Why are designers trying to turn bikes into cars?
The wonder of the bicycle is that it is such a classic design, refined over 150 years into the form it has today. Bikes are relatively low maintenance and can last a long time; I rode my Norco road bike for 25 years, after buying it at a Police auction for fifty bucks.
Then there is the new Volata. It is a $3500 commuter bike that is worth more than my car. It integrates a computer with a 2.4” screen right into the handlebars, headlights into the front fork and tail lights into the frame. Marco Salvioli, Co-founder and CEO of Volata, notes in a press release: “When you buy a car you don’t need to acquire lights as an accessory, or an iPad as a dashboard. As cars have evolved, also bikes need to evolve.”
So they have essentially turned a bike into a car, where everything is built in. But is this a good thing? People upgrade their phones every two years as the technology advances. LED lighting is going through revolutionary changes just as quickly. Fast Company, which is pitching this bike as a wonderful thing, just three days ago was writing that new tech filled cars break down more often than older cars. is this something we want in our bikes?
There are some lovely things in this bike; the enclosed hub gear shifting, the belt drive that never needs oiling, the internal wiring that keeps it neat. There is an alarm system and GPS tracking. There is a built in horn that puts out 96dB. It has a dynamo hub so you never have to worry about batteries or recharging lights. But there appears to be no way to add fenders or a carrier (which would block the tail light anyway) both desirable on a commuter bike; they promise their own line of accessories.
A few weeks ago I looked at the Classon Bike Helmet and wondered why we are trying to turn people on bikes into little cars. Why we are “making something that is very simple, as easy as riding a bike, complicated and expensive.”
I fear that the Volata is doing much the same thing. In architecture, there is the concept of “open building”, designing with the recognition that different components have a different lifespan and that we should design our buildings and homes so that they can be easily replaced. Bikes just did that naturally; you accessorized as needed and upgraded as technology evolved.
In the time I owned my Norco bike, I went from turntable to cassette to CD to MP3 to iTunes, about five technological revolutions; technology changes so fast and really, bikes don’t. Keep it simple and separate and stop trying to turn bikes into cars.