Velocipedia - Bicycles Designed From Memories

How hard is it to become a bike designer? What gives the geometry of a bicycle a certain beauty and how do you combine functionality with design? An Italian/American product designer has created a wonderful experiment which clearly shows it's much harder than it looks! By inviting 376 people, aged between 3 and 88, to draw a bicycle from memory, Gianluca Gimini  has built up an unusual collection of crazy designs. None of them work - but that hasn't stopped the Bologna-based artist from rendering them as if they were production models - and the end result is stunning. 

Wy not try to sketch a bicycle now, just roughly on a piece of paper... Now have a look at a real drawing (there's one at the bottom of the article - a CAD design from Dear Susan). What have you missed? What have you added? It's harder than it looks even if you are a cyclophile. That's exactly what Gianluca did for his Velocipedia project:

How did you get the idea for this collection?

There is a quite funny story behind this project. It all started in 2009 in a bar in Bologna where I was chatting with a friend. We were talking about school time memories and I recalled this very embarrassing moment: a classmate was being questioned by our technical ed. teacher. He was doing pretty bad and was on the verge of tears at a certain point, so the teacher tried to help him out by asking him to describe his bicycle. The poor kid panicked and couldn’t even remember if the driving wheel was the front or the rear one.  My friend laughed at this story and said that anyone who has ridden a bike must know how it’s made. Then he tried drawing one on a napkin and miserably failed. That’s the day I started collecting bike drawings.     

I would walk up to friends, family or total strangers with a pen and a sheet of paper in my hand, asking that they immediately draw me a men’s bicycle, by heart. Soon I found out that when confronted with this odd request most people have a very hard time remembering exactly how a bike is made. Some did get close, some actually nailed it perfectly, but most ended up drawing something that was pretty far off from a regular men’s bicycle.

I collected hundreds of drawings, building up a collection that I think is very precious. There is an incredible diversity of new typologies emerging from these crowd-sourced and technically error-driven drawings. A single designer could not invent so many new bike designs in 100 lifetimes and this is why I look at this collection in such awe.

Gianluca Gimini, product designer, artist, illustrator, communicator

Gianluca Gimini, product designer, artist, illustrator, communicator

In early 2016 I eventually decided it was my turn to take part in this project. I decided my job was going to be presenting the potential and the beauty inside these sketches. I selected those that I found most interesting and genuine and diverse, then rendered them as if they were real. I became the executor of these two minute projects by people who were mainly non-designers and confirmed my suspicion: everyone, regardless his age and job, can come up with extraordinary, wild, new and at times brilliant inventions.

Are you a cyclist? You obviously understand the workings of the bicycle very well - what is your relationship with cycling?
I’m a bicycle user and I have four bicycles. One is an 80 year old counterpedal from a local manufacturer that was called Cantagalli, one is a 1970’s Colnago racing bike , the other two are not worth mentioning. 

Bicycles have always been a  means of everyday transportation for me. I grew up in a small Italian town and went to University in a city - Ferrara - which is known as “the city of bicycles”. I have always used a bicycle to get around. Today I use it less frequently because I work too far away from home to bike to work, but in summer I still use a bike almost daily.

As far as understanding how a bike works I guess I’m averagely skilled. I can even change a tyre using a spoon, but that’s about the most sophisticated reparation I can perform. I’m also terribly lazy so I don’t speed on my bike…all this should define what kind of cyclist I am. 

Were you tempted to turn any of these designs into actual production models? The illustrations are so beautiful!

Thank you! As a designer I have dreamed of self-producing many of my designs when I was younger, but I am now wise enough to understand the difference between a designers’ job and that of an entrepreneur. I also think none of these bikes would be good bicycles: Annarita’s could function but it would need some good engineering and probably end up being very stiff; Massimo’s might work better. I would be interested in your considerations. I’m not that technical as I confessed. Anyway I don’t dream of serial production for any of these.

What I do dream is to find a sponsor that will help me manufacture the bikes as art pieces and maybe donate them to a design museum or an art museum. I think they would make too many real cyclists suffer to propose them to a bicycle museum. 

Have you designed any real bikes - would you make a real bike for yourself or as a commission?

No I have never designed a bike for myself, though I have always thought about bikes a lot. I have sketches for silly bike accessories that I imagined and a couple of ideas for more serious accessories. I would love to work on a bicycle project bringing my skills as concept designer and art director. I would need the collaboration of a mechanical engineer to achieve something that is both very new and very functional.

What has been the outcome of this project? Was it just a personal journey of exploration into how the brain recalls design; has your Velocipedia work been exhibited anywhere?

I would say it was personal up until I  was just collecting other peoples sketches. When I decided to render my favourite ones it became something that was meant for sharing. The discovery of the works of Aaron Koblin is probably what sparked the idea of turning the collection into a crowd-sourced design project.

After I was done rendering  my favourite models I spent a few months looking for a sponsor here in Italy to exhibit Velocipedia, but had no luck. Eventually I published the work to my web page and it went viral in a couple of days. Now I’m getting a lot of contact requests about the project. I will see what happens. The idea of making a book out of Velocipedia is starting to work its way through my mind and of course I would still love to exhibit the work.

Gianluca's rendering process

Gianluca's rendering process

Velocipedia, in case you were wondering, comes from the noun velocipede which is a vehicle, usually having two or three wheels which is propelled by the rider (a velocipedist!) so a collection of bicycles and tricycles. 

Where is Velocipedia going next? We want to see more! We'd love to see an exhibition of your work, some prototypes and even more designs made real...

I am in contact with an editor who might want to make a book (I would have to render a few more bikes for that) and I would love to exhibit the works if a sponsor could pay for the prints on plexi, a catalogue and maybe an actual bike manufactured according to one of the drawings. 

But I am open to mostly anything that comes. I wouldn't mind collaborating with a magazine presenting some of my wacky inventions as illustrations in a monthly or weekly column. I wouldn't mind designing a bike either!! 

We, at Ride Velo think a Gianluca Gimini designed bicycle would be a thing of beauty and a joy to ride - given that he knows all the pitfalls in cycle design! Perhaps he should collaborate with Petor Georgallou of Dear Susan - that could be a pretty unbeatable combination!