Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why do people feel like they need to improve bikes?

So, way back in the 1800s, something totally revolutionary happened. Bikes got invented. The more I learn about bicycles in the 1800s, the more I'm convinced they really did change the world. A means of transportation, other than your feet, for people who weren't wealthy, a source of independence for women, a step in the massive technology revolution we're still in. . .

And they haven't changed all that much, really. Sure, very, very early on, they didn't have any pedals. The first "Laufmaschine" was pushed along with your feet, a little like kids' balance bikes now.

Then, around the 1860s, some genius in France added pedals to the front wheel, and voila, the first pedal-driven bike. (Although it might have been some genius in Scotland in the 1830s: apparently a rod-driven bike is on display in Glasgow dating to then.)

Anyway, once they'd gotten through the fad for the high wheel (sure, it would go faster, but at the expense of broken bones; besides, pedaling while steering on the same wheel? no thanks) things settled down, and someone came up with the rear-wheel-drive, chain-powered "safety" bike in the 1880s. And if you look at one of those, it's utterly familiar. 

"Whippet Safety Bicycle" by Science museum. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I would be able to ride one of those, no problem. Aside from the odd frame with all its superfluous-looking tubes, it looks a lot like any modern fixie. 

So, that's . . . let's see. . . 1885 to 2015. That's 130 years of basically the same design (even a bakfiets is basically the same thing). It's one of the things I love about the bicycle. It's a simple, elegant machine. It's kind of reached its evolutionary apex, like a shark, and is now just swimming about, unconcerned with having to adapt further.

Until people start thinking they need to improve on the idea. To make the bicycle (already a highly adapted urban vehicle) into, well, a highly adapted urban vehicle.

I mean, there was the ElliptiGO: not an attempt to make bikes better so much as an attempt to make elliptical machines less boring.

And the H-Zontal, which apparently is designed to make you go faster. I can't argue with recumbent bikes, since they seem to have developed and survived and are actually used by people - but this thing looks ridiculous. And uncomfortable (sure, you just lay down along the frame - unless you're a woman with bigger-than-small breasts. Not to mention unexpected bumps look like they would be painful no matter what kind of body you've got). Piloting via mirrors while going really fast doesn't seem like a great idea either.

Also in the go-faster department is the Varibike, which is kind of cool, if you don't mind looking a little silly, though not as silly as on the H-zontal, and at least the engineering doesn't totally overshadow the main point or require you to learn a bunch of new skills.

All of those, though, are about the bike as a means of getting a workout and going long distances, not about the bike as a way of getting around town. And I won't get into things like the YikeBike (the Segway's inline cousin) because that's getting past bikes and into electric vehicles.

Or this, from a patent issued in 2004, which I'm just going to leave here:

And then there are actual urban-life-focused designs like this, which is pretty cool if I want to be totally honest about it, although it doesn't mess with how the bike works, just how you lock it up (I worry, though, about the cable that tightens it up so you can ride it: if it loosens mid-ride you could be in trouble). 

But then someone I know posts a link to something like this - the "Fliz" - and I have to scratch my head. This, apparently, will "encourage more cycling within an urban environment." Look, it's the original "Laufmaschine," only complicated! 

I don't know why people think that the best way to encourage cycling is to get rid of the chain and pedals. The pedals being the thing that originally propelled bikes (see what I did there?) into the world-changing prominence they got in the late 1800s. But people keep thinking that the problem is the chain.

Somehow, I feel like if you're not ready to get on a standard bicycle, this thing won't be much more encouraging or appealing. Strap yourself into a harness hanging from the frame. A frame which severely limits your ability to turn and check behind you. Run, with your upper body at an unnatural angle for running (at least the old 1820s Laufmaschine had you upright) and then try to get your feet onto the rests on the back wheel without catching the wheel with your toes. Coast along. 

In traffic? 

Besides, it doesn't look like going up any major hills would be particularly easy; as a rock climber I can tell you I wouldn't want to be hanging in that harness for very long; you can't carry much in the way of cargo (a dealbreaker for any proposed "improved urban experience"); you couldn't ride this in a dress, or even in a suit - not without creasing anyway; and if you want to stop, you have to get out of the harness in order to walk away. Or hang there, bent over, chatting with people, like the guy in the video. Not to mention the lack of fenders. Just imagine riding this thing in the rain, with a fountain of dirty water splashing up across, oh, your entire body.

And then there's the fact that in an accident, you're literally tied to the machine. Good luck bailing or jumping free. 

It might be fun to play on for a bit, I suppose, and I imagine the sense of flying, hanging from the harness, might be pretty cool. But this thing is a toy. As a practical urban vehicle, I'll take my "safety" any day. We've had 130 years to find something better and so far, we haven't.

And also what the hell?

1 comment:

  1. I am proof elliptical can work- 30 lbs lost in 10 weeks. Those of us with 6 knee operations under our belt actually need low impact.

    But I do look like a total douche on the machine. Thats why I work out in my building's tiny gym where nobody else dares to go.

    An elliptical trainer is a??? ?ble t? present wholesome physique by maintaining wholesome bone density. An elliptical workout pr?v???s ?n ?vera?l body workout w?thout ?l? the strain. An elliptical workout burns 13 calories ?er minute. Elliptical exercise ?an burns 13 calories ?a?h minute. With good quality elliptical exercise equipment, ?ou believe the movement ?s fluid. The greatest high quality elliptical trainers make les? noise.

    Elliptical Machines Review