(Guest Post) Playing Around with the Ground Plane

A guest post by architect and researcher Rafael Upcroft:

My father calls me a hedonist and to a certain degree I agree with him. His view stems from observing my life philosophy in action, which is: maximise the times in life where the most enjoyable path coincides with the path of least resistance. It is probably not a surprise to learn then that my interests lie in designing the potential for enjoyment into everyday environments. My passion however, is cycling and it grieves me to see so many missed design opportunities for enjoyment on my everyday commute.

The most obvious missed opportunity, because I am continuously aware of it throughout every commute, is the lack of engagement with the ground plane. I concede that this ‘oversight’ is reasonable in busy cities where there are many dangers and external visual stimuli, as in Copenhagen…

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…but for longer interurban commutes with more than 1km between points of interest, such as those that I encounter on a daily basis in Australia, it is far less palatable.

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Conventional transit wisdom dictates that the ground plane should be ironed as flat as possible to create a path of least resistance between destination points for commuters. But what if a path form that allowed the rider to generate speed with less energy use were more enjoyable, and no more arduous than a conventional flat path? What if there was a form that resonated with my life philosophy, a form that could meld the most enjoyable path with the path of least resistance? With further research such a form could exist and be incorporated into future bike paths.

My starting point and inspiration is the unassuming ‘pump track’. For the uninitiated, this format of bike track is designed to enable a rider to build speed purely by ‘pumping’ the body up and down without pedalling. It works in a similar manner to generating speed with a skateboard in a bowl or when surfing on a wave. The idea is that when a cyclist ascends a ‘roller’ (the raised portions of the pump track) they reduce their weight by springing upwards and when they descend the other side they increase their weight by pushing the bike down with their legs. This results in a resultant weight that is greater going down the roller than up, causing the rider to increase their speed. Mountain Bikers have recently discovered the benefits of practicing on pump tracks as it helps them maintain and generate speed with less energy usage on cross country as well as down-hill courses.

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Transferring desirable pump track geometry directly to a transit path will not necessarily yield a more enjoyable path as transit bikes have different handling and the riders are not as accustomed to rollers as mountain bikers and BMX riders. However, I am interested in understanding whether certain frequencies and amplitudes of smooth sine wave shaped path forms (akin to those on a pump track) could be more enjoyable without being more arduous than flat transit paths for a range of cyclists. Testing such a query is difficult, especially in the real world. It is not possible to capture a cyclist engaged in transit, expose them to a range of different path forms, and then definitively surmise that changes in their enjoyment and exertion levels are due to the path form and not some other external factor like the weather.

Many gaming laboratories and research institutes have been developing bicycle simulators for both fun (see mountain bike simulator below) and research into cyclists’ perceptions and negotiations of intersections (see NHTV simulator below). A virtual environment not only provides the opportunity for repeatable experiments for a range of participants but it also permits the isolation of path form from other stimuli and will provide me with the ability to manipulate and play with the frequency and amplitude of path forms. The virtual environment will also accommodate testing of a range of diverse bikes such as cargo bikes and road bikes with different handling characteristics and wheelbases.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDb2zoxSZoQ

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzH14KCucEg

Watch this space for updates on my research, which will be focusing on playing around with path forms over the coming months.

1929394_8427046506_7839_nRafael Upcroft is an architect and interior designer with 10 years experience creating commercial and domestic spaces in Australia and abroad. He has tutored a range of design subjects and continues to enjoy the challenges of being a design studio tutor at the University of Tasmania. During his studies at the Queensland University of Technology and the Politecnico di Milano Rafael has been the recipient of a number of awards including the 5th year architecture prize and the final year interior design prize. He is currently completing a PhD at the University of Tasmania where he is investigating how wellbeing theory can influence the implementation and construction of bicycle infrastructure and networks. This research aligns with two of his passions; cycling, and designing environments that elicit enjoyment from every day and ordinarily mundane activities.

1 Comment

  1. Oh FFS, please no. This is a ludicrous idea. It will “work” only if you cycle at the speed which the designer had in mind, only if you ride a bike on which you can stand up and only if you can and want to stand up. This does not apply to all people who might like to be able to cycle.

    This design is unsuitable for truly fast cyclists, it’s unsuitable for recumbents, it’s unsuitable for pensioners (who already have enough trouble even with smooth cycle-paths) and it’s unsuitable for disabled people.

    If you want a high modal share you have to get everyone cycling, not target mountain bikers. The only place you find up and down slopes like this deliberately built in the Netherlands is at locations where they’re used to slow down motor assisted bicycles.

    What’s more, your idea that this would lead to less energy expenditure is pure fantasy. Going up a hill, no matter how small, always costs you more energy than you gain again on the downhill slope. There are always losses. The idea that adding ups and downs can make cycling more efficient is not based in physical reality.

    Yes please do try to make paths such as that shown on your route in Australia more interesting, but don’t do it by making them less accessible and less useful to all but a small group of people. The main problem I see with your existing path is a complete lack of social safety. Who wants to enter that apparent mugger’s alley ? Who would go there after dark ? A large part of the population are excluded because of the unpleasantness of being trapped. It doesn’t look at all like a path between a city and a village in the Netherlands which attracts a very large number of cyclists of all abilities.

    Incidentally, you’re not alone in having unattractive cycle-paths like that. Los Angeles has them too.

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