One Thing

The bicycle is one thing. The object, or idea of an object, that was maybe born with the draisine or maybe with the velocipede, does not really change. Whatever that thing is that started its roll in the early 19th century, the mechanical horse of an inventor’s dream, the idea of it, has continued to roll, taking in the boneshaker and high wheel and the safety bicycle, subsuming them and morphing into slightly different shapes, but staying, in concept, exactly the same.

Most bicycles consist of two triangles, front and rear, and two circles, front and rear. The triangles are more negotiable than the circles, and we’ve been riffing on them for a century and more. Engineers and designers turn those triangles into squares or more circles, or broken shapes, open to the sky, for the rain to fall into. The wheels, fore and aft, persist. They are necessary, non-negotiable.

Those of us in the bike industry spend our all and every day trying to change this root object. We worry it like a set of prayer beads. Even when we have the decency to leave its shapes intact, we are forming them of different materials by different methods and calling those new forms revolutionary. We taper and shape the tubes. We blast them with wind, find them wanting and blast them again.

We dress them in different finishes. We hang different bits and pieces off them, the designers and engineers of which are, in their own very persistent way, trying to modify and modernize and revolutionize things that started as root concepts and have changed, in essence, very little as well.

What began with a few men, Drais and Niepce, Lallement, Michaux and the Olivier brothers, has been taken up by legions of eager, would-be improvers, a whole international industry’s worth. We’ve all jumped on the two-wheeled bandwagon. By now it must be straining to move us all down the rutted track.

The bicycle, though, is mainly one thing, two wheels framed for movement. What a relief.

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4 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    Is it brilliant or an indictment that the basics have stayed the same? Are we so bereft of imagination that the original concept cannot be improved or proven redundant?
    I think the bicycle is a brilliant piece of thinking and engineering. It is only a shame that it has been superseded by the automobile as the primary form of transport in most parts of the world. I found this quote that I thought most apt:

    When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle. ~Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills

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