Ron Arad Reinvents the Wheel

There were two nuns and a bicycle… it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke or a script from a naff 1970’s sitcom. It is in fact the name of design legend Ron Arad‘s concept bike. I have to say this design totally passed me by when it was released last autumn, I’m not sure how I missed it. It’s part of a project to raise money for Elton John’s AIDS Foundation. The collection of bikes by celebrities and designers called “WOW Bikes” were available for paying guests to ride at W Hotel in London’s Leicester Square in October 2011 before being auctioned off. I don’t know anyone who got to try them out, I would be very interested to hear from people who did. My impression from the video is that it’s likely to be a rather bouncy ride, a soft version of the old bone shaker. It’s very aesthetically pleasing but I don’t think it’s going to be on sale in your local bike shop anytime soon and I think the traditional wheel will be safe for a few years yet. The design obviously references or was inspired by Ron’s 1980’s Well-Tempered Chair and his Bookworm Bookshelf for Kartell. Ron loves to work in flexible ribbons of materials to create fluid, flexible yet sturdy designs.

Marcus Hearst, director of the design department at Arad’s studio commented, “To account for the added flexibility in the materials, Arad’s sprung wheels of steel are in fact a little bit larger than the average bike wheel. But it’s this yield that gives the wheels a slight cushion and makes the wheels work in a practical way. It’s a surprisingly comfortable ride, and, ironically, the faster you go, the smoother it is. The wheel uses 18 individual strips of steel that are pinned at various tension points to act together as one single unit. We’ve actually done very little with the material. When you bend that steel, the way you pin it, you create natural curves. It’s almost like a flower. The adjacent “spokes” create an additional shape that your eye naturally wants to fill in.”

“The bike was put together in two weeks, from start to finish, which left no time for testing. The ultimate surprise was that it worked the first time. Sprung steel, in particular, has a bewildering array of choices, based on the tempering or mixes, because the process to give the steel more or less “spring” is notoriously difficult to gauge without testing. And, of course, there was some initial skepticism from the manufacturer. They laughed at us when we told them what it was for!”.


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