John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Germans have dragged the velocipede into the modern age of plastics, and it actually looks quite rideable.
As we're told from an early age, history has a tendency to repeat itself, and that's happening right now in a weird way with bicycle technology. First, have a look at these creaky old velocipedes illustrated in F.A. Brockhaus's 1887 literary masterpiece, Brockhaus' Conversations-Lexikon:
Why, this contraption bears a striking resemblance to the teetering dandy horses of yore – all that missing is a top-hatted gent perched on the saddle blathering about the sick tricks he executed at the indoor riding academy. Why on earth are designers referencing this ridiculous mode of transport, when back in the 1800s it was known as a "boneshaker" for the pulverizing effect it had on one's derriere?
As the creative minds behind the "Concept 1865" explain, exhuming the musty corpse of the velocipede is less of a marketable plan and more of a "unique thought experiment." They wanted to see if it was possible to make a bicycle that referenced the year of BASF's founding, 1865, using almost entirely 21st-century materials. Thus the cycle is fabricated from plastics, epoxy resins, and mysterious types of "specialty foams." The only components that are metal are the axles, brakes, and the motor that pushes it forward.
The chemical giant explains more about the curious endeavor:
In cooperation with the DING3000 design studio, the company has developed a velocipede embodying the current state of the art technology. In doing so, the innovative one-off quotes the geometry and mechanics of the first pedal cycle. The crank directly drives the front wheel (39") which, in order to improve the transmission ratio, is much larger than the rear wheel (24"). The chain, sprockets and coaster brake are entirely omitted. Even so, the modern-day velocipede is much more than an appreciative allusion to bygone days. Technically it is ahead of its time. For the fully functional and ready-to-ride e-bike features such spectacular details as thin optical waveguides inlaid in the forks for the lights, softly sprung and at the same maintenance-free tires, and a detachable seat with an integrated battery. Overall, this modern e-bike makes use of 24 innovative BASF materials – materials that are sure to come to the fore as electromobility advances.
Compare the old model to what the engineers ginned up for contemporary bone shaking:
And because you might not believe somebody could balance on this goofy thing, here's footage of the bike in action. It looks as ungainly as riding a one-legged ostrich, but it seems to perform all right. I wouldn't say it'd be my first choice for mountain biking though, despite this random dude taking it to the rocks:
Images courtesy of BASF and DING3000