In Memoriam: The Funny Bike

Laurent Fignon's Hour Record Machine

We gather here today to pay our respects to one of the most exciting developments the Cycling world has ever witnessed: the funny bike.

For seventy years, the evolution of the bicycle was marked by incremental change; improvements to brakes, more gears, and better shifting followed one another as the sport grudgingly continued its slow journey towards progress and modernization.

Then, in an instant, disruption. Change. In the years prior to 1984, time trial machines were little more than finely-tuned road machines. But suddenly, spurred on by Francesco Moser’s success in breaking the Hour Record aboard a radical machine with double disc wheels and cow-horn handlebars, we entered a decade of innovation.

In the blink of an eye, we had broken from the shackles of traditional thinking and were suddenly free to think about a bicycle without constraint. Riders appeared in the start house with fairings attached to their saddles and bars mounted below the top tube. Riders toed up to the start line with broom sticks mounted across the drops of their handlebars. Aero bars appeared and with them, the triangular frame design that had graced our machines for three-quarters of a century disappeared. In the span of ten short years, time trial positions went from the standard tuck to the Super Man.

Then, in a crafty maneuver which demonstrates that the UCI’s incompetence is not a recent development, new regulations were introduced which effectively killed innovation in bike design. The UCI regulated the position of the bars, the saddle, the size of the wheels, the design of the frame; even the shape of the tubes are currently highly scrutinized. The UCI even offers an exorbitantly expensive frame certification process.

Join me now, as we examine some examples of the most innovative machines our sport will ever see.

A-Merckx.

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140 Replies to “In Memoriam: The Funny Bike”

  1. You have credited a photo of the superman position to Chris Boardman when in actual fact it is Graeme Obree!

  2. I think it was 90 or 91, Thierry Marie won the Tour de France prologue on a bike similar to pic # 4 but with the saddle/aerofoil in the main picture. In fact, it might have been slightly larger! I also think the bike in #4 might ave been commercially available as I have old Miroir du Cyclismes with Gitane adverts featuring the bike. Clearly the UCI were MUCH more lenient in those days . . .

  3. The Bike Show podcast from Resonance FM hosted by Jack Thurston had a two-part interview with Mike Burrows, designer of Chris Boardman’s Lotus, and included an interesting discussion of bicycle innovation. It is definitely worth checking out. Mr Burrows doesn’t mince his words as to his feelings on the UCI.

  4. @wiscot
    Thierry Marie! He is the rider I was thinking of for showing up at the start house with a saddle fairing. I bet it actually slowed him down because it didn’t create a seal between him and his back – it was probably little more than a wind shovel.

    I guess it does seal a bit better than I remember…according to the second pic. But I remember seeing video of him on the tip of his saddle with that fairing dragging behind him like a parachute!

  5. @frank
    I’d imagine if set up right (maybe with the saddle a tad further forward than normal) having that saddleback to push/brace against could yield big power advantages. Of course, I’m not an engineer, so I might be talking pish. As far as I know, Systeme U and Castorama were the only ones who used it so maybe it wasn’t that much of an advantage.

  6. @Tobin

    Great review…glad this monstrosity missed the list!

    Geez! That went on the road? I thought this was ‘funny’ for the veledrome;

  7. Definitely a time to be missed. However, I think some of those are much more aesthetically pleasing than today’s TT/aero bikes…

    That Cannondale monstrosity that @tobin posted a picture of is just plain fugly though.

  8. The Canondale that @Tobin posted is weird/unreal but what if it works? I curse the UCI for retarding the natural course of design and engineering that would have taken place with new materials and technology. We now have bikes that are cool but so expensive I do not want to buy one even if I could.

    For example if they had left well enough alone instead of a $15k diamond frame (100+ year old technology) Storck we might be riding some production monocoque frame for much less with the same specs in performance and weight.

    Back in the early 80’s a friend built a 20″ wheeled race machine that weighed 15 lbs – it was awesome and I had tested it in club races. We found tubs for it in England and when they were pumped up to 120 psi that little thing was a rocket. He lost momentum and I only rode it in one open race where the chain dropped after 5 laps of a crit and since the competition happened to include Davis Phinney I never made it back in… But all for naught as soon there after wheel size was regulated.

    My point is that a 20 inch wheel is lighter, stronger, as fast and can make design sense but now we do not have the chance to find out.

  9. I saw one of the boardman lotus bikes at a cycle trade show last year. What struck me about was how hand made and rough round the edges it was.

  10. Always had Modolo’s Kronotech stuck in my head since seeing it the Gallery of Bicycle Guide March 1986. I’m very late for work as I searched through my 80’s bike mags to find it, scan it and post it up. Carbone or what?!

    This was 26 years ago!
    Love the seat post fairing. Check out the built in computer on the bars. Looks like a Cateye solar. Still has downtube shifters! The ground clearance of the front wheel fairing.
    Oddly enough, this bike was featured on “Beyond Two Thousand” back in the 80’s and I have a VHS tape of the segment – somewhere amongst the old VHS collection. I’ll endeavor to dig it up and post it up.

  11. Yes! Funny bikes…and the Castorama kit! What a perfect article.

    It always intrigues me that The Skinny People of the Conurbations are in hot pursuit of their own funny bike to up the ante in the Ultimate Fixie Chase. Here are bikes built for velodromes & TTs on closed courses that folks want to use to ride in heavy traffic on poorly surfaced roads with texting pedestrians jaywalking all about. A very odd place and use for such machines.

  12. @Rob

    The Canondale that @Tobin posted is weird/unreal but what if it works? I curse the UCI for retarding the natural course of design and engineering that would have taken place with new materials and technology. We now have bikes that are cool but so expensive I do not want to buy one even if I could.

    For example if they had left well enough alone instead of a $15k diamond frame (100+ year old technology) Storck we might be riding some production monocoque frame for much less with the same specs in performance and weight.

    Back in the early 80″²s a friend built a 20″³ wheeled race machine that weighed 15 lbs – it was awesome and I had tested it in club races. We found tubs for it in England and when they were pumped up to 120 psi that little thing was a rocket. He lost momentum and I only rode it in one open race where the chain dropped after 5 laps of a crit and since the competition happened to include Davis Phinney I never made it back in… But all for naught as soon there after wheel size was regulated.

    My point is that a 20 inch wheel is lighter, stronger, as fast and can make design sense but now we do not have the chance to find out.

    Exactly what I’m talking about, as you say, we’ll never find out. I’m an outspoke traditionalist, but I also love evolution and innovation; it is a tragedy that we don’t get to explore this stuff.

    And I just happen to have a picture of you rockin’ that machine right here. I might add that you Look Fantastic in this shot. The hairnet, that Castelli skin suit, the toe clups, the RED COCA COLA BIDON. One shifter, one BIG RING. Fantastic. How big was your gear?

  13. @sthilzy
    Here is the full size of that scan – what a beauty!!

    I love the direct-drive, which I’m guessing is why the big ring is SO BIG RING. Can’t work out the pedals, but that is such a beauty.

    I wonder if the redish orange stuff under the saddle isn’t a fairing but a suspended saddle; it would explain why its canted forward now, and then when you sit on it, it would level out.

    The back wheel remarkably resembles the Zipp SUb-9 disk:

  14. I actually blame the UCI for killing the Hour Record, which during the 90’s provided some of the best and most thrilling competition that I can recall. Obree/Boardman of course, but there was Indurain and Rominger going for it as well. That’s the last time a GT hopeful went for the Hour.

    Innovation and making the bike faster was the perfect forum for that event. Sure, the Athlete’s Hour is great and I like the rider-to-rider comparison, but ultimately very few people want to get on a bike just like Eddy’s and see if they can go faster than him. Because they probably can’t.

    But the Hour is about seeing how far you can go in an hour – add the machine to it and all of a sudden you’ve got some major geekage going on and people start to really tug at the edges of their calculators to see what they can eek out of system.

    Not to mention that the Hour is currently held by a guy everyone knows was doped. That further tarnishes the event and makes people even less interested in it.

    I hope Cancellara goes for it; its a good season for it since he missed the Spring already.

  15. @Rob, @frank

    Hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but @Rob I need to nominate this photo for a guest article. That big ring is all kinds of awesome.

  16. Those crazy triathletes still innovate pretty well – the Specialised Shiv ignores UCI rules and with cool features like being able to put your drink in the downtube, there is still some cool stuff out there…

    And who could forget the good ole softrides? I actually almost bought one of these in the mid-90s (because Greg Welch rode them), but was thankfully stopped by a wise friend.

  17. @VeloVita

    The Bike Show podcast from Resonance FM hosted by Jack Thurston had a two-part interview with Mike Burrows, designer of Chris Boardman’s Lotus, and included an interesting discussion of bicycle innovation. It is definitely worth checking out. Mr Burrows doesn’t mince his words as to his feelings on the UCI.

    I second that, as I love Jack and The Bike Show.

    http://thebikeshow.net/burrows-on-the-bicycle-part-one/
    http://thebikeshow.net/burrows-on-the-bicycle-part-two-laid-back/

    He also interviewed Graeme Obree a few months ago, who is planning an HPV world record attempt. All interesting stuff, particularly how to motivate yourself during an ITT.
    http://thebikeshow.net/the-obree-way/

  18. @Marcus

    And who could forget the good ole softrides? I actually almost bought one of these in the mid-90s (because Greg Welch rode them), but was thankfully stopped by a wise friend.

    It’s funny you mention the Softrides. I’ve seen no fewer than three of them in my first two centuries of the year! I’d totally forgotten about them until passing that first one in the Tierra Bella on the climb up to the first rest stop. They look pretty wacky, and I’m sure they’re comfortable, but they still don’t adhere to the Principle of Silence

  19. @Marcus

    the Specialised Shiv ignores UCI rules and with cool features like being able to put your drink in the downtube, there is still some cool stuff out there…

    Ignoring the UCI is hardly the same as innovating. (You must have been a lawyer.)

    Innovation is also something a little more than moving the camelback to the downtube. (How do you clean the “bottle”?)

  20. @Xyverz
    They are not as bad as you’d think, but it is just too weird to have your saddle height change whenever you go over a bump. They do teach you some tremendous pedaling action, though. Smooths that honker right out.

  21. @frank

    @Marcus

    the Specialised Shiv ignores UCI rules and with cool features like being able to put your drink in the downtube, there is still some cool stuff out there…

    Ignoring the UCI is hardly the same as innovating. (You must have been a lawyer.)

    Innovation is also something a little more than moving the camelback to the downtube. (How do you clean the “bottle”?)

    Think the massive downtube/headtube which acts as a fairing was somewhat innovative. So what is it, now you have written 90-odd bike rules, you think you can start messing with how words are defined in the English language you Dutch-American Douche?

    Innovation is simply the act of introducing something new. For instance, by me bringing logic to this discussion by citing a definition, I may be seen as innovative – as logic is certainly new to any discussion with you.

    Now there are certainly degrees of innovation and I am sorry if the Specialised Shiv did not meet your desired level. I guess a turtleneck-wearing high-school-virgin IT guy like you needs something especially innovative to be sufficiently impressed? Go write some code on your fucking 6G ipad.

    NB. I think I recall they did try to go with UCI rules, then had the bike knocked back so they are going with “we ignored the UCI”.

    At any rate, I don’t know how you clean it out – I imagine the bladder in the downtube would end up getting pretty funky…

  22. For reference, I believe the bladder is removable, so cleaned like a camelbak.

  23. @frank

    @Nate

    Jeez Frank trust you to dig that up- forgot you had access to it… Nate that was a 60 tooth on the front there with a 5 speed straight block. It was a rockin little bike that was a perfect crit bike.

    Oh and just for you eagle eyed Rules freaks who might pick up on the sock violation I sometimes would do the trackie thing in crits. Duegi all leather shoes with bare feet and double Binda reinforced toe straps was like a vice grip made from virgin baby boa constrictors.

    @sthilzy
    And yes that Kronotech is what we are missing … It looks like it was made yesterday.

  24. @DerHoggz

    For reference, I believe the bladder is removable, so cleaned like a camelbak.

    I’ve never even touched a new one – they’re just unhygienic – end.

  25. @frank

    @Xyverz
    They are not as bad as you’d think, but it is just too weird to have your saddle height change whenever you go over a bump. They do teach you some tremendous pedaling action, though. Smooths that honker right out.

    Tell me you didn’t actually own a Softride. I’ll pack my bags and leave this joint straight away.

  26. @scaler911
    Cheers, great memories…

    OH – forgot the photo credit goes to @ Gianni! I had the honor of his being my occasional DS before I knew what one was.

  27. @Marcus

    Think the massive downtube/headtube which acts as a fairing was somewhat innovative. So what is it, now you have written 90-odd bike rules, you think you can start messing with how words are defined in the English language you Dutch-American Douche?

    Innovation is simply the act of introducing something new. For instance, by me bringing logic to this discussion by citing a definition, I may be seen as innovative – as logic is certainly new to any discussion with you.

    No, no, no, no, no! Innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method. Introducing something new is called invention, you Aussie twat (I know that’s redundant but it feels good to use two words when insulting you).

    Making a downtube bigger is an adaptation, or evolution of an existing idea; there is nothing new in its root or in its application. Which isn’t the same thing as saying its not a good idea, or an improvement. It does, however, represent the same kind of incremental change as does the improvements in brakes and shifting we’ve seen over the course of the 100 years or so the sports been around.

    All that aside, introducing logic to this discussion would have been an innovation, should you have gotten it right. But being wrong as you were, it was just business as usual.

    Shouldn’t you be looking for @Minion? Isn’t he in your country now? That must piss you off. With no sheep around, what does he fuck now? Kangaroos? Seems messy and dangerous.

  28. @frank
    On the hour record I couldn’t agree more. As long as the bike is just something you sit on – not in, why not let them get all space age and helium light?

    Another reason that the hour has waned is because it is only for glory. I never understood why Pharmy never did it when it seemed obvious that he would have killed it… Yea well I guess I have answered my own question… Oh wait was that a question? Maybe Cancellara will restore some juice to a 100 year competition, it would be great.

  29. Kind of looks like someone left it in the sun too long, but I like it.

  30. So if you have a “funny bike” (which I do), what’s the point of using stem to make it like a ‘regular’ bike?

  31. @scaler911

    @frank

    @Xyverz
    They are not as bad as you’d think, but it is just too weird to have your saddle height change whenever you go over a bump. They do teach you some tremendous pedaling action, though. Smooths that honker right out.

    Tell me you didn’t actually own a Softride. I’ll pack my bags and leave this joint straight away.

    No, but my dad owns something like four or five of them – a few mountainbikes and a few road bikes. My dad serves as an inspiration for many of the Rules. Some of them positively – as in Rule #5 and many others that he reinforced over the decades, and many of them negatively as in how bad it is to get too many computers rolling on your getup.

    His Look is so close to being fully Rule Compliant, but yet so incredibly far. He spent my childhood trying to figure out how to beat my desire to look like a pro out of me. Until he realized it made me go fast, it which point we just set about kicking everyone’s ass.

  32. Took me awhile to post this: Had to take a Valium to get rid of the seizure this induced:

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