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Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World

London's Design Museum chronicles two-wheel transportation at its finest

by Graham Hiemstra in Design on 03 October 2013

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Short of material innovation and aesthetic refinement, the bicycle as we know it has changed very little since its early days of development in the late 19th century. However slight, the evolution of the world's most widely used mode of transportation is not one to overlook. To document the most significant iterations to reach market, London's Design Museum recently published the aptly named "Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World." The handy book informs through easily digestible details, a format fit for quick reads and photo-focused perusals.

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Written by Alex Newson, a cycling enthusiast and current curator at the Design Museum of London, the modestly-sized book takes a chronological look at all kinds of bike design you would expect—from the old-timey Penny-farthing to the aerodynamic Cinelli Laser and fixed gear pioneer Bianchi Pista—alongside quite a few you may not be familiar with. The most curious of the latter group are the 3D-printed EADS Airbike and the folding, electric Yikebike. Having been developed over the last three years, the two rather unconventional designs represent a contemporary shift away from aesthetics and toward sustainability-driven design.

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Among the 50 bikes included in the 112-page book, few have played as significant a role in the evolution of race cycling as the Lotus Type 108. Initially developed by Lotus engineer and avid cyclist Mike Burrows, the prototype only became an official Lotus project after preliminary testing in the car company's wind tunnel proved strikingly impressive. Sleek, stealthy and made almost entirely from carbon fiber, the Type 108 astonished the cycling world when it was introduced at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Ridden by Brit Chris Boardman, the bike broke two world records in preliminary rounds and carried Boardman to a gold medal in the 4,000-meter pursuit. In doing so, the Type 108 forever changed the way performance bicycles would be designed.

"Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World" is available from Octopus Publishing Group and Amazon for around $13.

Images by Graham Hiemstra

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