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Publications by Demotech : Tin Bicycle, the design contest motivation
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Tin Bicycle, the design contest motivation

Our miraculous ability to keep our balance on two revolving wheels, together with our wish for an easy method of transportation: that is the bicycle. We need it more than ever. But what kind of bicycle and how must it be produced?

As an extension of a human's abilities, the bicycle is perfect. It is fundamentally unimprovable and even unalterable.

But since the present-day bicycle exists, man has changed his world and that's why we need a new bicycle design. The specification for this design must be dictated by the problems caused by this change and will have four sources of motivation:

  1. re-integration of labour and life
  2. industry for the third world
  3. limited global supplies of raw materials and energy
  4. combined bicycle- and public transportation, vs. private car transport

Surprisingly, the questions raised all point to the same kind of solution. The design here presented is one of this kind. Functionally a bicycle made according to this design does not differ from contemporary bicycles, 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 against such a new approach.

This design incorporates solutions for problems concerning the use of the bicycle in rich and poor countries. At the same time it offers production possibilities that are essential for poor countries and will be so increasingly for the industrialized world.

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 and give assistance and adapted design where wanted. Of course this project has to start with further completion, development and testing of the design. Roads are sought along which this follow-up can begin on short terms. Any assistance and contribution is welcome.

1. Reintegration of life and labour
In the rich countries, industry goes on to over satisfy a part of our need for food and goods, while it ignores or even destroys other material and immaterial demands. Therefore it is our task to adjust our industry to a more balanced goal.

Industry must be organized in such a way, that not the stream of goods is the prime motivator, but the total human interaction around it. When the quality of this human interaction is brought up to the standard of our current technology, then the total effect of system labour-life will increase considerably. The total effect can be measured in the currency we use today:
well-being over the whole range of human potential

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

  • On a small scale
  • With a minimum of capital
  • With a strongly reduced specialization
  • Decentralized

The smaller the scale of industry and its degree of interdependence, the better are the chances to overcome the self-reinforcing disadvantages of rich countries today.

For bicycle-production all this means the need to reverse the contemporary approach from centralized large bicycle plants to small factories mainly concerned with assembling parts, made in other countries, to small ones, which produce all the parts themselves. To make this possible the whole production must be simplified technically and commercially. To make this approach feasible, the bicycle produces must also be of better quality, lower cost and more useful.
All this can be realized!

2. For the third world
It is clear that the use of bicycles is of the utmost importance in the third world. Here the general use of a private car is completely out of reach for personal transport and always will be so ("Club of Rome" report).

As the poverty in these countries will not soon disappear, it is necessary to design bicycles and their production facilities more adapted to this situation. Contemporary construction of bicycles, according to a 75-year old industrial tradition, is unsuitable and must be reviewed.

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

  • it must ride well on rough roads with soft riding, non-pneumatic tires,
  • it must be durable, easy to repair and considerably cheaper,
  • a folding system makes sense in urban areas, in rural areas it can be left out, but the load-carrying capacity should be larger,
  • production should be carried out with extreme low capital investment and from readily available materials; the design must adapt itself there in,
  • technology used must be adapted to abilities available locally or those easily taught.

3. Limited global supplies of raw materials and energy
The expected increasing scarceness of materials and energy is not of much direct importance to bicycles production in rich countries. This scarceness also influences the cost of capital. This development may be marginal in the industrialized countries, it will turn out to be fare more than marginal in the third world, especially in relation to capital investment.

Because of the cost and the dependence it creates, capital investment must be reduced anyway. 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-metal sheet and wire can be used; forging and welding must be avoided.

Design items that lead to pollution of the environment like chemical treatment for chrome plating, are not acceptable. To make durable goods is in the context of this paragraph very important.

4. 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. To make a public system of transportation, that gives the same service as an automobile, is very expensive and can't operate together with a private-car system.

Much of this drawback can be overcome if the bicycle is used as an extension of public transportation, to cope with the larger distances between the places people go to and from and the nearest bus-stop or station.

In order to achieve this goal the bicycle must comply with the following requirements:

  • it must be functionally perfect,
  • as luggage, a folded bicycle must not exceed the dimensions and weight of a medium-size suitcase,
  • it must be as easy to fold and unfold as an umbrella,
  • it must be available to everyone, therefore cost must be low.

Publications by Demotech : Tin Bicycle, the design contest motivation
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