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Tin bicycle - design contest motivation

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What do you get when you combine the wish for an easy means of transport with the miraculous human ability to balance on two revolving wheels? What you get is a bicycle. We need bicycles more than ever before, but what kind of bicycles and how must they be produced?

As an extension of a human's abilities, the modern bicycle is nearly perfect. It has changed little since the basic shape and configuration of the first chain-driven safety bicycle model of the 1880s. This bicycle featured a tubular steel diamond frame with steel spoke wheels less than one meter (three feet) in diameter, and pneumatic tires, pedals, saddle, and handlebars. Changes since the 1890s have mostly been incremental improvements in materials and manufacturing techniques. Some 120 years of such evolution is difficult to improve upon without radically altering the basic design. Though bicycle design has changed little in the past century, we in the industrialized nations have changed the social and economic fabric of the world beyond all recognition. That's why we need a new bicycle design.

Any new bicycle design must take into consideration the problems caused by these changes and must have the following four sources of motivation:

  1. reintegrating labor and life;
  2. providing local control of industry for the third world;
  3. using less of the limited global supplies of raw materials and energy; and
  4. combining bicycle and public transportation to ameliorate the ills of private car transport.

Surprisingly, these criteria all point to the same kind of solution. The design presented here is one of a kind. A bicycle of this design does not differ functionally from contemporary bicycles--it rides like an ordinary bike--but the method of production has been changed completely. The advantages are so considerable that it is possible to overcome the normal resistance encountered with a new design.

This design incorporates solutions to problems concerning the use of the bicycle in both rich and poor countries. It also offers good opportunities for poor countries to use local labor, local materials, and modest amounts of local capital. The need for such a change in the method of bicycle production may not seem compelling in industrialized nations, but it is a concern for people living in developing nations.

A project that aims at starting this kind of bicycle production all over the world is motivated by the urgency of the problems involved. The best way to enable this production may be to publish a manual that deals with all the economic, technical, and social aspects involved and that provides practical design assistance for adapting to local conditions. Further development and testing of the design is essential, and any assistance or contribution is welcome.

Reintegration of life and labor[edit]

In wealthy countries, industry has a tendency to overindulge the population's need for food and goods, while it ignores or even destroys other material and immaterial demands. Therefore, it is our task to adjust wealthy countries' industry toward a more balanced goal. Industry must be organized in such a way that the stream of goods--production for production's sake--is not the prime motivator. We need to examine the total human interaction with industry and its products, both good and bad. When the quality of this human interaction is brought up to the standard of our current technology, then the total effect of system labor-life will increase considerably. The total effect can be measured by assessing well-being over the whole range of human potential.

To a large degree product design influences whether a different approach can be made. Thus, where possible, the products we really need must be designed in such a way that their industrial production can be carried out

  1. on a small scale;
  2. with a minimum of capital;
  3. with reduced labor specialization; and
  4. on a decentralized basis.

For bicycle production this means the need to change the production model from large centralized bicycle plants concerned mainly with assembling imported parts, to a model of small local bicycle factories that produce all the parts themselves. To make this possible, the whole production must be simplified technically and commercially. For this strategy to be feasible, the bicycles produced must also be better in quality, less expensive, and more useful. This is a tall order, but it can be done!

For developing countries[edit]

Bicycles are of the utmost importance in developing countries. Here the general use of private cars is completely out of reach for personal transport and always will be (Club of Rome report).

As the poverty in these countries will not soon disappear, it is necessary to design bicycles and bicycle production facilities more adapted to this situation. Current production of bicycles in the century-old industrial tradition is unsuitable and must be reviewed.

The following design specifications are essential for a useful product and its decentralized production in the third world:

  1. must ride well on rough roads and have soft-riding, nonpneumatic tires;
  2. must be durable, easy to repair, and considerably less expensive than currently available models;
  3. must include a folding system for use in urban areas and a larger load-carrying capacity for use in rural areas;
  4. must enable production with very low capital investment and from readily available materials;
  5. must incorporate design options adaptable to local conditions; and
  6. must employ technology that is easily taught and adaptable to locally available skills.

Limited global supplies of raw materials and energy[edit]

The expected decrease in the availability of materials and energy does not have a direct impact on bicycle production in wealthy countries, except where scarcity begins to influence the cost of capital. This proposed design strategy may, therefore, have only a marginal effect in industrialized countries. However, it should be quite attractive in the third world, especially in consideration of the low capital investment.

Because of the cost and the dependence it creates, capital investment must be reduced. A low capital investment also means low energy processing. The design should make this possible, even to the extent that every step in the production can be made by means of man power. As an example, the cutting and folding of thin sheet metal and wire can be used (see: harvesting sheet metal). Forging and welding should be avoided.

Designs that lead to pollution of the environment (for example, chemical treatment for chrome plating) are unacceptable.

Combining bicycle and public transportation[edit]

Urban areas could function far better if private car transport could be replaced by public transport. Though it is generally accepted that this change is necessary, it turns out to be very difficult to achieve. A purely public system of mass transportation that provides the same service as private cars would not only be expensive, it would likely be impossible to build without creating bigger problems than those that the system is intended to address. Much of this drawback can be overcome if the bicycle is used as an extension of public transportation to bridge the distance between the places people want to go and the nearest bus stop or train station.

In order to achieve this goal, the bicycle must comply with the following requirements:

  1. It must be functionally perfect.
  2. As luggage, a folded bicycle must not exceed the dimensions and weight of a medium-sized suitcase.
  3. The folded version must be as easy to fold and unfold as an umbrella.
  4. It must be available to everyone, so the cost must be low.

The original content of this page, Tin bicycle - design contest motivation was ported from Demotech. Demotech requests detailed feedback in exchange for its otherwise freely distributed contributions.