Behind its showroom appearance of hi-tech and fun two-wheeled technology, the exhibition “Bicyclette(s), Faire Des Vélos” commissioned at the Cité du Design in Saint-Étienne by designer Jean-Louis Fréchin, redraws the innovative landscape of a booming French and European bicycle industry. A strategic vision in which design has clearly taken over the yellow jersey.
In Saint-Etienne, cycling is an old story. It was here that the first French bicycle was born in 1886 and that its first popular version (the Hirondelle model) was born five years later, launching the sprint for many companies (Mercier, Mécacycle, Vitus, etc.) that would flourish in the following decades. Today, this jewel of the local industry has almost disappeared (except for the famous Mach 1 rim company still located in the area). For all that, the bicycle has not said its last word in the Prefecture of the Loire, and the exhibition “Bicyclette(s), Faire Des Vélos” commissioned at the Cité du Design in Saint-Étienne by the designer Jean-Louis Fréchin of the NoDesign agency, where a few dozen exhibitors can be found, is a timely reminder that the bicycle is today the central element of new mobilities and a fantastic functional and stimulating product for new uses. But, beyond this principle (almost) unanimously established by our needs for new soft circulations, it is to the discovery of the ” landscape of the renewal of a French and European industry ” that Jean-Louis Fréchin invites us first.
As he reminds us, ” the future of the bicycle lies in design “, whether through technology and the definition of new uses, but also behind the need ” for people to build bikes ” here in Europe. And these people are right there, whether they are entrepreneurs, start-ups, engineers, and especially designers, weaving the necessary link between the creativity of the artisan workshop and the industrial needs that are imposed. “Bicycle(s), Making Bikes” is less an exhibition of bicycles than a demonstration of the know-how of passionate people, agencies, designers who allow access to objects of culture, just like a book or a film “explains Jean-Louis Fréchin, specifying that ” objects often say who we are, but before thinking about their uses, we must know how to produce them “.
An industrial landscape in the form of a topology of machines
These objects, these bicycles in this case, fill the first exhibition space according to a real topology of machines, behind which the hand of the man and the designer is never very far. There are “working” bikes, for daily commuting, like the electrically assisted bikes from Moustache Bikes or this model from the other up-and-coming French brand, Iweech, which combines algorithms and machine learning to calculate its speed and a retractable stem for storage. There are ” long tail transporters” or bicycles designed for travel, such as the models of the Victoire cycles – the structure behind the Syndicat des Artisans du Cycle, or the PechTregon model, designed by Matthieu Chollet, a former student of the ENSCI like Jean-Louis Fréchin. In the second room, labeled “workshop”, there are also representatives of component manufacturers: FMB hoses, Mavic rims, Cavalerie automated gearboxes or Gouach repairable batteries, to name but a few, all part of this creative economy for which the wheel seems to be turning again. A special electric model, the Batspad cycle, made of durable steel, was even specially designed by Jean-Louis Fréchin from multiple components among those exhibited.
It is this spirit of innovative engineering, in which the designers’ touch is preponderant, that attracts the most attention. The Portuguese brand Autorq (Portugal is Europe’s leading bicycle producer and therefore has the best economic and technical ecosystem on the continent) has developed a bottom bracket that precisely measures the force of the offset to adapt it to the most natural riding. The Cocotte prototype from H3Bike intends to simplify the use of the bicycle with its robotized gearbox.
The shape comes directly from these advances where the bridges with the automotive industry are obvious, as we can see with the products of the Rebirth group which offers an electric bike Matra, directly inspired by the principles of using recycled and recyclable carbon fibers of the car parent company, allowing for example to work the hollow part of the frame for all the wiring. The same goes for the Ultima Mobility Multipath model, whose plastic monocoque frame is completed with injected carbon, as in the latest innovations for cars. The choice of materials is also essential here, with for example the bamboo frame, a natural and renewable material, developed by the Lyon-based company Cyclik, which can be declined in surprisingly “luxury” versions, like this Hermès bike designed by Antoine Fritsch.
The bike loses its gender
In fact, the very global, industrial and design thinking behind “Bicyclette(s), Faire Des Vélos” feeds on multiple entry points. And the least crucial is undoubtedly not this reflection, particularly carried by Jean-Louis Fréchin, on a change of gender paradigm in the use of the bicycle. He reminds us how much ” bike paths in large cities become places of mixing ” offering among others ” refusals of promiscuity in transport and a feeling of safety. “Above all, he notes that the ready-to-ride industry, which had adjusted the bicycle to male measurements, is changing its tune with the creation of all these specific brands and ranges. “Today, men have adopted open V-shaped bicycle frames [comme ceux présentés dans l’exposition par les modèles de la marque belge Cowboy] “he emphasizes, while acknowledging ” that it remains to support the rise in numbers of a popular and common mobility practice that should not be reserved only for young and healthy men and women thanks to adapted and safe infrastructures. “A new challenge in which design can undoubtedly also contribute, particularly in terms of general interest design.