This seemingly simple machine has a complex history that continues today making the bicycle the revolutionary vehicle of the sustainable age – and Bicycle Design offers a thorough and enjoyable account of the story so far.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Bicycle Design, An Illustrated History is written by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing and published by MIT Press.

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