Suddenly it seems that the humble two-wheeled iron horse has become hot news, with the range of options aimed at filling every niche in the market increasing year on year.
In fact, from funky folding options to robust mountain bikes that are almost weightless, to ride and park city schemes and stylish bespoke makeovers, the bike is fast becoming a central part of worldwide future transportation.
So why now?
Afterall, the bike has been around for a century and a half, so what is suddenly driving its popularity and catapulting it into the realms of uber cool for the first time in well over 100 years? The first, and most obvious reason, for Westerners at least, is pollution and carbon footprints. Bike riding is non polluting, and bike making is generally less polluting than other means of mass produced transportation, such as cars, which obviously means that by choosing a bike over a car you reduce your carbon footprint.
Then there is sustainability. Bikes are cheap to buy and maintain, rarely go wrong and fixing them isn’t usually horribly expensive, unless you have gone truly high end (in which case we’ll assume you can afford your F1 bike!). In addition, traffic congestion doesn’t really affect bike riders, and neither does high parking charges, or indeed the ability to park anywhere at all in some urban areas. The bike is suddenly looking highly attractive…
And finally there’s the issue of lifestyle and fitness, which is an important factor in the sedentary Western world, where fun and sociability are also pegged as good reasons by enthusiasts, despite the weather in Britain threatening put a bit of a dampener on that one, although if the sun is shining the appeal is obvious. Indeed, the trend to get on yer bike is so pronounced that even in the UK, where the cycling hours per person per year is a mere 38 miles a year per person compared with 652 miles a year clocked up in Denmark for every person, there is now a dating website for cycling enthusiasts! See www.cyclingsingles .com if this floats your boat (or pumps your tyres).
Style, design and function
So back to the actual bike. How would you like it, sir or madam?, because let’s be honest here, no longer is a bike just “a vehicle with only two wheels, which is held together by a pipe. The people sit above the pipe and push forward with movements of their feet,” as they were described by one of the Chinese delegates visiting Paris in 1866. Now your bike is a statement of you, and can be as simple, unique, or technical as you choose.
Indian Cool Revival
Following hot on the heels of the phenomenal universal success of Bollywood comes the cool-than-cool bicycles of India. Why so fabulous? Combine funky Indian British style with sturdiness and functionality, throw in low production costs, and you have a winning combination on any continent, a trend bourn out by the current cycle-crazy Dutch love affair for Indian imports. Check out Hero’s Bicycles (www.herocycles.com) offer a sturdy and funky all-pink “Star-Girl” that has taken the subcontinent by storm and is starting to make an appearance in trendy European cities such as Copenhagen.
Dutch City Bikes
Old fashioned sit-up-and-begs are actually the best urban bikes of choice, as the huge numbers used in China and India demonstrate. This is because they offer the urban cyclist a better view than do racing or mountain bikes, which is essential when negotiating through the traffic or checking for oncoming traffic at intersections or thoughtless pedestrians stepping off the pavement. The design is also more practical for the work-clothes-wearing commuter, while a basket and additional storage makes perfect sense when you have a handbag or laptop to transport…the trouble is that they aren’t, well, very cool. Or rather, they weren’t very cool, until now. If your fancy hasn’t be tickled by the Bollywood bling of Indian imports (see above) and yet you still want something that isn’t frumpy, then check out Dutch city bikes, where design and function come together to create something simple, nifty, and practical. See www.jorgandolif.com for inspiration.
At the Cutting Edge of the Mountain
When it comes to technological advances few can match Scotts. This innovative firm has its roots in the middle of the last century when they were the first to come up with the modern-day ski pole design. Since then, Scotts have made it company policy to stay one step ahead of the game with technical advances in the sports arena. They launched their first foray into mountain biking in 1992 with the introduction of the first full-suspension mountain bike, and this was swiftly followed in 1995 by ‘Endorphin’, the first carbon fibre mountain bike. Their latest state-off-the-art baby is the ‘Ransom’, a fully set up, long-travel mountain bike that offers really low weight, deliberately designed crash proofing, and ultra-practical touches, such as bottle holder, enclosed cable lines, and unique triple chamber high pressure ‘Equalizer’ shock system for the smoothest ride in the most challenging conditions.
There’s a lot of innovation in the area of folding bikes, although practicalities (wet bikes, cumbersome fold downs, small wheels making the cycling more effort) dictate that these are likely to remain novelties rather than have mass appeal. However, if it ticks your boxes, then you have an increasingly wide and varied choice, most off which are already in production. Check out the chopper-esque ‘Go-Bike’, with its neon orange frame and chopped front end, or the A-framed ‘Strida 3’ that folds down to what looks like a unicycle (but is easy to transport because you can wheel it rather than carry it), and the ‘A-bike’, which most likely has the smallest wheels ever seen on a bicycle. And then there’s the funky ‘eZee Quando’, which looks rather like it’s been made from reclaimed metal tubing, and the prototype ‘Locust’, designed by Josef Cadek in bright green and yellow around a circular centre frame (the bike folds into that; very neat), but which unfortunately looks as if it has just been delivered from Toys R Us.
Want something truly unique? You and many others it seems, if up and coming companies such Specialbikes, based in Manchester, are anything to go by. The company takes old bikes and refurbishes them using state of the art parts and highend craftsmanship to create sleek and stylish one-of-a-kind bicycles. Frames are stripped down and sandblasted, and then recoated in a variety of eye-popping colours to each customer’s individual specifications. Offering a unique blend of recycling and customisation, customers can either have their own bikes refurbished or by a ready refurbished one from Specialbike’s stocks.
On yer bike- Schemes and innovations around the world
City Bike Sharing
Schemes for bike sharing and have become the newest 21st century thing in European cities, including Paris, Barcelona, London, and Frankfurt. Exactly how each works varies depending on the operator and city, but all include bikes being parked in busy areas, such as tube stations and public buildings, key interchanges and universities. Some involve clients pre-registering and paying a set fee or the user fee being taken from their registered card; others, such as ‘City Bikes’ in Copenhagen simply require the insertion of a coin to unlock the bike, which are funded by the government and corporate sponsors. All bikes must be returned to a proper rack, much like a paid-for supermarket trolley.
Taxi Bike Rescue
Ever ridden your bike into work and then watched in growing dismay as the clouds open and you know you either have to a) be utterly drenched riding home or b) lug it on public transport to the severe disapproval of your fellow travellers, even if it’s a fold away? Well, this is a dilemma of the past in London since the launch of Climatecars, an eco-friendly taxi service who offer a bicycle rescue service. Each taxi carries a bicycle rack and the extra service is offered at no extra charge. Bargain.
Electric Bikes in China
The world leader in terms of two-wheeled power has recently discovered the joys of the electric bike, or e-bike. Giving the option of using human power or electricity (from a rechargeable battery), with zero local emissions. National E-bike Standards require top speeds of no more than 20km/h, although most bikes are believed to go faster than this owing to consumer demands coupled with lax enforcement of the standard. While there are estimated to be over 450 million bicycles nationally, there are thought to be over 20 million e-bikes in China, with popularity peaking in areas where people are under served by public transport or where they need to commute for long distances.
Brazilian Bike Bus Gyms
In Rio de Janeiro, the Bus Bike is now on the road. The Bus Bike must be the world’s first mobile gym, and is a modified bus containing 16 exercise bikes and offering bike classes with an instructor, as well as changing rooms, fridge and sound system. Members can get on and off at three pre-prescribed stops, and the round trip lasts 45 minutes. Brilliant for people not near enough to a gym for them to visit in their lunchtimes, while watching the buzz and diversity of Rio during your exercise workout must certainly beats the mindless television in the [static] gym.
Many charities, such as Re-cycle, are refurbishing unwanted bicycles in Britain and other Western European countries, refurbishing them and sending them out to several locations in Africa. Here they are distributed to the most needy and necessary repair and maintenance skills taught on the ground. Beneficiaries include children, many of whom need to walk upwards of 5 miles each way to and from school; commuters and farm workers; outreach workers, such as medical personnel, enabling them to bring their skills in to more inaccessible places to help the local population; and women who have to deal with a myriad of demands, such as carrying water and goods, getting to and from work, fetching goods to market or children to school, relatives, or other childcare.
And finally, if you needed any more convincing that the bike is the transportation of now and future times, bus-type advertising has hit bikes in the Netherlands.
Here a scheme has been launched to give free bikes to students in return to the bikes carrying the sponsors advertising on a 25cm triangular billboard, as well as fenders and mudguards. So far 22 universities are participating in the scheme and over 4,000 students have signed up.
© Claire Burdett. Please only reproduce this article with permission, in its entirety and with a hyperlink to www.claireburdett.com. Thank you.
First published in WTF magazine, 2007