Cycling in Britain is at a tipping point. We lead the world in track racing, and increasing numbers of us pedal to work. Transport for London reports an 83 per cent rise in cycle journeys since 2000, an average of 480 000 a day. Similar trends are evident elsewhere in the country. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that urban cycling remains dirty, scary and cumbersome, and it will take more than the Tour de France’s passing peloton to get fair-weather commuters braving it through the winter.
The answer lies in improving comfort, security and storage for cyclists – all topics addressed at last week’s Made bicycle summer school, held at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London with input from RCA tutors and cycling experts. Made is the Government-funded Materials and Design Exchange, which facilitates better understanding of materials science by designers. Through its Spark awards, Made can grant up to £5000 to develop ideas worthy of ‘proof-of-concept’ funding. Forty students of design and materials science from across the UK participated in two days of ‘deconstructing and reconstructing’ bicycle design – through talks, trials and an intensive workshop challenge – and some of them could qualify for such support, if they choose to take their ideas forward.
Surprisingly, given the presence of Mike Burrows, best-known for designing Chris Boardman’s 1994 Olympics machine, and Mark Sanders, designer of the folding Strida and Swivel-head models, the concepts developed during the workshops by the students – working in six groups – didn’t involve reinvented frames or radical handle-bars. The focus was inclusive design – tackling ancillary problems that prevent more people putting their bums on saddles. Both the tutors and the judging panel who decided on the winning idea, which was rapid-manufactured for a conference the following day, remarked on the ‘maturity’ of the students’ thinking.
Rental and maintenance service Cycology hoped to reduce the hassle of cycling with its personalised saddle ‘pods’ which could be ‘snapped’ on and off different bikes. A striking idea in theory, as Utopian schemes often are, but sadly it appeared dowdy in practice.
Of greater merit was a chip-and-sensor system, Bike Eyes Save Lives, designed to stop cyclists being flattened when HGVs turn left. Double Diamond, a brand-in-waiting, was a sleek pannier rack that turned into a lock – if rear lights were built-in, an electric current could alarm the length of its hardened steel, and, with further refinement, you could envisage it in production.
Another group refashioned the bicycle basket idea into a detachable ‘bar bag’, with integrated LEDs and the potential to double as a waist-pack. Would anyone wear it into Selfridges, though?
A different approach to the same problem borrowed from motorcycles the notion of storing things within a larger, comfier saddle. It included a cable lock that could be drawn down to loop around the wheel, but that seemed a piecemeal deterrent. More interesting was the blend of materials required to perfect the saddle.
The judges, including RCA vehicle design tutor Paul Ewing, rated the ideas by innovative use of materials, design innovation, usefulness and ‘the wow factor’. The winner, by some margin, was a bicycle chain and integrated lock, expressly designed to be carried easily across the body. Its security appeared impressive – with a variety of advanced fibres working together, and concealed bolts protecting the hinges. Crucially, it looked fashionable, rather than merely functional, like a sort of macho pashmina, and took into consideration a cyclist’s life away from the bike.
What will really shift the gears is a change of culture. According to Ashley Hall, RCA industrial design engineering tutor, cycling is still ‘too sport-related’ for the casual rider, cycle shops remain ‘intimidating’ environments and cycle manufacturers are ‘behind the pace’ in selling bikes fit for commuters’ needs. Of course, nobody can design away the rain, but at least cycling’s next wave of designers is making up ground in its ideas.
For more details about Made, visit www.materialsktn.net