21 MARCH 2014
Copenhagenize’s Top Ten Bicycle Design Details That We Want Back
There is an ocean of fantastic and practical design details from over a century of mainstream bicycle culture. However, many things that used to be completely normal and often standard on bicycles have disappeared off the radar. The reason for it is well-known. As the bicycle as transport was gradually and effectively pushed out of cities as planners continued to make space for cars, the people left riding bicycles were focused on sport and recreation. The “weight wienies” discarded frivilous details faster than a rapidly descending hot-air balloonist. Faster, dude! Lighter, man!
Alas. I decided to go on an archeological dig and dust off the ten design details that I love – and that I wish were standard once again now that the 99% are returning to bicycles in our cities.
There are basic accessories that remain standard in mainstream bicycle cultures like fenders, chainguards, skirtguards and kickstands. They’re not included here in the general sense because they never really went away – except in regions where cycling was relegated to only being sport or recreation, of course.
Here’s the Top 10. Any additions I haven’t thought of?
Up top is the Back Rack Hook is one of the simplest design details imaginable. For decades, back racks in many countries had a simple bit of metal welded on which allowed bicycle users to carry briefcases. I haven’t seen many of these in other countries, except in vintage photos and catalogues. They live on in Denmark, however, where many brands still include them as standard on the back racks. With the Rise of the Laptop, you’d think this would be the first detail to be brought back.
Sure, almost every bicycle in Denmark and the Netherlands and all mainstream bicycle cities have chainguards. Duh. It’s the most obvious addition to a bicycle along with fenders. Riding without one is like skating without blades. The style of chainguards, however, has taken a nose-dive. Back in the day, every bicycle brand with respect for itself put some serious love into designing their chainguards.
At top right is my 1950s Swedish Crescent, with the brand carved into the chainguard and at bottom right, another Swedish brand, Hermes, did the same. Used to be a normal thing. Raleigh in Denmark have revived the art form at top left on their newer bikes. And for total chainguard bling, check out these French beauties over at the Velo Orange blog.
My Crescent bicycle has a handle on the tube which is wonderfully balanced and makes lifting up the bike easy as pie. Especially vintage Swedish bikes of various brands have this handle, but this was a design detail that was mainstream for a long time. If you didn’t have one welded to the frame (you poor thing), you could buy an attachable one like at top right, spotted on a 1920s bicycle in Ferrara, Italy.
I don’t use mine that often, but I do on occasion and love it every time I do. Brilliant thinking.
Ah, the dynamo. Clunky, awkward but nonetheless charming. Most of the ones you see are vintage these days but they are still being made – like on the new bike at top right. I lament the fading dynamo from a purely aesthetic point of view. A tiny motor that leaned against your wheel and made a reassuring whizzing sound while you pedalled. Not to mention the fact that you could see your effort paying off in the form of a flickering beam of light.
The dynamo, I’m afraid, will be consigned to the bicycle museum. Especially now that most bikes, in Denmark at least, come with the magnetic Reelights as standard. So many people have these that autumn “remember your lights” campaigns have been dropped in Denmark.
Skirtguards live on and show no sign of going anywhere. Another simple but practical accessory that is a must for city living. The word “skirtguard” is an English-language invention. In Danish they’re called “Coat Protectors” because everyone wears coats and most were long, fine coats back in the day.
Like with chainguards, many skirtguard designs leave nothing to be desired. Crocheted skirtguards were all the rage in many countries a century ago. I’ve seen them in bicycle museums in many countries. Rubber or elastic skirtguards like at bottom left are still cheap and accessible in Italy and Brazil, among other countries. Newer versions like at top left are widely available on the market. But there used to be so much more style out there. Bring it back.
These simple rubber attachments to your handlebar served a simple purpose. They protected your handlebar and the wall when you leaned your bicycle up against it when parking. I’ve only ever seen them in Italy, but I’d be interested to hear if people in other countries see them/have seen them.
Maybe this design detail is less relevant now that most bicycles have kickstands but hey… at some point in history someone designed this little thing and had it produced. Practical, simple, elegant.
The safety nannies who whine about cyclists listening to music or checking their smartphones (but who seem less concerned about motorists doing it) will absolutely HATE these. Newspaper holders were popular for many decades in many countries. At bottom left the design is perfect for carrying your daily paper on your bicycle. The design at top left, however, takes it to the next level. I bought this one in Italy. You can carry your paper but you can also fold it to the article you want and read it whilst cycling. That’s what it’s designed for. I actually saw a gentleman doing this in Ferrara but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me.
A perfectly normal activity back in the day. At top right is a six day race rider going through the motions at night, reading the paper as he goes. I found that photo in the archives here in Copenhagen. If you’re going to check the sports results or read the news while cycling along, keep an eye out for the sign I spotted in the Netherlands, at bottom right.
Once standard all over the place, I’ve only seen the humble hub brush live on here in Copenhagen – where you can still buy them easily – and sometimes in the Netherlands. It just sits there silently, spinning around your hubs as you ride. Keeping them free of grease and grime.
Ah, the simplicity. The practicality. Perfect.
The only real competition for the beauty of early bicycle posters is the art form known as head badges. My goodness, there are thousands of them out there from the past 125 years and most of them are absolutely lovely. Every bike brand worth their salt would put effort into their logo and transfer that to the head badge.
From the simple “H” at top right on a 1930s Hamlet bike in my back courtyard to the engraved details of head badges like the ones from Husqvarna and Wirma at top left. Be still my design heart.
The collection at bottom left are all from Latvia alone.
We’re seeing some design love being put back into head badges these days, fortunately. At bottom right, Danish von Backhaus have upped the ante by sticking one between the frame tubing. At bottom right is an attachable, funky headbadge from a Danish designer. I recall writing about ANT Bikes in the States a few years ago and their head badge still sticks out in my mind.
Bells are still around and not going anywhere. Again, again, again, I lament the vintage design details of old bells. Craftsmanship and pride and design process were put into them. Now they rock out of China in containers, by and large. With THAT said, there are at least many designs on the market nowadays. Something to fit every taste and inclination. But not that many made from solid metal with a commanding dring dring, ding dong or ding anymore.
Give me a Peerless, at bottom, for christmas any year.
While I do not share Mikael’s abhorrence of helmeted cyclists, we do share a very strong liking for bikes of the “vintage persuasion“. I am a sucker for anything that has investment cast lugs and all of the features described in this article. Sweet!