Tuesday, November 18, 2008
This is the latest piece of public sculpture in Hemel beside it is my 8 year old Brompton. Of the two I know which gives me the most aesthetic pleasure.
One is brilliantly conceived with the form following its function. Every part is designed for purpose, with nothing redundant and no superfluous decoration to distract attention from the principles of the design. The other claims to be a point of reflection but is curiously random in its representation.
Bromptons please me in all sorts of ways so I was really pleased to meet their chief designer this weekend.
He was in his fifties, medium height, trim, white haired with bright blue eyes that were full of life. He talked with great enthusiasm about design and the ideas he was developing to improve the bike. Many of these are little things like a clip to attach the rear triangle to the bike so that it does not fold under when you lift it (his idea is to incorporate it into the rubber suspension bung, which can be be twisted to lock the back of the bike). Others are larger like a new hub-gear with a wider ratio. The underlying principle is to take the classic Andrew Ritchie design and gradually evolve it - incremental improvement that always looks at the weak points, like the cheap saddle, to see what can be done (apparently there will soon be a new Brompton saddle designed so it can be used to lift the bike). I can think of very few other products, designed in the mid 70s, that have remained essentially the same except for gradually getting better.
The conversation moved to the enthusiasm of owners and how most people use their bikes very frequently so that large mileages are built up. (I have done about 25,000 miles on mine just by making regular short journeys). Some people take them to extrodainary places, Simon Calder for example is famous for taking his all over the world. Talking about writers he said Will Self had visited the factory and written a lovely article. (It is true; it is well worth the click through).
The World Chamionship was a great success (as can be seen from WarriorWoman's rather wonderful account). Apparently it was tagged onto the Blenheim Palace Bike Event almost as an afterthought but generated so much interest it became the main event. There are however diplomatic problems. The race was invented by the Spanish distributor and they do not wish to usurp his role so it is possible there will be two events in the future: a World Championship and a European Championship. Honour will be preserved.
There is nothing better than talking to someone who really loves what they do, enthusiasm of any kind is infectious but it is even better if the infection is already shared. In that way it felt just like a running conversation.