Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bike Prototypes: It's a Minimalist 36er!

Our mustachioed, bowler-wearing forefathers straddled some hilarious bikes in their time. You've probably seen the classic gigantic front wheel, tiny back wheel version pictured here from the turn of the (last century). This was called an "ordinary bicycle" or a "penny-farthing". Penny and farthing were British comparisons of the wheels to the coins used in that era - larger to smaller. The term ordinary came later as a way to describe this older bicycle compared to the new "safety bikes". I've never ridden a penny-farthing, but I've seen some local folk in our annual 4th of July parade and it's a precarious but fascinating venture. Imagine just the challenge of mounting this thing without breaking your teeth! That said, there was some good design in this bike. Obviously, it's a single speed direct drive so the larger front wheel allows for a higher speed. Once you got rolling, I can imagine that your could get a pretty good clip going. Also, the large size of the wheel smooths out the ride on bumpy road surfaces.

In the last decade there has been a trend toward mountain bikes with larger wheels, these are known as 29ers as opposed to the standard 26" wheel of a let's say "ordinary" mountain bikes. Road bikes have not featured new tire sizes in a long time. Today's standard road bike wheel is a usually 26" or 27" (650c or 700c). The gas price crunch over the past 5 years has really re-kindled American's interest in bicycles, and I love the fact that designers are now taking some chances with new ideas and prototypes.

A great example of this trend comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan industrial design house JRuiter. Designer Joey Ruiter and staff have come up with a cool, minimalist design that incorporates many aspects of early and modern bikes. Behold! I give you the Inner City Bike 36er! Check this thing out, it is a direct drive road monster!

It looks a bit precarious, and those tires are really close together, but you've got to love the forward thinking design. I am also psyched that this came out of the state of Michigan, where so much engineering and manufacturing innovation has occurred in this country. When I look at this prototype, I see a nod to the basic black simplicity and function of Henry Ford's Model T. His famous quote from 1909 applies here, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so as long as it is black." Nice work Joey and company, I hope to see your design available in bike stores all over the country very soon!

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