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Road racing bike, 1989, design: Togashi Engineering, manufacturer: Togashi Engineering, Japan. On loan from Reiner Balke. Photo: Die Neue Sammlung (Kai Mewes)

For a long time, it seemed as if the bicycle was a means of transport of the past, used – beyond sport – mainly by those who could not afford a motorised vehicle. This has changed radically under the conditions of climate change, but also under aspects of economy, mobility and fitness. Growing prestige, new materials and the development of e-bikes have led to bicycles becoming both a coveted cult object and a design theme of the first order. The current bicycle boom should therefore not only be seen against the background of a growing awareness of health, sustainability and environmental protection; it is also an expression of a new attitude to life.

With the exhibition “The Bicycle – Cult Object – Design Object”, the Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum in Munich is focusing for the first time on the design of the bicycle from 11 November to 22 September 2024. The focus of the show is deliberately not on the cultural history of this means of transport, which has proven itself millions of times over, but on its design. Nevertheless, the beginnings of the bicycle are touched upon: Karl Drais invented the running wheel in 1817. With it, he gave the starting signal “for a rapid development – from the pedal crank to the chain drive, from solid rubber tyres to pneumatic tyres, from high wheels to low wheels, from folding and recumbent bicycles to racing bicycles and electric bikes. Whether fast, whether slow, whether with muscle power or electric motor,” the announcement says, “the bicycle offers possible solutions for the traffic and mobility problems of our cities, the bicycle changes our leisure behaviour. However, not all bicycles are the same, not only purely utilitarian objects, not only the most widespread means of transport in the world, but also design and cult objects in which technology, function and aesthetics go hand in hand”.

On display are 70 examples that are among the most unusual and exciting bicycles in the history of design. The connection with technical innovations has always been close – from the drive to the suspension to the brakes, rear derailleurs and other components. As far as the design of the frame, the weight or the aerodynamics are concerned, the material with its different properties plays a decisive role. The same applies to the manufacturing technology, which ranges from classic frame construction made of welded, soldered, screwed, plugged or glued tubes to moulded or pressed frames made of metal or plastic to 3D-printed constructionsb. The fact that bicycle design is “not just the art of craftsmanship and frame building, not just the work of ingenious inventors, tinkerers, obsessives and enthusiasts” is demonstrated by the numerous designs by aircraft and automobile engineers such as Paul Jaray, Hermann Klaue or Alex Moulton as well as industrial designers such as Luigi Colani, Richard Sapper, Michael Conrad, Giorgetto Giugiaro, Marc Newson, Christian Zanzotti or Ross Lovegrove. A bilingual catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition.

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