Cyclists bankrolling the world's R&D

Formula 1 racing cars are impressive, no doubt, but they would weight around 80kg had the bicycling industry been more closely involved in their design. For starters, our boffins outnumber theirs by about 1000 to 1, toiling in suburban garages, lodging hundreds of mostly useless patents per year. The population of Formula 1 boffins is limited to scarcely more than the in-house staff of a few dozen big companies. Also, formula one car designers work in the knowledge that only a fraction of their innovations will ever find their way into mass produced cars. By contrast, each season thousands of exact replicas of pro-team bikes are sold to dilettante cyclists, sometimes before they even go to pro riders. Arguably, elite bikes exist for recreation buyers, as elite riders could as easily win races on gear bought on Ebay. And finally, if a backyard operation goes commercial with a 7gram chain ring that will be thrown away after one time-trial, enough freaks out there in the world of club racing will be willing to buy them, that yet another bike business will be able to enter the market.

It is wearisome, is it not, how the automotive industry absorbs others’ kudos. To get his message across to architects, the author of this brief article describes carbon fiber as a material used in formula 1, oh and various other sports not worth singling out for attention. The reader should get the message that this stuff must be right up there, if the automotive messiahs have deigned to perform a laying of hands. But it is the bicycle industry, not formula-1, on the pointy end of ultra light monocoque carbon molding. Forgive me. I’m being petty. It’s just, I find the old formula 1 line just a bit hard to swallow this week, when I receiving these forks (below), specially made in China for the Behooving Moving prototype travelers’ bike, that you will all soon be riding. All one piece, weighing nothing at all.

Competitive cyclists are willing early adopters. Without the money we spend on strong stuff and light stuff, factories would not even exist to build anything more advanced than a WW2 spitfire. Compare cyclists with surfers, who have largely rejected carbon fiber surfboards, because they do not feel like "real" surfboards, are not used by the pros, and leave local board shapers with nothing to do. Do not feel like real surfboards? In what sense? That they don’t weigh a tonne, won’t give you concussion, don’t nearly sink when you’re paddling, can be tossed around on the face of a wave like Holly Golightly on the arm of a sailor? The pro surfer argument assumes pro surfers choose what to ride—surfers, poor dears, are really quite simple. And finally, should the world really grind to a halt for the sake of a few emphysemic board shapers who left school when they were 12?

Carbon fiber furniture, and in time architectural hardware, will be indebted to cyclists, not formula-1, for sponsoring the R&D that made it all possible.

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