It was all about the bikes today as I went on a solo trip to the NEC to visit the cycle show. I haven’t been to one for a number of years, in fact in must be 20 years ago. Way back then, mountain bikes were just emerging from obscurity and there was the diversity that rapid development brings. This was a time when back yard engineers devised cunning items you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. Back then I had hair, CNC was but the stuff of dreams and I would think nothing of dropping off high things without the benefit of suspension. Roll forward to 2012 and much has changed. Advanced materials and computer aided design are at the forefront of development and it appears that the fluidity has crystalised. Stall after stall of very similar products each trying to push a unique selling point. Every salesman reinforcing my dislike of salesmen as they justified unbelievable price tags with seemingly unbelievable claims. Perhaps I emitted a special bankrupt odour as each skilfully avoided engaging me in a conversation. Perhaps I am just as unapproachable in social times as I am in work.
Cycling is riding a wave of popularity, evident by the number of normal people milling around the stalls. Probably there has never been a better time to be a retailer in cycling and associated leisure activities and yet I felt the show came up short on this. There were plenty of high end vehicles on show, there were energy drink vendors by the hundred and numerous tour operators selling the dream of not riding on british roads but aside from a cycle to work scheme and a cycle training company, the show seemed to lack something to manage the transition from novice to seasoned user. For the first time in decades I haven’t got a clue on how my cycling future will go. I wanted some inspiration for the way forward and I wonder how many others attended looking for guidance and found it a little flat.
There was a whole hall dedicated to electric bicycles, it is only natural that some born again cyclists don’t want to go to the trouble of pedalling but for me, pedalling is one of the attractions of cycling. There were a large number of very, very classy fixies, the choice of ride for the terribly chic and for those blessed with huge thighs or flat landscapes. For the rest of us and coming from the lower levels of the peak district, single speed or heaven forbid, fixed gear bikes are a recipe for knee replacement surgery and just a little bit too hard core. Having said all that, they were magnificent to look at. The old school beauty of steel tubing, nothing oversized, sculpted buttings, all just right and in proportion. Who needs progress when it was right the first time.
I wandered around the stalls and eventually came across a pair of velomobiles, fully enclosed trikes, I have to say that they appealed to me in a big way. There is a little bit of me going back to Holland tonight but I am sure it will wipe off. The notion of riding in something akin to a aeroplane cockpit, isolated from the environment is an attractive proposition, however when reality bites as in Birmingham’s road network and its’ noble users, I predict you would have to be quite brave to tackle the morning rush hour in a velomobile. Across from the trikes was a disability stall, a number of cleverly conceived vehicles were on display, but most notably they only catered for those with below the waist problems, for someone such as myself, there were no answers here. I was able to take away a number of ideas to mull over, the most notable being front wheel drive. As a recumbent designer, FWD offers a far tidier solution to long chain runs and does away with gear changing issues. I spent a long time looking at these systems trying to work out how they could be modified and applied in a home workshop environment. I also took a good look at the one bamboo bike on display and I suspect the owners will be very relieved to hear that I totally approve of the bike, good looks, light weight and super low tech, I feel that with care, a very good facsimile could be achieved and with a newly found source of industrial bamboo at what appears very good prices, it may be put on the list of things to try.
Being surrounded by acres of bike porn didn’t have the usual effect, the wanting and longing, the mental justification battling grim financial reality. It was nice to look at but genuinely wasn’t for me. I wonder if I am finally being cured of the galloping consumerism that drive me to rack and ruin. I appreciated the beauty, the form and the function of the impossible to attain but honestly I feel every bit as happy looking at the wooden bike project in my shed and happy in the knowledge that with the combined might of the bicycle industry amassed in the NEC, not one had chosen to take the path I have. I think that says it all.