“When is a shelf and bicycle?” The answer is “When they share the same principles of design”. Cardiff Cycle Chic HQ recently took delivery of a set of 606 Universal shelving by German industrial designer Dieter Rams, manufactured by the good people at Vitsœ in London. These shelves have remained unchanged since they were first produced in the 1960s, and are quite literally ‘timeless’. But what does this have to do with bicycles?
Well this ‘timeless’ quality got us thinking about bicycle design and the qualities that make certain products, like a Italian Colnago bicycle from the 1970s, ‘timeless’ and perhaps classic. In other words “worth owning, and looking after, for years and years”. If you strip away all the marketing hype around bicycles, and particularly around recreation and racing, what makes certain bicycles become classics, and worthy of a long-term (or even life long) relationship with its rider?
We think the answer lies back with Dieter Rams, who in the 1970s realised that product obsolescence was a crime and that ‘good design’ could encourage a longer-term, more sustainable, relationship with the products we buy. This realisation formed his 10 principles of design, which are as relevant to bicycles and bicycle accessories, as they are to shelves and, well, pretty much everything.
For us, Principle No. 6 “Good design is Honest” is perhaps the most pertinent to the bicycle industry today. We think the bicycle industry has become lost over the last 20 years because it has lost its ‘honesty’ in the push to increase shareholder dividends, and compete for greater ‘market share’. We have become “cyclists as consumers”, eager to buy the next season’s products that are a little bit lighter, and with a little bit more promise that we can go faster and longer. But is this what we are really about? We think not!
Over the last few years we have been really encouraged by the increasing interest in handmade steel bicycles (like those on shown at Bespoked Bristol or NAHBS) where “honesty” and “integrity” are very much part of the bicycle builders’ offering. Perhaps this increasing interest is a reaction to the dishonesty we’ve seen from the big bicycle brands. Who knows? But next time you look at a bicycle company website, or see a product advert or review in a bicycle magazine, ask yourself whether the product meets Dieter’s 10 principles. If not, perhaps the marketing people are talking to you, rather than the real makers of bicycles…