By Lutz Dietzold.
High performance vs leisure cycling
Do you remember “Bicycle Race”, that ode to bicycles by Queen? “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like.” Bicycle riding was a simple, fun pursuit and was one of many means of transport. These days we are experiencing a veritable cycling boom; many bicycles are sold out and have long delivery times. COVID-19 is only partly the reason for this, as a fixation on performance has also helped hype up the two-wheeler.
Temperament theory in the “Velocene”
In Ancient Greece there was a theory that there were four temperaments. People were categorised as sanguine (cheerful), choleric (irritable), melancholic (reflective) or phlegmatic (easy-going). In today’s age, this theory can be substituted with four different types of cyclists who are happy to make fun of each other yet have more in common than they think. Out in front by themselves are the high-tech cyclists with their mountain bikes, cross bicycles and racing bikes. Unprecedented upgrades have taken place in recent years. The latest materials and technology used in professional sport can make any hobby cyclist a Tour de France participant; personal bests and elevation gain are shared on social media and in the office. Personal performance must be incessantly raised to ensure the perfect self-presentation under the guise of health-consciousness. At the same time, environmental consciousness and even common sense occasionally fall by the wayside, and the rising number of cycling accidents sadly has a thing or two to say about that.
It is the introduction of electric bicycles in particular that has contributed to the bicycle’s triumph. They have led to the democratisation of transport and even allow less athletic e-cyclists to participate in the rivalry around mileage and total ascent. Increased mobility means a boosted quality of life for many people. With the ever-increasing performance of electric bikes, even pensioners can sometimes be seen sailing past younger mountain bikers to reach the mountain cabin first – provided their batteries do not run flat. Things are more relaxed for the fair-weather cyclists, for whom exploring their own region on a two-wheeler is currently very popular. Nevertheless, the expectations of a bicycle’s technology and quality are also rising in this group, with short family trips this year increasingly turning into longer tours and even cycling holidays. The underdogs among the cyclists were previously the city cyclists, who used their typically low-priced bicycles as a replacement for public transport – a threatened species now given the range of high-quality urban bicycles on offer.
Increased mobility means a boosted quality of life for many people.
Pop-up cycle lanes for the “first among equals”
One thing is certain: the distribution of space in cities is changing and the cyclist faction is emerging as the winner. A growing number of pop-up cycle lanes are being built in many cities, and for good reason too. In Munich, for example, car traffic has currently declined by 30%, whereas cycle traffic has increased significantly. Critical voices that speak up against pop-up cycle lanes, citing problems for local residents and business owners, are often ignored, parking spaces removed and emergency service vehicles left in traffic jams. The triumph of the bicycle seems inexorable and cyclists have established themselves as the first among equals in city traffic. It seems that cyclists, with the support of a strong lobby, always have right of way. I also argue in favour of providing more space for bicycles – if only for the sole reason that public transport in many cities was previously on the brink of collapse. Pedestrians and residents do have rights, however, and in Karlsruhe there are signs that instruct cyclists to be considerate of pedestrians.
Brussels offers a new concept for cyclist mobility. The city is planning new two-lane cycleways with a length of 40 kilometres. Cyclists as well as pedestrians will be given more space in the city centre whilst cars and public-transport vehicles will have their speed limited to just 20 km/h. This is an example of what a transport revolution could look like for a new lifestyle: an opportunity for sustainable transport and a new start for easing traffic in cities. However, this will only work if cyclists do not speed through cities in an effort to get “higher, faster, further”.
Wearable mobility: more power for pedestrians
What optimisation could there be for pedestrians so that they are not left as relics from another era? I picture exoskeletons. Once the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, they long ago arrived in real life. The most well-known ones are likely those sported by Paralympians, who achieve almost the same speed as the best athletes through modern, high-tech prostheses. Exoskeletons are also already available for hobby athletes, for example to support their leg muscles when skiing. We may even be seeing the next big thing here. Clothed in an exoskeleton, the pedestrian of the future will be able to enter the race with the two-wheelers. It will be an exciting event to behold.
Lutz Dietzold, CEO German Design Council
Lutz Dietzold (*1966) is CEO of the German Design Council. He studied art history, classical archaeology and German language and literature in Frankfurt. After working as a freelancer in the area of design communication for national and international clients, he was appointed as the managing director of the Deutscher Werkbund Hessen (German Association of Craftsmen in the federal state of Hesse) as well as the managing director of Design Zentrum Hessen (Hesse Design Centre), where he was responsible for the strategic reorientation of design promotion.
In 2011 he was appointed deputy chairman of the Stiftung Deutsches Design Museum (German Design Museum Foundation) and member of the advisory council of the Mia-Seeger-Stiftung (Mia Seeger Foundation). Mr. Dietzold publishes articles on a regular basis and gives national and international lectures on a variety of topics relating to design. He is also a member of numerous juries as well as of the project advisory board of the German Federal Ecodesign Award of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.