Why are bicycles still so rubbish? We live in a world of driverless cars, high-speed rail and Musk’s reusable rockets, and yet the common or garden bicycle is still stuck in the Dark Ages. All technology is of course prone to faults, but there is surely nothing so reliably unreliable as the bicycle.
When the COVID pandemic struck, the nation was instructed to bike for Britain. Public transport was to be eschewed and car-sharing verboten. Yet when the nation went into its garage and pulled out its bike, it was confronted by a slow puncture, slipped chain, misaligned brakes and recalcitrant gears. The nation took one look and thought perhaps not.
It is remarkable that bicycle design has not improved more than it has. The shortcomings of the early 19th century models are still clearly distinguishable in the bicycles of today. Yes, the lucky few can shell out on carbon-fibre super-bikes, but these remain beyond the reach of the vast majority, and, more to the point, even these are fallible.
The last few months have highlighted more than ever that we need a real revolution in bicycle design. This is not about tinkering round the edges, but about producing a totally new model of affordable bicycle fit for the 21st century. No bike could ever be completely indestructible, but it should at least be possible to cycle to work without such a high risk of arriving late and with oil-caked hands.
The benefits would be manifold: environmental, social, economic. If the government wants to meet its net-zero targets for carbon emissions, and if it’s serious about tackling the obesity crisis, better bikes are surely a must.
There has long been a need for a revolution in bicycle design, in which Britain could lead the world. The moment has finally come.