When bicycles work too well as transportation

The popularity of cycling has grown significantly over the years, possibly fueled by rising gasoline prices, the trend to improve one’s physical health, hipsters with mustaches and skinny jeans, or the influence of a Tour de France doper winner. Who knows? All I know is that now, I have twice as many friends who ride bikes than I did ten years ago. So from that metric, cycling is “the thing to do.” But what about those times when you say, “You know, I really like riding my bike…but I wish I could make my bike-riding experience much slower, much less efficient, and more cumbersome.” How does one do that?

This…thing… is the FLIZ. Designers Tom Hambrock and Yuri Spetter have created this foot-powered…thing, to be used in overcrowded urban areas. Wait, what? Here, let me just paste a quote from their James Dyson Award entry page:

…it is a velocipede concept of healthy, ecological mobility in overcrowded urban space.

That makes much more sense, right? I know what you’re asking…well, you’re probably asking a lot of questions, and possibly questioning life itself. But one question you might be asking is “What’s a velocipede?” You’ve probably seen old-timey pics of velocipedes, but didn’t know that’s what they were called.

This “Dandy Horse” is one type of velocipede. Velocipedes, in general, refer to a group of vehicles that were the precursor to bicycles. As you can see from the drawing, you would basically sit on these things, and use your feet to propel you. It’s a strange cross between walking/running and riding. To quote the Wikipedia page on velocipedes, talking specifically of the dandy horse/swiftwalker/hobby horse shown above,

It was made entirely of wood and had no practical use except on a well-maintained pathway in a park or garden.

And that impractical vehicle is what inspired the FLIZ. See, as you know from history, people figured out that pedals attached to wheels worked really well, and allowed one to use these wheeled vehicles more efficiently. We moved from pushing ourselves with our feet, to riding giant-wheeled penny-farthings, to using a chain-and-gear-driven bicycle similar to ones we ride today. We’ve come a long way when it comes to two-wheeled human-powered vehicles. So why on Earth would anyone want to revisit something as inefficient as those first push-yourself-with-your-feet bicycles?? Why?!?

According to their write-up, the designers posed a few questions, and somehow this design they created answered those questions. Tell you what, I’ll post those questions they asked, and I’ll answer them.

“Does the running machine make any sense for adults nowadays? If yes, how and where could it be useful?”

No, it doesn’t. It’s not useful. It wasn’t very useful back in the late 1800’s, and it’s not useful now.

“How can we offer a certain amount of mobility to people, who are by any reason not able to ride a bike (or drive a car)?”

People who are not able to ride a bike or drive a car are not going to strap themselves—using a full-body harness—to a two-wheeled, leg-powered bicycle to get around. Or if they are, they’re going to strap themselves into something much easier to use: a wheelchair, or a variety of other wheeled vehicles…that may even be powered. I mean, you’ve seen the Hoveround commercial, right? Bernice and Joy were able to visit the GRAND CANYON without being able to walk!

And that brings me to the mechanics of this. As you can see from the pic, there is no seat on the FLIZ. You are suspended by a harness from the frame where the wheels are connected. Essentially, you wear your bicycle frame.

Less pressure on crotch?? Really?!? Come on, you’re putting on a five-point harness—one that stretches across your chest and goes around your crotch—and then you’re suspending yourself, with your full body weight, on that harness. Don’t tell me there will be less pressure on my crotch, and somehow this is much better than riding a conventional bike with a seat. [And honestly, if you’re riding a bicycle, and feel pressure on your crotch, that means your seat is not adjusted properly.] Also, don’t you think it’s rather dangerous to have a bicycle frame ATTACHED TO YOUR BODY BY A HARNESS? I mean, what if that guy in the pic fell on his side? How hard would it be for him to get up?

Ergonomics aside, this thing is just unwieldy. Watch this video of the FLIZ in action. Look how the rider struggles with steering. And imagine if he fell down. How would he get up?

As with most Flawesome designs, this one has a nice model/prototype. But the fact that this idea went all the way to the prototype stage shows the lack of real design thinking behind this product. Why would anyone think to design this? Who is this for? And did the designers even go out and do research that supports their conclusion that, yes, there is a need for an unwieldy, two-wheeled bicycle where the rider is attached/suspended to the frame? I highly doubt it.

Via James Dyson Award