The Warren Creative team includes a number of cyclists, so an exhibition dedicated to the bicycle at London’s Design Museum was perfect on every level.
Britain voted it best invention of the last 100 years. Albert Einstein said he first thought of relativity while riding his. American civil rights leader Susan B Anthony reckoned it had ‘done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world’. It won Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins their knighthoods, as well as numerous Olympic gold medals. Curious, then that the bicycle is still so often described as ‘humble’. Not that there was anything very humble about the two-wheeled exotica we saw at Cycle Revolution – the last exhibition to be held at the Design Museum’s current home on Shad Thames before it moves across London to Kensington in November 2016.
Museum founder Sir Terence Conran, a keen cyclist himself, chose the bicycle as the theme to reflect the massive resurgence in cycling over recent years, especially in London. After decades in the doldrums, and inspired partly by Team GB’s success on the track, plus three Tour de France wins in four years, cycling is now more popular in Britain than at any time since the Second World War. Described as ‘part design exhibit, part museum of sport’s greatest moments’ the exhibition featured 77 machines from across the cycling spectrum. Some, like the cargo bikes, and the prototype Brompton folding commuter bike, could reasonably be described as ‘humble’. Others, like the space-age Lotus that won Chris Boardman Olympic gold in 1992, Eddie Merckx’s hour-record bike, and Chris Froome’s Tour de France-winning Pinarello definitely could not.
We were lucky enough to snag tickets to the Private View, opened and introduced by Sir Terence in person. Wandering round, we were struck by the simplicity and elegance of the bicycle’s core thinking and design. Although materials and technology have advanced immeasurably, the diamond frame essentially hasn’t changed much since James Starley produced the first ‘safety bicycle’ in the 1890s. It’s one of those rare inventions that was pretty much right first time, and age has only added to its genius. That basic shape can be adapted to suit any specific purpose perfectly, without compromising its structural or aesthetic integrity. Whether you’re a speed freak or a Sunday stroller, there’s a bike for everyone to enjoy.
What came across most strongly from the exhibition was the joy and purity at the heart of cycling. There’s a feel-good factor in the act of riding a bike that transcends borders, cultures, lifestyles and abilities. Cycle Revolution was a fitting tribute to a machine that’s enhanced our lives – and changed the world – in so many positive ways.