Do bikes really need improving upon? Can they be?

Do bikes really need improving upon? Can they be?

The bike of the future is apparently this one.

At first, I was all, “why does anyone need a wiz-bang gadgety future-bike when a regular bike works perfectly fine?” This is almost entirely because my default position on anything is cynicism, but *mumbling inaudibly* then I actually watched the video…

You know what? This thing is actually pretty cool. Yes, it’s got lots of flashing lights, built in batteries, electric motors, automatic gears, and can be recharged by beards (I think), but it’s a rather practical bit of kit. I thought they borrowed the handlebars from their grandma’s stationary bike, but it turns out that they’re pretty useful too. At every turn I was met with a response to my desire to find this bike a trendy indulgance. The Denny is alright with me.

But, even though the inspiration for my initial question has vanished, the question still remains. Or maybe the question is slightly different. I think, actually, that there might be more than one.

Can the bike be improved on, fundamentally? I mean, a bike is really quite a fundamentally simple bit of machinery. Two wheels, one frame, and human powered. Really, that’s about it. You can add all the blinky lights you want to it, but it’s still just a bike. Is it better? Well, it’s brighter. You can make it out of exotic materials, but it’s still just a bike. Is it better? Well, it’s lighter. It really depends on how you define the purpose of a bike, or of a particular bike. Transportation, recreational sport, high level sport, art, etc. ‘Better’ is different for each of these categories (obviously).

The more I think about this, the more my tune is changing.

At it’s core, the bicycle cannot be improved upon, as a bicycle. On that point I am resolute (for now). The first “safety” bike and the bike above are quite different in many ways, but in a more fundamental way, they are exactly the same. The more bits of wiz-bangery that I come across, however, makes it clear to me that they cycling experience can most definitely be added to in a positive way.

I suppose it is more of a philosophical issue of what role a bike plays in one’s life. And this is starting to feel like this is what this post was meant to be about – what the question in the title was getting at before I realized it. Your view of what a bike is, or can be, is different from the next persons. Depending on that view, the role a bike plays in your life, in this context, in this moment, and in all others, can change, and often does. It is a tool. A passion. An expression. A therapist. A social lubricant. A learning experience. A way out. A way in. And in each of these things, for each person, it will represent something different.

So, coming back to the original question: does a bike really need improving upon? Can it be?

Nope. With nothing more than two wheels, a frame and your own power, the bike is still as much the tool, passion, expression, social lubricant, learning experience, or whatever else it means to you that it always has been, and no amount of wiz-bangery will change that.

And yes. With new gadgets and designs, you can get to work faster, with less effort, and cleaner. You can train harder (well, smarter, anyway). You can bond over new toys with other tech nerds.  We can enhance these experiences.

So bring on the new designs. Give us new toys. The bike as a simple tool will never be overshadowed by out need to enhance it, because the bike, as a bike, is already perfect.


Image: Ed Yourdon/Flickr