Beneath this steel beats the heart of a . . . bicycle?

i-a2f9d31f6a360994a3e3498141626ac9-4_father_heartdetail.jpg
Father Heart, 2006
Black Nickel on Rolled Steel; Glass Tank - 80cc with pedal
Josh Hadar

It's always puzzled me that bicycles don't take better advantage of the gleaming potential of curvacious, polished metal. Why are most bike frames so boring and triangular? Fortunately Josh Hadar has come to the rescue, with his beautiful curved steel custom bicycles. They're all lovely, but when he adds blown glass "hearts" to their steel ribs, his bikes seem positively. . . alien. Isn't it interesting that adding elements of human anatomy makes the bikes seem more unnatural? More bikes (and the charming Josh Hadar) in this interview from Rocketboom:

More like this

One of the effects of high gas prices is to encourage people to use bicycles. This also includes the police, where some jurisdictions are taking cops out of cruisers and putting them on foot or on bikes. Bike police (and bicycle messengers, people who use their bikes in crowded urban areas to…
A SiCortex SC648 supercomputer and a Linux cluster of 648 CPU's and a TB of main memory woudl draw about 1,200 watts. That's gotta widen your Carbon Footprint! Unless, of course, you are a bunch of crazy MIT students withe bicycles, and you've got generators attached to the bikes. A team of ten…
I felt a sense of déjà vu Tuesday morning when I heard NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reporting on Senator Tom Coburn's attacks on National Science Foundation-funded research. I realized that the same thing happened last August, and I wrote about it in a post called "Scoring Political Points by…
Ok, maybe we're not quite there yet - but Panda Bicycles is making bikes out of bamboo. These partly renewable, lightweight bikes are striking, to say the least - though they're not cheap. But if you really want to make a statement with your bike, this is one way to go. . . Thanks to reader…

Why are most bike frames so boring and triangular?

Well, one reason is simple efficiency - you can make a boring triangular frame lighter and stronger than most other shapes. It depends on the bicycle's purpose, I suppose. If it's simply a utilitarian means of getting around and you don't really care what it looks like, you'll probably be happy with a boring triangular frame (like my commuting bike has). If you want something more stylish, you might be interested in one of Josh's bikes.

He talks in the interview about the balance between style and function, and I think that's a balance that's very individual. Some will want pure function, style be damned, and some want style at the expense of function.

-mark.

I find beauty in efficiency. Give me the leanest, meanest machine.

To address your "Why are most bike frames so boring and triangular?" query...

Efficiency. The standard double triangle bike frame has a very good strength to weight ratio as well as being relatively simple/cheap to make.

The artsy bikes I've run across are all much worse to actually use than a normal design. They are also pretty unattractive to my tastes, since efficiency leads to elegance... and elegant is beautiful.

OTOH, I did see video of an electric bike which was tricked out steam-punk style with a faux boiler... that is cool... though efficiency doesn't matter so much when you have a motor ;)

Sure - but a lot of perfectly usable vintage bikes had lovely, graceful curves. Why don't mass-produced bikes have those features any more? Do people today no longer care about style, or do we all have such intense commutes that we can't afford *any* extra weight? I doubt it. I'd argue that there is plenty of demand for objects that meld style and functionality - but generally we're not offered those choices because manufacturers lack imagination. (Thank goodness Apple is in the computer market).

And by the way - the answer "because it's efficient" is grossly insufficient. There are obviously cultural and social aspects to the design of mass-produced products. Pure efficiency doesn't drive the design of either automobiles or women's shoes, does it? So when I ask "why are most bikes so boring and triangular?" I am not ignorant of geometry - I'm reflecting on how bicycles tend to neglect style entirely for functionality - when it's obvious it doesn't have to be the case. I didn't think it was necessary to actually say all that, but obviously I was wrong.

I think it's more cost vs style than function vs style. It's simply easier (equates to cheaper) to make straight sections of tubing than curved sections. Mass production also gives such great cost efficiencies that it's inevitable that 90% of bikes would look the same.

When retailers are competing down to the dollar level every cent the manufacturer can save becomes important. There are bikes with curves around, but you do pay extra for it.

As elegant as Josh's creations are they are more art than function. Would you really ride one of his bikes through mid-town NYC traffic?

Mike.

By NoAstronomer (not verified) on 07 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'd prefer to ride one of his bikes through mid-town traffic than commute wearing what passes these days for women's business shoes - that is, tight pointy heels with no traction. Again, "because it's efficient" and "because it's cheaper" are the obvious answers, but efficient and cheap do not universally rule markets.

I don't think bicycles neglect style entirely; they just lean far more towards the efficiency end of the spectrum than many other products. I think the reason for this is that inefficiency in a bicycle has a more direct impact on the user than inefficiency in a car or computer. When a bicycle is inefficient, the user suffers, quite literally - puffing uphill on a 40 pound machine can be a real drag! With a car, you pay a bit more for gas if you choose the inefficient model, which seems to be easier for many people than paying in sweat and pain. That, and that many people who ride bicycles do it because of the efficiency.

-mark.

That's an underpowered, unlicensed motorcycle. If you're looking for curvy, that's pretty normal for production mopeds these days.

There are quite a few people out there making actual bicycles that look like this, though. Really easy to find on Google. And there's more than one-off artsy stuff. Look up "oma fiet", or "bakfiet", or swing by a bike shop and check out the slew of new model cruisers. Citybikes is a good one to check out in DC.

I'd be interested to know if he works in multi-speed gear systems and handbrakes into these beautiful creations. I see these as functional sculptures, and that they are more suited for lower speed, cruising, recreational cycling.

"Isn't it interesting that adding elements of human anatomy makes the bikes seem more unnatural? "

Uncanny valley...it's one of those things that hits just at the point between 'too human' and 'not human enough'.

The video has some trully beautiful bicycles...they look like wind and speed on wheels.

I am not ignorant of geometry - I'm reflecting on how bicycles tend to neglect style entirely for functionality

That's false, though. For one thing, consider integrated headsets, which are increasingly popular these days: it makes the bike look a little better at the cost of frame durability. Another example is low spoke count wheels in low-end road bikes, which give these bikes the look of a higher-end racing machine, but which also weaken the wheels where that particular tradeoff between weight/aerodynamic efficiency and strength doesn't make sense.

Just another example off the top of my head is the new Look 566 frame set. The twists in the chainstays, the bend in the top tube, and the curve of the fork are all purely aesthetic. (And, of course, it has an integrated headset.) This is somewhat typical of modern carbon fiber frames.

So yes, bicycle manufacturers care very much about aesthetics â within the reasonable confines of efficiency, which, yes, is extremely important for a bicycle.

Sure - but a lot of perfectly usable vintage bikes had lovely, graceful curves. Why don't mass-produced bikes have those features any more?

I think that from your point of view, the "problem" is mainly a question of which aesthetics the manufacturers should appeal to in the first place. These days many people prefer the sleek look of a road bike. But if you're into curves, "cruiser" bikes are also coming back into style, to the extent that you can find them in practically any bike store.

Mark, you make good points. And though I kind of hate the LOOK 566's paint job, it has nice fluid lines, and yes, those kind of little curves are exactly the details I am talking about. You don't have to put curlicues all over the bike to make it look fluid - less is often more.

However, I haven't noticed a retro or innovative bicycle design - according to my personal tastes or not - in real life in several weeks. The availability of such bikes in bike shops (or of artsy concept bikes like Hadar's in custom galleries) is great, but at least where I live, it doesn't translate to encountering bikes that make me go "ah." I see much more diversity in cars, or even in something as dinky as iPhone covers. I'm sure that a bike aficionado would be able to discern many more differences between bikes than I do, but I see nothing that makes me go "wow" on my daily travels, which makes me sad.

I'm sure that a bike aficionado would be able to discern many more differences between bikes than I do, but I see nothing that makes me go "wow" on my daily travels, which makes me sad.

Yeah, I agree. Once on my commute I saw a guy riding a large enclosed bicycle / velocipede thing built up to look like a yellow submarine, but for the most part it's all old steel road and touring bikes around here.

I love these bikes that Josh Hadar has created, by the way; I'd just never commute on one, because I'd hate to crash it or get it stolen. And unfortunately, both of those things happen to me a lot more frequently than I'd like...

On the topic of interesting bikes showing up in real life, you might also like the bicycle Lance Armstrong rode into Paris on the last stage of this year's Tour de France, if you haven't seen it already. Complete with real butterflies!

I want the bike with the blue heart!!
Or the black one with the red heart!!