This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 124.
Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD; http://designmuseum.org(until 30 June 2016, daily 10am-5.45pm; £13).
I’m not into hardware or things, generally. I like the people stories behind the ideas. You get both at the Cycle Revolution exhibition at the Design Museum.
As you step into the gallery the first thing you see is a huge photo of two men in Lycra shorts cycling downhill in scenery that clearly isn’t London or even the UK. Fortunately, this clichéd image does not set the scene for the display. There are women! There is a suit you can wear to cycle in!
At the start are the bikes you’d expect to be on the walls: machines from Boardman, Froome and Hoy and Merckx. But the exhibition divides people who use bikes into four tribes: High Performers, Thrill Seekers, Urban Riders and Cargo Bikers. So there’s an open-framed model with a basket on the front, its frame as grubby and worn as you’d expect of a utility bike used daily and sometimes more than once on the same day. There is a prototype Brompton – clunky crossbar and insubstantial-looking steering column and handlebars alongside newer, tidier models of which it seems there are 80,000 of in the capital alone. There is the Bringley – which its designer rode as far as China to prove it had what it takes to be a cargo bike.
The stories are told in films – don a headset to hear Paul Smith talk about why he made a career in suits not in the saddle, or listen to bike builder Caren Hartley describe her techniques and ethos.
There are ‘insight’ panels – Joanna Rowsell’s training day begins with a plate of porridge, support cars carry nearly 100 energy bars – and at the end a film in which a range of high-profile people who cycle, such as Norman Foster, describe their vision of the cycling future. If you are not convinced by his idea of bike routes in the sky perhaps you’ll find personal inspiration in looking at the model of what nine other cities are doing to make cycling more attractive to ordinary people and safer for everyone.
Sadly, you can’t touch any of the display items. I’d like to have been able to lift at least a replica of Bradley Wiggins’ bike and compare it with the weight of say Eddy Merckx’s machine. I’d have liked to have tried the Safety Bike to see if it handles differently from my Dawes and had a go on the Halfbike which has no seatpost or saddle.
And this is where the exhibition failed for me. Bikes are all about the job they are designed to do and the riders who pedal them. Bicycles contribute to society because the riders are not caged or enclosed. They are levellers and give us something in common with other cyclists that we can start a conversation about.
They provide independence for all ages. They can contribute to relationships whether between friends or family by riding sociables or tandems, for example. Like most people I want to continue to ride for as long as I can. And there are bikes that can enable me to do so -either on my own on a trike or with someone more able bodied – on a sociable or a tandem, for example. There was no mention of the machines on the market that are designed for people with mental and physical disabilities. There was no mention of the adaptations that can be made to get people cycling or keep them cycling when a standard design isn’t suitable. This is the second Design Museum exhibition that has focused on bikes. If they do it again in their new premises in West London, perhaps the technology I see now as the future will be the norm and bike paths in the air will genuinely be the future.
If you ride to the exhibition you’ll find PlantLocks on the Thames side of the museum to secure your bike to. The most neatly planted ones I’ve seen. So, like the content of the exhibition they combine metal with life. But in my view, they are unrealistically segregated.