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Tin bicycle - design contest motivation

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What do you get when you combine the miraculous ability of humans to keep balance on two revolving wheels, together with our wish for an easy means of transport? What you get is a bicycle. We need bicycles more than ever. But what kind of bicycle and how must it 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 was developed in the 1880's -- tubular steel "diamond" frame, steel-spoke wheels less than 1m diameter, pneumatic tires, pedals, saddle, and handlebars. Changes since the 1890's have mostly been incremental improvements in materials and manufacturing techniques. One hundred twenty years of such evolution is difficult to improve upon without radically altering the basic design. However, 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 from nearly all recognition of the past. That's why we need a new bicycle design.

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

  1. Re-integration of labor and life
  2. Locally controlled industry for the third world
  3. Using less of the limited global supplies of raw materials and energy
  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 here presented 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 way it can be produced has been changed completely. The advantages are so considerable that it should be 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 local production in poor countries using local labor, local materials, and modest amounts of local capital. The need for such a change in the model of bicycle production may not seem compelling in industrialized nations, but is a concern for people living in a developing nation.

A project that aims at starting this kind of bicycle production all over the world is well motivated by the urgency of the problems involved. The best way to do this may be to publish a manual, dealing with all the economic, technical and social aspects involved, as well as giving practical design assistance to adapt it to local conditions. Further development and testing of the design is essential; any assistance and contribution is welcome

Reintegration of Life and Labor

In wealthy countries, industry has a tendency to overindulge the populations' 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 to 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 in the currency we use today; wellbeing over the whole range of human potential.

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

  1. On a small scale
  2. With a minimum of capital
  3. With reduced labor specialization
  4. Decentralized

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

For developing countries

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

  1. Must ride well on rough roads with soft riding, non-pneumatic tires
  2. Must be durable, easy to repair and considerably cheaper
  3. A folding system makes sense in urban areas, in rural areas it can be left out, but the load-carrying capacity should be larger
  4. Production should be carried out with very low capital investment and from readily available materials
  5. The design must be adaptable to local conditions

Technology used must be adaptable to skills available locally or easily taught.

Limited global supplies of raw materials and energy

The expected increasing scarceness of materials and energy does not have a direct impact on bicycle production in wealthy countries except where such scarcity begins to influence the cost of capital. This design, therefore, may be marginal in industrialized countries. However, it should be quite attractive in the third world, especially in relation to capital investment.

Because of the cost and the dependence it creates, capital investment must be reduced. 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 manpower. 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 (e.g. chemical treatment for chrome plating) are unacceptable.

Combined bicycle and public transportation

The functioning of urban areas could be far better if the 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 giving the same service as private cars would not only be expensive, it would likely to be impossible to build without creating worse problems than the problems 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-size suitcase,
  3. it must be as easy to fold and unfold as an umbrella,
  4. it must be available to everyone, therefore cost must be low.

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