This weekend we had the chance to see the new exhibition at the Design Museum, Cycle Revolution, along with a guided tour by the curator, Donna Loveday.
The exhibition has thus far had mixed but generally positive press, and previous exhibitions I have seen at the Design Museum have been excellent. Therefore I was greatly looking forward to seeing it for myself and hearing all the details behind choosing the bikes on display.
4 Types of riders
The exhibit is structured around 4 different types of bike riders and the machines they use: High Performers, Thrill Seekers, Urban Riders and Cargo bikers. The curator told us that they had thought about focusing on the history of bicycle design. However, they decided that the current state of bicycle design, and to some extent its future, was more interesting from a design perspective given the space they have.
This is not to say that there are not a few vintage bikes on display. In the High performers section they have Eddie Merckx’s hour record bike along side the one Wiggins used earlier this year. There is also a lovely Chopper an original Safety Bicycle and a few examples of early folding bike design from Brompton and Moulton. These all just highlight the complexity and development of current bicycle design in each category.
There are some really excellent videos and infographics in the high performers section, along with a good range of examples of high end road bikes used in the Tour and on the track. The thrill seekers also has some awesome video footage from trials and downhill riders.
The Urban Riders section has a good range of bikes along with Brooks saddles and some items reviewed on this site such as the Lumo jacket, clearly we are on trend here at London Cyclist! The Cargo bike section is not so much about the things people use cargo bikes for, rather the many and varied designs of bikes. Donna told us that she was keen to include cargo bikes as they are rising in popularity and at the same time are a niche area of cycling that is full of innovation in regards to bicycle design, which is after all what this exhibition is about.
Bikes, beautiful bikes
The main focus of the exhibition is the many varied design of the bicycle. In each section is it possible to see how bike design has been refined to perform better in its intended field. One of my favourite parts of the exhibit is about frame builders. The bikes are beautiful and there is something awesome and wonderful about small, independent frame builders who love bikes so much that they want to make their own. I also aspire to own a handmade bike at some point in my life.
There were two London builders in this section, Donhou and Hartley. These two builders produce beautiful bikes and do it because of a love of bicycle form and function. The best thing about bespoke bike building is the bike is fit for your specific purpose. This is evident in the Cargo bike riders section as well, where each bike has a different design to reflect its intended use.
During its run, there will also be various events related to all things bike in the exhibition space. For example, on December 6th there is a Christmas event with gifts and activities while on the 10th there is an event with Heinz Stücke about his decades of world travel. They are also running monthly ‘Stories from the Saddle’ talks by people who live bicycles. We were told many other events are in the pipeline.
This is not just an exhibition that will be visited by hardcore bike fans. It is on for over 6 months and will be seen by many school children and visiting tourists. Some of the criticism I have seen of the exhibition has been about its minimal discussion of infrastructure design. I would argue, as would the curator, that that is not the purpose behind the exhibit or the Museum. Where it really has potential for long term impact is in its ability to inspire people to love and ride bikes. The show is purely about how wonderful and beautiful a bike is and the possibilities they present you in regards to innovation and freedom.
Ultimately most of us got into cycling for the freedom and just the love of being on a bike. By having an exhibition that is just about the machines themselves, not only is it truly about design, it is also about the simple object of enjoyment, striped of all the issues surrounding certain aspects of using them. This is precisely the way you get people to like cycling, not by talking about dangers and the lack of safe routes. These things are of course important, but they should be secondary to the enjoyment of selecting and riding a bike.
I asked the curator if she rides a bike as she knows a lot about them now. She said that she has one but hasn’t ridden in a while. However, putting together the exhibition has inspired her to get back on it and get some training to feel more comfortable out on the streets. Hopefully the same will be true for visitors.
It was nice to just go and look at some pretty bikes and think about the positives around riding them, rather than worry about the deficiencies of space allocation on the roads. I would strongly suggest that if you are a person who like bikes, and I am pretty sure all reading this fit that description, then you should go check out Cycle Revolution. The exhibition is open now through to June 30th next year at the Design Museum in Shad Thames. And yes, there is some bike parking (although it was pretty full when I was there on a Saturday).
Have you been to the exhibit already? What did you think? What was your favourite bike?
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.