Toys for the boys

Raleigh’s special products catalogue leads Matthew Valentine to question the equipment’s true functionality. But he is happy for form to follow fashion.

The word design is as subjective as design itself. Say it, and people might think of Conran interiors, the Starck lemon squeezer or famous corporate identities. They might even think of

Pininfarina-styled cars, Frank Lloyd Wright houses or Raymond Loewy steam trains.

But, for every fan of “accepted” good design – of the rule that less is more – the polar opposite exists: the fan of Dayglo colours, graphics that stun at 100m, spandex pants and helmets like the head of Sigourney Weaver’s nemesis in Alien. In short, there is the fashion victim cyclist.

With a topic as subjective as design, it is, of course, impossible to take sides. No one can accurately claim that one school of design is better than another. But, in the case of modern cycling – and especially the design of mountain bikes – it could be argued that form follows imagined function.

There is a curious breed of modern cyclist where less is, unquestionably, less. The more gizmos, gadgets and colours on a modern bicycle, the better. Even if, as is often the case, the bicycles themselves never go further than the local newsagent. And, no matter how much they kid themselves, the closest most mountain bikers get to a mountain is London’s Parliament Hill.

Cycle manufacturer Raleigh used to make products like the Grifter, a chunky mass-market bike for 12-year-olds. Almost every suburban house had a Grifter quietly rusting by the back door. The company was renowned for comfortable saddles and reliable bikes. But long gone are the days when the toughest maintenance issues for a cycle owner were fixing a puncture or oiling the chain.

Today, Raleigh uses technology which was originally applied to putting Man on the moon. The company’s new special products catalogue, created by design group Cross Hill Conwill and published this week, features amazing design and technology. I have no idea what any of it does, but I want it anyway.

Triple clamp forks, disc brakes and independent suspension are now commonplace on bicycles. Raleigh sells Mavic Crossmax: “A unique X-country Disc-brake specific wheel system with SUP double-wall rims, Mavic FTS hub, double eyelets, composite QRs and Maxtal technology.” Or Rockshox Coupé Deluxe: “Factory item ready to do battle on the jumps. Internal floating piston action, silicon steel spring, new check valve for compression or rebound adjustment.” Fantastic.

The design team at Raleigh is apparently formed of cyclists who test their work by racing in 24-hour endurance events, suggesting that these designs actually have a practical purpose. But only if you have the physical strength to make the most of it. You can’t help suspecting that the only competition most of the buyers will indulge in is to spend more on cycling accessories than their friends.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. See you down the newsagent?

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