Monday, 2 May 2016

The small price of a bicycle

I like riding bikes. I like it now and I liked it when I was a kid. I loved my Grifter and I loved my BMX. I used to organise races for friends and compile lengthy lists and statistics collating the results. I lived in London far too long before buying a bike but in 2011 I finally got one and then last year upgraded to a slightly better model.

I also like museums. You may have noticed. One museum I like is the Design Museum. So when I saw they were hosting an exhibition 'Cycle Revolution' all about our two wheeled friends it went straight in the diary. This weekend I finally got along. Shamefully I didn't ride my bike there.

No doubt the post-Olympic popularity of cycling, both as sport, leisure pastime, and means of transport has enabled this show. I fully support the use of bikes for all three of these things although I find some of the ridiculously overpriced kit and fashion one-upmanship employed by a small minority of fellow cyclists does little to help the cause.

The Bauhaus inspired Design Museum is undergoing something of a refurb at the moment so once I'd managed to locate where the temporary door actually was I ambled up the stairs to see that the exhibition had been split into four sections:- High Performers, Thrill Seekers, Urban Riders, and Cargo Bikes.

The High Performers quarter really starts when Chris Boardman rode his Lotus 108 (first picture, below) to gold in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics before continuing through Bradley Wiggins's Tour De France win (on a modified Pinarello Dogma 2) and that same man's hour record. Before self-congratulatorily ending with a mention of Team GB's 14 medals in Beijing and eight golds in London.

As with the other sections there's some films you can watch. Also on show are the cycling jerseys of Chris Froome, Victoria Pendleton, and Nicole Cooke. There's a lot of helmets to look at too but mostly you're probably here to see the bikes. As well as the aforementioned Boardman machine you can see, in order below, Jo Rowsell's Shand Cervelo T4 track bike, Eddy Merckx's hour record bike, and Chris Froome's Victory Team Sky Pinarello Dogma K8-s.

Thrill Seekers begins with 1970s California mountain biking. Eventually mass produced stumpjumpers and slingshots appeared. BMX also began in California around the same time. It's represented here by Shanaze Reade (her bike below) but they could've equally gone for my cousin Sarah-Jane Nichols. If you want to know how good she was check her out on YouTube. It certainly makes me very proud as does the sterling work done by my local Peckham BMX track. Their reputation precedes them. Not just in the work they do as regards the sport but the care and attention they take in looking after local kids, many of them disadvantaged.

In this section you can also see a Raleigh Chopper. They still look cool but pre-BMX I was much more a Grifter kid myself. Sadly, there's no Grifters, Strikas, or Boxers here.

The Urban Riders section does exactly what it says on the tin. Mostly consisting of Bromptons and Moultons. The Bromptons are named thus because they were designed opposite Nick Cave's fave Brompton Oratory. There are currently 16,500,000 different variations of Brompton available and each one is still handmade. Though there's currently a problem with knock off copies flooding the market.

You can even hire a Brompton outside the museum once you're done with the show. You can obviously hire Boris bikes (if we must call them that, they were actually an idea Ken Livingstone imported from France) but would you risk riding an X-Bike around London?

I've never seen anyone on one but with London now said to contain 610,000 cycle journeys per day (or 223,000,000 per year) perhaps it's just a matter of time.

The Cargo Bikes section is perhaps the least interesting. Telling the history of cycle deliveries beginning in the 19th century with bread and milk delivery bikes and moving on to the sort of bikes you cycle while your children sit in a little box at the front. They have them in Dulwich Park and they look like fun. As do the fantastically named Bilenky Chuckwagon and the Boxer Rocket, both below.

An outlier in the show, and the oldest thing there, is 1888's Rover Safety bike. It doesn't look particularly safe by today's standards. In fact it looks something of a rustbucket death trap. But compared to the penny farthings it replaced it was quite a leap forward and still the basic bluprint for what a bike is today. It was designed by J.K.Starley in Coventry and that city, along with Birmingham and Nottingham, became the epicentre of the UK's bicycle manufacturing industry.

There's a room in the middle of the show that looks at the future of cycling. It's pretty Londoncentric, as is the rest of the show, but then it's in London I guess. There's some illuminating stats. For example in the UK 4% of people cycle each day compared to flat Holland's 43%. They're also keen here to stress the relative safety of road cycling. They claim only one cyclist is killed on UK roads for every 27,000,000 journeys cycled.

In attempts to make things even safer, and more environmentally friendly, we're introduced to a selection of prototypes. Wooden bikes, bamboo bikes, titanium bikes, three wheeled trikes, and electric bikes similar to the ones my parents (both now over 70) use. Some of them look more practical than others but I can't see myself zipping down the Old Kent Road on a Halfbike or a Velocino, both pictured undernearth, any time in the near future.

There's a look at advances made in the world's great cycling cities:- Bogota, Seville, Freiburg, and The Hague. This part of the show is particularly interesting to me as I'm more interested in sympathetic town planning than bike design per se. Every Sunday in Bogota huge swathes of road are made out of bounds to motorised traffic and taken over by cyclists. Bands and stalls set up and the whole thing becomes a weekly festival of the pushbike.

The fact I went there recently and didn't cycle feels a waste. The fact my bike's been parked up in my hallway all through the winter and most of the spring is even sillier. If nothing else this show has inspired me to blow the dust off the saddle, get back on it, and get the wind in my hair.

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