Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bikes and Design

Yesterday we went for a ride on our bikes since Bix got a fancy new mountain bike for Christmas.  It was certainly fun.  Bicycles are amazing machines.  As we rode along, it reminded me of young Steve Jobs' concept that Apple was building "bicycles for the mind."  The reason that this analogy captivated Steve Jobs was that he read a Scientific American article that talked about the efficiency of locomotion of various animals.  Condors were most efficient and humans finished somewhere in the middle of the pack.  However, someone at Scientific American had the brilliant idea to compare the efficiency of a human riding a bicycle to the other animals and the cycling human was off the charts.  To Steve, the bicycle symbolized man's ability to use tools to gain an advantage.  He felt (rightly so, I think) that computers would ultimately be this type of tool for our minds.

That's fun and all, but not why I choose to write about this topic today.  Bix and Widdikay both have fancy new-fangled bikes compared to the old school bikes that Monika and I ride.  Seeing how dated our bikes were looking started me thinking.  While they did look old, it was intriguing to me that the actual design of the  bicycle hasn't changed much in a long time (certainly nothing like the changes that computers have gone through, but that is a different story).  Sure, we've come a long way since the high-wheeler of yesteryear, but the modern chain-drive, diamond-frame design has been around for over 100 years.  The geometry of the frame has been tweaked a bit over the years and specialized for different purposes, but the overall design has remained stable - possibly because we have hit on a very efficient design.

Bike Concept from Yanko Design

When I saw the new bike concept above, I was immediately captivated.  It really does look like something different.  It's beautiful.  The lines are not those of a standard bike, but the human still fits on it in the same old fashion way.  Of course, this design is completely impractical.  The wheelbase is so short that it would likely be difficult to control at high speeds.  That wouldn't be too much of problem since it would be very difficult to get any speed since it would take several rotations of the pedals to get the wheel to turn a single revolution.  Actually, there is so much rake (angle) on the front head tube that it is likely difficult to control at any speed.  Still the design is a thing of beauty from an artistic perspective.  I find it interesting how some designers get caught up in the art of their creations and lose track of the usefulness and practicality.   To me, the most beautiful designs are those that are artistic and functional.

The bike above is designed by Yanko designs who recently published their top designs of 2011.  Their collection includes several interesting designs; some practical, some not so much.  Which is your favorite?