31 July, 2007

The Modernist Bicycle


Though Velo Orange is often characterized as a "retro shop", I very much admire modernist design, particularly in bikes. Those of you who know me may point out that my own bikes are all 20-40 years out of date, I drive a Citroen 2cv (only occasionally) that was designed in the '30s, and live in a reproduction 18th century house. There is no question that old thing often work better. After all, the old things that didn't work have long since been discarded; we are left with only the best examples of retro-technology. But modern design will one day be retro-technology and it is fascinating to see.

One of my favorite modern bike designers is Sören Sögreni whose company, Sögreni, makes very cool bikes and even cooler accessories. Whether they are practical is another matter. Nonetheless I love his bells and his chainguard. The rear rack is neat too.

Sometimes interesting modern designs come from unlikely places. Delta, the same folks who make the lovely Inox cage, have a cool belt drive commuter. They also have an interesting collapsible bike. Their argument for belt drive make sense; has anyone tried it?

A bike that I really want is the Strida. It's light, simple and tiny. Just the thing to take to InterBike or carry on the Metro when I go to DC. Too bad they are not sold in the states yet.

You might also enjoy seeing the Locust, a truly wild design study.

If you're interested in this sort of thing you might also enjoy the Bicycle Design blog. I've got a lot more links and photos for another post, but how about sharing some of your favorite modernist bikes?

27 comments:

joe pgh said...

Ooh, neat topic. One of my favorite picks would be Olaf Wit's thesis project. Apparently this was the influence (not exactly sure how, though...) for the Koga/Spyker Aeroblade, which is just a bit more pimp than it is practical, IMO.

In particular, I like the integration used in his stem and seatpost. Chaincase is neat, too.

Joe PGH said...

more Aeroblade.

C said...

The Locust isn't from Coroflot. It's designed by Cadek (www.cadekdesign.com)

Coroflot is nothing more than a portfolio site for designers. Sort of very specialized Craigslist or Monster.

blasdelf said...

Stridas *used* to be sold in the states, CityBikes in DC sold a bunch of them, and always had one on display. At some point (2005ish) they started having a thing on their website saying that they would have a new stateside distributor in the next couple of weeks. It's been a few hundred weeks.

If you want one, just go for eBay or a freind in the UK. Don't buy one of the older all-plastic ones, they're just too noodly.

Anonymous said...

any chance of carrying any of the Sogreni stuff? i know Wall bikes did.. They said it sold well but stopped receiving stuff or something.. you should carry it.. I love the chainguard. I loved all the Momovelo bikes that had them.. What happened to that guy? he had a great site.,.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe,

The Aeroblade wasn't really influenced by the GO (my thesis project), although this is difficult to say because I made them both, so there has to be some influence...
The Aeroblade was made for the brand Spyker, that's why it's so pimp. But I love how it rides!

You can find the complete set of pictures here: www.koga.com/aeroblade

Thanks for the compliments.

Cheers,

Olaf

Johnson said...

i have a feeling that sogreni is outta bidness. that said, it wouldnt be too hard to steal some of their design ideas.

this next bit can be preceived as a rant or just a helpful comment, which is more what it is meant to be:

modernism is done. pinpointing its death is impossible, but its generally agreed that the dawn of the 1980s saw the death of modernism, although it had been on the decline since the early 60s. there are things being made now that are in a modernist style, ie the sogreni parts, new nitto stuff, v-o bikes, ect. things like this, being made now are just emulating designs that rose to popularity during, in this case, high modernism. anything being done now that attempts to represent a break with this utopian vision should, at least, be considered contemporary (if it is current) or, if it is reactionary to modernism (very loose debatable, blah blah blah) it could potentially be termed post modern.

i say all this cause the term modern gets tossed around alot, not only in the bike world, but on the news and in other literature and conversation. to an artist or an architect or a writer or a musician saying something is modern when its really contemporary is like saying bebop existed into the 70s, or that a house has nice colonial brickwork. it doesn't, it has it in the colonial style.

so, i think all this is a good thing: modern sounds better than retro-grouch, and design-wise has better conotations. i would much rather be associated with Eames than some loose concept of 'retro', which mainly implys a certain level of out-of-date.

i hope this was helpful rather than jerky sounding. i really didnt want it to be. V-O is a company which sells things in a modernist vein, and thats nothing to be upset about.

Johnson said...

perhaps the best products contain a degree of hybridization. if we were to fully embrace certain bicycle related modernist precepts we would stuck with alot of crap. derailluers that needed to be tensioned seperately of shifting, cruddy french specific threads, breakable stems, narrow handlebars, poor lighting. the best design takes the best of everything, a combination of modernism and contemporary thinking, and combines it. this hybridization, arguably, could be considered post-modernism. its all arguable. some would posit to say that we live in an age of late modernism. huey. the utopian ideals are so watered down at this point as to be a stagnant swamp, a cess pool of recycled cliches. those who practice it now with an fervor, are little more than historical reenactors. i actually don't know anyone who does that though. most frames use better lugs now than were avaible, much better derailluers, better tires, ect. it might have some of the aesthetics, but its not the whole enchilada. (not that there is anything wrong with that, or enchiladas)

Chris Kulczycki said...

Johnson, You make some excellent points regarding the vernacular of design. This post should be titled "The Post-Modern Bicycle" and that was, in fact, my original title. But to most folks "modern" and "contemporary" are synonymous. In the bicycle world anything without index shifting is retro.

Tomorrow we discuss the American versus Continental meanings of "liberal economics". ;<)

johnson said...

chris, glad you dont take offense.
i understand the reasoning behind why folks use 'modernism' or modernist.

team said...

Sogreni (if he went out of business) was pretty much all vapor ware, it was impossible to get in touch with them. They once replied to an e-mail of mine 7 months after I sent it.

Momovelo had some shady practices. You would place an order, then the guy who ran the company would order the item form Europe or Japan and then send it on to you. He was incommunicado a lot of the time, even when you had a pending order. If an item wasn't available he would credit your account, often without telling you. A lot of people were very angry with him.

he did have nice stuff to look at however, and influenced a lot of my bikes.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Team, It's because I was so frustrated with Momovelo's endless backorders that VO does not accept any backorders. Either we have something or we don't.

When it became obvious that Momovelo would fail I offered to buy the company, but the owner didn't seem interested. So I started VO instead.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the Sogreni chainguard really works?

If so, here's another vote for VO to craft an affordable version.

What about those oh-so-fabulous looking diamond plate and copper mudguards? Granted they are not concave and probably spray laterally more than any of the classic alternatives. Does anyone know if they're too heavy to be practical?

Bruno

Anonymous said...

MOMOVELO: Right ideas, beatiful aesthetics, not enough commitment to service, possibly not enough effort?, and judging from the customer feedback out there, questionable ethics.

Louis said...

For me, the bicycle is one of the objects which is essentially done. My taste is modern, by which I mean pared-down, simple, ala momovelo, jitensha. I love aluminum bento boxes and logo-free, powdercoated single-speeds. But I think any attempt to re-think the bike will invariably end in failure.

One particularly obnoxious bicycle producer is Biomega. They're all about re-thinking, innovation, new this and new that, and stream-lined design. Their bikes are far more clumsy and cluttered than many of their "traditional" counter-parts, however. (It might be fun to take the Brooklyn for a spin sometime though.)

http://www.biomega.dk/biomega.aspx

On a more positive note, Muji has some nice products which are modern but not necessarily bicycle related:

http://www.mujionline.co.uk/

James said...

Thanks for the link Chris.

I think that the Giant Citystorm, designed by Michael Young, is a nice contemporary bike that is based on traditional forms. The accessory panniers that tie into the color and subtle graphics scheme are a nice touch. Sometimes “designer” bikes like this do come across as overdone, but I think that in this case, Mr. Young did a good job of exercising restraint in his design. To me, the bike looks traditional with a few nice modern details.

http://www.designws.com/pagina/1citystorm.htm

chuck schmidt said...

Anybody that missed the Momovelo web site can visit it at the Way Back Machine.

Here's Momovelo:
http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.momovelo.com

Very stylish!

Chuck

chuck schmidt said...

Second try for Momovelo...

http://tinyurl.com/2kxxfy

alex said...

Perhaps the word 'modern' is enough, without the '-ist'? The Sögreni designed accessories are elegantly beautiful, and indeed practical. But, like many overly designed objects that also have to work, if any of you have seen the actual bicycles in person, you would perhaps not be so thrilled. I was a fan of the bicycles as well, until I saw one 'live'. On their standard (silver) bikes, to achieve a tone in tone effect, the frames AND components (cranksets, brakes, seatpost, stem, mudguard stays etc.) are painted with a very flat looking silver that looks very unspectacular to this observer. Put the parts on a VO frame, and they'll look better!

Bruno: a local bike shop here in Berlin has a few Sogrenis, and the steel and copper mudguards are very heavy. Honjo aluminum and Berthould StSteel are much thinner grade, hence the necessary (AND beautiful!) curvature and the rolled material on the rim.

I agree with Louis re. Biomega: all show and no substance: heavy, weak, impractical. and also Muji: by and large simple, practical, well designed stuff.

The Strida Mark 5, the newest version with disc brakes, is available in Holland (http://www.strida.nl/) and Japan, everywhere else it's still the Mk 3 - still a great design and better than the noodly plastic of yore . .

ek said...

Muji has some great bikes as well. And eyeglasses. And post-it note holders. When is Muji coming to the States? Oh, this is a bicycle discussion....

Louis said...

I just came across this Muji bicycle catalog:

http://www.muji.net/catalog/pdf/catalog_07ss_bicycle01.pdf

david_nj said...

I remember that Momovelo site. I thought it all sounded pretty darn cool. Wonder if the ethics were off or the owner just didn't know how to establish a good rapport with people. I think they said they "carried" all sorts of rare brands of bikes, but if you ordered they would in turn have to order it. Works for Dell Computer, but that's because they control the production. It doesn't work very well for a reseller of foreign-sourced, somewhat rare, goods.

Don't know about things like the Sogreni stuff though. It's all designed by an architect and that's well and good I suppose, but there's little craft, little artisanility, little depth to it. The guy clearly hasn't steeped himself in the whole Cycling Thang. I think the machines from the Handbuilt Bicycle Show are infinitely more interesting, and much much much more useful.

Mark said...

Any chance the production VO frame geometry will be anything like the "Old Shatterhand" in the picture? 'Cuz I'd be OK with that. :)

nv said...

Sogreni is very alive and well- I was at the shop in Copenhagen last week. It's a large, beautiful shop and they had a ton of lugged steel frames in stock that they have made for them. I brought home a brass bell as a souvenir :)
pix:
http://tinyurl.com/3d4tto

neil berg said...

Solgreni. It's hard to take any company seriously that would mount a seat like that for a photo session.

johnson said...

i ride with my brooks fairly angled up. most everyone i know who rides one doesnt ride with it totally flat.

Bill Gibson said...

Modern will be immortal if the design form follows function! Not to diss frivolity or formal rococo, but it will always have a place. Both the elaborate and the pure have their place in the evolution of this universe...