Cycle Revolution opens to the public tomorrow and explores how designers are responding to our growing interest in cycling. In the UK alone, the number of people riding a bike at least once a week has grown by 100,000 since 2012 and in the past five years, British athletes have triumphed at the Olympics, the Tour de France and the BMX World Championships.
The exhibition includes 77 bikes dating as far back as the 1880s, from Eddy Merckx’s 1972 hour record bike to Joanna Rowsell Shand’s Olympic track bike. But it is not a comprehensive history of the bicycle. Instead, the show presents a snapshot of contemporary cycling culture, with record-breaking models showcased alongside inventive custom frames and a look at cycling infrastructure in 10 cities.
The exhibition is grouped into four sections. High Performers looks at competitive cycling and athletes from Chris Froome to Chris Hoy; Thrill Seekers looks at BMX bikes and mountain cycling and Cargo Bikers presents a series of bikes used to transport freight. Urban Riders, as its name suggests, looks at bikes designed for urban environments, such as the hugely successful Brompton folding bike.
The show also explores what’s next for bike design with a series of experimental models, including chainless bikes, DIY kits and frames made entirely from wood, and features some great graphics and design by Eleven Design and Factory Settings. With short films, saddles, clothing and kits, there’s a lot to see, so here’s our pick of things to look out for…
Alongside folding bikes, track bikes and cargo bikes, Cycle Revolution presents a series of custom frames made by independent bike builders from around the UK, including Hartley Cycles (founded by former sculptor and jewellery designer Caren Hartley) and Livingstone-based Shand Cycles. Each workshop has contributed a custom bike to the show and makers are profiled in a series of short films made by Alice Masters.
One of the most fascinating is Tom Donhou‘s Experiments in Speed, which can go up to 80mph and features a custom 104-tooth chain ring to keep the bike’s centre of gravity low and ensure chain alignment at high speeds. Donhou previously designed toys and perfume bottles before becoming a bike builder (he has since made some lovely custom frames for Rapha and Liberty) and said he built the bike as an experiment to see how fast he could go.
While most bikes are built from carbon fibre or steel, Cycle Revolution includes several designs made out of wood, from Sandwichbikes – flat pack models that can be built in under an hour – to designer Paul Timmer’s wooden bike prototype (shown above), which features an ash frame and 3D printed aluminium parts.
The most bizarre is the Splinter bike, which was designed by Michael Thomson and is the outcome of a £1 bet to make a bike entirely out of wood. The bike took 1,000 hours to design and is made using self-lubricating wood, with no metal parts whatsoever. Two large cogs transfer power from the pedals to the wheels, eliminating the need for a chain.
Cycling enthusiast Paul Smith has donated a handful of jerseys to the exhibition, from a signed one worn by Mark Cavendish at the World Championships in 2011 to a vintage wool jersey worn by Cicli Pagnini in 1970. There’s also a Team Sky jersey, GB Olympic jerseys and a kit designed by Scottish road cyclist David Millar for cycling brand Castelli.
It’s a small collection but one that showcases the staggering change in kit design over the past 40 years – from the heavyweight wool garments with embroidered logos worn in the 70s to the ultra fine and lightweight designs produced today.
A Tall Bike
Artist and Kingston graduate Peter Georgallou designed this tall bike, which stands at over two metres high. It’s an impractical design but a striking one, inspired in part by the Penny Farthing.
The Halfbike was conceived by architects Martin Angelov and Mihail Klenov and raised over $900,000 on Kickstarter. The bike consists of an aluminium frame, three wheels and a plywood handlebar and is designed to be ridden standing up. Users can change direction by shifting their weight left or right, much like a segway.
The Lotus Type 108 was ridden by Chris Boardman at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. With its carbon fibre design and disc wheel, the bike looked like something from a science fiction film when it was released – and helped Boardman achieve Britain’s first gold medal in Olympic track cycling since 1920.
The design was devised by engineer Mike Burrows and car manufacturer Lotus. Burrows had spent years tinkering with his own bike to make it more aerodynamic, and hit upon the idea of creating a flat, one-piece frame instead of the traditional diamond-shape tubing usually used for racing bikes. When Lotus tested his prototype in their wind tunnels, they were impressed with the results and offered to refine Burrows’ idea and put it into production.
The bike required Boardman to sit hunched over its handlebars in ‘the Superman position’ – a stance that was previously unheard of but is now commonplace. Boardman’s success in the Olympic Games led Lotus to create a time trial version, which he rode to set a new hour record in 1996, and the model was dubbed “the Superbike” in the press. Twenty-three years later, it still looks futuristic.
Devised by Ogle Design and Alan Oakley, the Raleigh Chopper children’s bike will conjure up many a fond memory for visitors of a certain age. Inspired by drag motorcycles and custom bikes ridden by California teens in the late 1960s, it features high-rise handlebars, a high-back seat and chunky tires.
The bike is based on a prototype drawn up by Ogle and a sketch which Oakley made on the back of a napkin during a flight. It went on to become one of the most popular children’s bikes of the 1970s, with Raleigh selling 1.5 million units by the end of the decade in the UK.
Cycle Revolution opens at the Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD from November 18 until June 30 2016. For details, see designmuseum.org