The Guardian recently ran a promotion for a series of Design Museum books celebrating 50 designs that changed the world; cars, chairs, bags, hats, dresses and shoes.
Things that change the world can often be quite utilitarian: the paper clip, the Colt revolver, the Model T Ford. Sometimes it’s not a thing but a process or an approach that changes the world such as smelting metals or splitting the atom. But could 50 hats really change the world? Perhaps a NASA spacesuit helmet, a Roman centurion’s helmet or Jesus’s crown of thorns might qualify.
But let’s be fair, these books are about fashion and design. We’re in coffee table territory here; it’s not an essay on the correlation between hats and global power.
In surveys of human inventions that have changed the world, human memory is relatively short term. The internet, the personal computer, jet travel, the mobile phone are often cited. Really though the most accessible, the most influential driver of change has been the bicycle.
So did the Design Museum miss a trick by not doing 50 bikes that changed the world? Well it’s tough to think of 50 bikes that changed the world. We’re talking 50 actual bikes, not 50 manufacturers or 50 types of bike. And if we get into defining the criteria for “changing the world” we could be here for some time. To be honest there’s probably only one significant bike: the Rover Safety Bike from which everything since has been derived.
But anyway here’s my list of landmarks on the evolution of the bicycle.
- Old bikes  The Dandy horse,  The Penny Farthing  The Rover Safety Bike
- Small wheeled bikes  Moulton F-frame  Moulton space frame,  The Bikerton,  The Brompton,  the Jopo
- City/hire bikes  the London Barclays Hire bike a.k.a. “The Borris bike”,  the Parisian Velib  the Barcelona Bicing,  the Copenhagen city bike
- Innovative frame designs  the Pedersen,  the Burrows Lotus,  the Trek Y-Frame,  Paris Galibier this is really a curio, and I could equally have chosen with the “Curley Hetchins”, the “Bates Flying Gate” etc.,  Obree’s Hour Record breaking Old Faithful
- Racing innovations  Alan’s glued and screwed carbon frames  Bottecchia Time Trial bike ridden by Lemond to win the ’89 TdeF – even then it’s arguable that it was the tri bars that were the revolutionary bit.  This one’s a bit tenuous Gios Super Record (tough to find a single road bike that was a game changer. The Colnago Master or the 753 Team Raleigh bikes of the late ‘70’s early ‘80s
- Recreational cycling Specialized Stumpjumper,  the Raleigh Chopper and  the Kuwahara BMX (the one that was used in the famous scene in ET).
I didn’t get anywhere close to fifty! I’m sure there are omissions and additions; I’d love to hear suggestions