In my copy of The Design Encyclopedia – a hefty and exhaustive listing of influential designers and their creations – there is no space between Thomas Meyerhoffer (industrial designer responsible for the interior of the Porsche Boxter) and Eugéne Michel (an influential French glassmaker). Pierre Michaux (inventor of the modern bicycle) is absent.
It was Michaux who first attached pedals to what was called a ‘dandy horse’, and so creating the bicycle – a form recognisable as one not much changed from the modern bicycles of today. The addition of the pedals and cranks was his masterstroke. A novelty contraption was transformed into something that suddenly enabled man to propel himself forward, twice as fast, twice as far, with half the effort. Cyclists would still be going nowhere without Michaux and his rudimentary machines of the 1860s.
Over time the idea has evolved, but there’s still not much to separate a racing bicycle of today with one built fifty or sixty years ago. That basic diamond shape remains, the geometry has been refined, iron swapped for steel swapped for aluminium swapped for carbon fibre, the wheelspan lengthened, then shortened, more and more gears added. Electronic gear shifting has only just arrived, and this latest fad doesn’t seem like the vital technological advancement its manufacturers would like us to believe. The pace of the bicycles’ evolution has been a slow one; the original design has proved resilient to improvements.
Yet that hasn’t stopped designers trying. As cycling becomes a ‘culture’ and a totem for a new utopian way of living, so it has been deemed necessary to tinker with an invention almost perfected from its inception. It’s tough trying to re-invent the wheel, as these efforts below prove. Any designer aspiring to cement their legacy through bicycle design would do well to note the absence of Pierre Michaux’s name from the history books. Read the rest of this entry »