August 24th, 2011

Top 5 bikes of importance to architects

Meager pay, but recognition. That is the standard contract for architects. Recognition for what though? Most often, it is for creatively solving something that would otherwise have left life not fully optimized. This is what draws so many of us to cycling. Fast across town. No parking worries. A free workout. The bike kills many birds with each stone, just like an elegant piece of design.


It is often said that I am the world's foremost authority regarding this nexus between cycling and architecture—sometimes, I even say so myself. I've certainly not heard it said that I'm not. In any case, my nearest rivals don't care for the mantle, so let's say it's me, and let us say too, that these are the 5 bikes all architects really should be aware of, and maybe even make it their mission to own.



NUMBER 1. If you have not yet allowed the Brompton into your heart, you need to catch up. Its designer, Andrew Ritchie, has done with a bike what we do each time we jam three bedrooms into a loft. The satisfaction that comes from fitting something functional into no space at all, will be yours in ample measure. Go for a clear lacquer superlight single speed with a Brooks saddle, and John Ruskin's ghost will be riding beside you. (Other small wheel bikes of note are the Moulton Space Frame as ridden by Norman Foster, The Moutlon F-Frame as ridden by Reyner Banham, The Strida, and the architect designed Mora Bike. By all means look them up, but the Brompton is your Vitruvius: where everything starts). 


 
NUMBER 2. We move now, to the Velomobile. Not the faux car you will find if you type Velomobile into google, but the Sunrider from Holland, the particular velomobile that, to my mind, best balances space-age aesthetics with practicalities. Here is a whole thesis on velomobiles. The crux of the matter is this: hauling the extra weight of these things up hills, is paid back when you hit 120km p/h going back down, but wind drag is a dead loss, and its force against you is cubed relative to your increase in speed, while increases in rolling resistance are pegged to your speed. That is what makes these things so captivating to bike buffs, futurists, and people like me, who wonder how cities will look after the car. Oh, and they keep you out of the rain. For those architects purporting to be saving the planet, by building buildings, velomobiles might even redeem all of those award winning "green" weekenders of theirs, that are 40 minutes by car from any shops or public transport.

Here I must express sincerest apologies to my countrymen at Trisled, makers of the most practical, fast, yet affordable velomobile in production, anywhere in the world, even Holland. In an earlier iteration of this post, I had actually given the award to their Rotovelo. However, my nagging unease that it looks like a canoe, in the end steered me back to the less practical, heavier, more expensive, but sexier looking Sunrider from Holland. Watch out though Sunrider, your rivals here in Australia are but one clay model, and a few decals, away from wiping you out altogether.



NUMBER 3. Since most architects would be out of a job if the world stopped believing in designer-name bullshit, we should always be the first ones to buy it. Biomega bikes, designed by the layabout (fn.1) son of a billionaire—by concensus a big-D "Designer"—are everything we stand for as a profession. They're made in Taiwan by learner welders and cost twice as much as anything similar. Their signature model, The Boston, makes disconcerting creaking sounds as you pedal and has a folding mechanism that stabs your right knee with each pass. Their website, choice of fonts, and their logo make everything else on the internet look like a free template from Wordpress. They're in cahoots with Bjarke Ingels. So what more can I say? Each of us needs one, to match our Corb glasses.



NUMBER 4. From the hyperreal city, to the Finnish log cabin: that's where a Renovo will take you, when you hang up your Biomega and hop onto one of these lovingly crafted wooden delights. I suggest you don't quote Pallasmaa, or rip off another detail by Peter Zumthor, until you are riding on one of these. I visited their factory in Portland last May: laminated wood, CNC routed inside and out, to make a bike that sounds and feels like a musical instrument. Truly sublime!



NUMBER 5. I've thought of the functionalist, the futurist, the trendoid and the phenomenologist daydreaming hippie. That just leaves the outsider. I'm thinking now of that guy who presented a mosaic as his final year thesis, who was 50 yet somehow managed to be dating one of your classmates straight out of high school, who no one ever heard from again. WTF is he riding? No doubt, something improbable. I figured the dilemma this left me (finding a bike to suit Mr. Mosaic) could only be solved by reference to our bible of improbable bikes, the Embacher Collection, where sure enough, there it was, the Skoot Koffer-Rad. Self assured, and clever by halves. Come to think of it, so many architects I have known, would be perfectly matched to this bike.       
Please let me know if you don't agree with my choices—bearing in mind, you're not the expert.

Footnotes. fn1. Of course I have no actual proof of this, but come o-o-o-on!!