Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Functionality, Comfort, Aesthetics

A couple of my recent posts have generated some engaging commentary on "form vs function" and the validity of aesthetic preoccupations in cycling. I put the phrase "form vs function" in quotation marks, because I do not view it as a dichotomy that needs to be resolved. For me, the two concepts are in a symbiotic relationship, whereby one enhances the other and is incomplete without the other. I readily acknowledge my interest in aesthetics. But I stop well short of putting aesthetic factors before practical ones, which I hope comes across clearly throughout Lovely Bicycle.

There are three basic qualities that matter to me in a bicycle, and these qualities are functionality, comfort, and aesthetics. All three are essential for me, and I could not love a bicycle if either were lacking.

To me, functionality means that a bicycle must be good at what it was designed to do. For instance, a racing bicycle is designed with the goal of winning races. It therefore must possess qualities such as the ability to gain speed quickly and extreme maneuverability. Anything in the design of a racing bicycle that detracts from its ability to win races is a functional flaw. By the same token, an urban transport bicycle is designed to serve as a viable means of transportation for the city dweller. It therefore must possess features that enable the cyclist to comfortably and conveniently travel in everyday clothing, to observe their surroundings, to securely transport their bags and packages, and to travel in the dark. Anything in the design of an urban transport bicycle that detracts from this is a functional flaw.

Because functionality is a factor of individual needs, it is subject to great variability. Just as there are different types of bicycle racers, so are there different types of urban commuters. A diplomat who wears crisp skirt-suits and freshly-polished shoes to work and has a 2-mile commute will likely require different features from a transport bike than a  computer programmer who wears jeans, sweaters and sneakers and has a 12-mile commute. A bicycle's functionality can only be evaluated in the context of its intended use.

And of course, regardless of what kind of cycling a bicycle was designed for, functionality means that everything should be working properly: structurally sound frame, proper assembly, and quality components.

The notion of comfort is equally important, and equally subjective. We need to be comfortable on a bicycle in order to enjoy riding it, or even to tolerate riding it. The more comfortable we are, the more we ride, and the safer our cycling behaviour. An uncomfortable bicycle can make commuting, touring and even racing a nightmare. There are many, many factors that go into what makes a bicycle comfortable - from the geometry and material of the frame, to the positioning of the saddle and handlebars, to other, more elusive aspects.

Being comfortable on a bicycle involves, first and foremost, being pain-free. In particular, pain in the hands, knees, butt, crotch and neck are the sort one should not be experiencing while cycling, as it can cause injury.

Comfort also means that a cyclist should feel good about their ability to control and handle their bicycle: to mount and dismount, to balance, to pick up speed in the manner they want, to handle turns, to climb hills, to control descents, to make emergency stops, to carry a load, and to cycle through traffic. And while to an extent all of this certainly depends on the cyclist's skill level, it also very much depends on the bicycle. A given cyclist may be comfortable doing these things on one type of bike, but not on another. I am a firm believer in finding a bicycle that both feels good to ride, and matches your skill level and comfort zone, rather than attempting to adapt to a bicycle that does not feel right.

Finally, I believe that the aesthetics of a bicycle are no less crucial in the enjoyment of the overall cycling experience. Put simply, aesthetics is how appealing or attractive we find the bicycle to be. Do we enjoy looking at it? Does it fill us with excitement and pleasure? Do we feel compelled to touch it, to ride it? It is about an emotional response, and it is about individual definitions of beauty.

Though some are more aware of it than others, the aesthetic experience is a natural part of our everyday lives. As we move through our environments and go about our daily activities, we are always looking and always responding with some degree of emotionality - whether it is positive, negative, or some form of confusion. Almost nothing leaves us entirely indifferent, unless we do not notice it. We prefer certain colours over others, certain shapes over others, certain spaces over others, and certain faces over others. Aesthetics are not just for the frivolous or the rich; they are not something you are aware of only when looking at paintings or choosing expensive curtains. All ordinary objects and everyday experiences have aesthetic qualities, and being able to extract these qualities can bring joy and fulfillment to the way we experience life.

Needless to say, what we consider "aesthetically pleasing" is extremely subjective, probably even more so than comfort and functionality. To some extent, it has to do with our inherent sense of harmony, symmetry, and balance, as well as with the associations evoked by the given object. Suffice to say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The importance of functionality, comfort and aesthetics in the cycling experience extends beyond their individual roles; it is the interaction of the three that is crucial. How useful is the functionality of a bicycle that is not comfortable? How useful is the comfort of a bicycle if it is not functional? What good is a beautiful bicycle that is either uncomfortable or non-functional? And how sad it is for a bicycle to be functional and comfortable, but not excite you or make you smile? The most successful bicycle design is one where functionality, comfort, and aesthetics intersect. The graceful sweep of a loop frame is not only visually pleasing, but allows easy step-through. A handle bar bag secured to a randonneur-style front rack is not only handsome, but extremely useful on long trips. Form and function are best enjoyed as a happy couple.

In my posts on Lovely Bicycle, I do not pretend to be "everyman" or the voice of other cyclists.  Far from it! I am a kooky, peculiar person with an unconventional lifestyle and profession, and I am comfortable with that. Neither do I make prescriptive statements about what kinds of bicycles other people should like or should be riding.  Personally, I love bicycles that are functional, comfortable, and beautiful - and that is what I write about. You may relate, or you may not. Life is all about personal preferences.

39 comments:

  1. Thank you for putting these terms into dialogue. Aesthetics too often gets branded as either too high-brow or too frivolous for us practical-minded Americans. But of course, as you say, aesthetic decisions and determinations constantly affect our perceptions of the world around us. No matter what it is, bicycle or desk lamp, why wouldn't I want something that's going to look good as much as something that's going to function well?

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  2. If you want a great primer on what part aesthetics play in how you feel about your environment, take a walk around an Eastern European post-Soviet city and think about how you feel in different parts of the city - the old town versus the towering flat-block soviet apartments, etc.

    For me as well, a thing has to be functional and practical - if it looks nice but doesn't work, I'm not going to use it. But I'm also much less likely to use it if it's ugly, cheap feeling, etc - even if it works practically. This applies to many many more things than bicycles (kitchen equipment, for instance).

    Having good, practical things which work well, are well-made, and show that the maker put some care into them by making them look nice to me is a big value-add to life. Aesthetic, however you define "good" or "bad" is well worth thinking about.

    Speaking of which - it's not universal, but I would say things which are aesthetically pleasing tend to also be well-made - because part of the aesthetic, especially when talking about mechanical things like bicycles, is the heft and sturdiness and the overall feel of an object both when stationary and in use, not just the shape or color.

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  3. Great summary of the form/function debate as it pertains to bicycles.

    I agree that the two do not present a necessary opposition (indeed, Louis Sullivan, who I think who coined the phrase, actually said, "form ever follows function", so clearly he did not think they were in opposition either. But I digress!)

    I love your point about how personal function is, though; and how personal esthetic preferences are, too.

    Mostly, thank you for claiming a place for an appreciation of beauty in our everyday lives and activities. There are many things we touch and feel and see every day; it adds immensely to the experience of our day if we enjoy that experience as much as is reasonable.

    There can be a reverse snobbism about the defiantly ugly -- or parading the beautiful -- that is less about the object itself than about a statement the person wants to make about him/herself. A celebration of the beautiful is a celebration, and who can argue with that?

    That said, there are many people who do not have the "gene" for an emphatic need for the esthetic, and that is fine, too.

    I love how bicycles can prompt discussion about much larger issues; they really are the most amazing creation!

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  4. portlandize.com said...
    "...if it looks nice but doesn't work, I'm not going to use it. But I'm also much less likely to use it if it's ugly, cheap feeling, etc - even if it works practically"


    True, and I would also say that things that are made with aesthetics in mind are less likely to be discarded or neglected until they are ruined. Cherished possessions are likely to be "for keeps" and are even passed on generationally. At worst, if the owner tires of the object or cannot afford to maintain it, it will be sold - to somebody who appreciates it and wants it. Our garbage dumps are overflowing with ugly, inexpensive, disposable objects that are not designed to be loved. Something to think about.

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  5. V.- Agree, and when these come together there is an "at-home-ness" on the bike.

    Jeanette - I'm trying to understand what you mean by the "defiantly ugly." Is it's opposite the "defiantly beautiful?" I park my bike in a high-crime area, and notice many bikes parked around me have been spray painted or taped to make them less attractive to thieves. All of this supports Darwin's thesis on camouflage being necessary for survival. When I see the Goth teens congregating in the pit in Harvard Square, I see their clothing screaming "don't touch me." And when I see a model on the runway, I see her/his clothing screaming "don't touch me." A long way to get a short distance, I want a bike I'm not afraid to touch.

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  6. @Velouria: yeah, totally agree with that - we produce way too much crap these days that is made in such a way that if it stops working functionally, there is no reason to try to repair it, because there's no connection to the object, only to the job it performs.

    I prefer to have a connection to the things I own, because then I feel like the things I use for everyday normal life things are important to me, and I'm willing to make some effort to keep them around instead of just chucking them as soon as they break.

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  7. I interpret "defiantly ugly" as either taking pride in the fact that one's bicycle has a lower-end/subpar look to it, or intentionally "uglifying" one's bicycle. The former is mainly a matter of having a morally superior attitude. The person is clearly too busy with more important things and is not as filthy-rich as you, to bother with/afford a fancy-shmancy bicycle. The latter is done either for the sake of security (to disguise the bike in a high crime neighbourhood), or if the bike is not naturally cheap/ugly enough, yet the person wants to fit in with the folks in the former category. : )

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  8. ha! i lived in a "panelak" in a former east-bloc city, and know *exactly* what you are talking about: the epitomy of uninspired.

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  9. Velouria, it's interesting, hat you write about intenionally uglyfying a bicycle:

    A few days ago I saw a "ugly" bike, and I liked the Pletscher rack it had mounted, so I looked closer: It was a very fine Basso Italian cyclocross lugged steel frame, maybe even handmade, that had been converted into a city bike with midrange components, and then been sloppily sprayed with flat black paint.

    It must have looked spectacular when new. But anybody who knew this would still see the beauty below the ugly botched paintjob. In a way there was a different kind of beauty in this bike: Because it was black and looked cheap, it might have had more "function" to the owner than with its former shiny red paint and chrome.

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  10. There used to be a website about uglified bicycles; it even provided directions on how to do it and featured a gallery. Will try to find it!

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  11. Uglified bikes are the norm here. I don't find them ugly at all, most of the time. Probably because I know they're useful!

    That said, people who do not care about aesthetics are like benign aliens to me. I recently caught myself unconsciously "styling" the robe they give you at the hair salon. I had rolled the sleeves to elbow length, removed and retied the standard-issue belt before even know I was being fashion robot. Kill me now. Is not even my work. No excuses.

    Re defiantly ugly -- I think Jeanette is right there is often reverse snobbery in it. There can also be self-preservation. Cf the classic of the rich kid in clothes looking like they were thrown on with a pitchfork. Never works, though :)

    I love the defiantly ugly of a fabulous jolie-laide, though. It's rare to see someone who has the courage to be truly, wondrously ugly. It always ends up beautiful.

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  12. Very well said. Seems like a truly functional and comfortable bike would have to be aesthetically pleasing. The lines and quality construction needed to create that type of bike naturally also make the bike good looking. I'm a big fan of aesthetics when it comes to bikes, but like you I don't think that's an indulgence, but a necessity.

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  13. wonderful read!!! its funny just today before i read this, a friend of mine mentioned that my Electra Delivery 8D was an "old mans bike". i was kinda upset especially since i had given this person all my knowledge base on proper bike posture, what brands were better than others, what to look for, what you "need" and don't need.......he is the type of person that if i said i was getting a $1000.00 mtn bike he would go out and buy the $3000.00 bike without even riding it just to be seen as the guy who has the "awesome bike" i told him lets take a 20 mile ride, and see who's sore tomorrow and who's in unbelievable pain tomorrow. needless to say he declined.....it seems that his $3200.00 full suspension bike is "too awkward to ride on the streets" as he puts it......

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  14. As always, a very nice read. I found this little post very thought-provoking. Overall, I agree with the larger sentiment, but I've brought a little food-for-thought to this'ere picnic.

    Form and function can, at times, be at odds with one another. Many of the remarks above refer to deliberately "uglified" bikes that've been made-over to deter thieves. In the case of a commuter bike, too much aesthetic charm would be a functional flaw; some art-school drop-out is sure to steal your pretty city bike, and no commuter wants his/her ride stolen.

    As far as the cliche about beauty and the eye of the beholder, I had a roomie who bought himself a brand-new 'cross bike, with his bike shop employee discount, to try his luck racing. It was a jamis nova, from sometime around the turn of the century. It was blue and yellow. *Royal* blue and *canary* yellow. Not my idea of beautiful, but charming in a garish kinda way. He promptly painted it rattle-can silver, ostensibly to deter thieves, but he wasn't commuting on the thing (yet). He went with the low-buck paint job on a brand-new, mid-priced bike b/c it wasn't fashionable to be seen in phila on a new jamis with harlequin colors, leastways not 'round the turn of the century, among his crowd.

    I agree that, as a species, humans are producing and consuming too much terrible, janky stuff. But, I can see how a preoccupation with aesthetics might contribute to this problem. You can buy bargain-priced "dutch-style" bikes at freeking urban outfitters now. These bikes seem to be bound for the landfill in a short time, but some folks are buying them b/c they want the dutch-bike image without investing much $$, thought, or effort. I wonder how long we can expect creme-colored Electra-branded rubber to grace the rims of "fashionable" cyclists' rides?

    In short, I enjoy a nice-looking bike, which is probably why i visit the powder-coater so often. But, I find that my preferences for what looks nice tend to coincide with the bikes and components that have become cherished items via reliable service. Personally, I find the practical aspects of cycling to be the most attractive, whether we're talking about tangible hardware or abstract concepts.

    -rob

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  15. rob - Hey, I am an art school dropout. Are you calling me a thief? : )

    The point about too much aesthetic charm on a commuter bike being a functional flaw is valid, if the commuter lives in a high crime area and the bike looks not just charming but *expensive*. I would deal with that by commuting on a cosmetically ravaged vintage 3-speed and slapping a decrepit-looking (but oh so comfy!) vintage Brooks B72 on it. I think that machine would actually be less likely to get stolen than a $60 WMart bike.

    As for the lower priced imitation-Dutch bikes and imitation mixtes... I have been torn about this for a while. I do not support their existence and I think that most people would be happier with a properly restored vintage 3-speed with modern alloy-rimmed wheels. The cost in the end would be about the same. However, what about the people who can neither afford the well made high end bikes, nor have any vintage bikes available in their home town, yet they want to cycle and they want their bike to be beautiful? For this I have the "Budget Options" page, and do occasionally comment/post about budget bikes.

    However... The bigger problem still is that there is no longer all that great of a distinction between the way those "imitation/budget" bikes are made and the way some of the formerly handbuilt-in-Europe bikes are made. Since I started this blog, almost *half* of the manufacturers listed in the "Manufacturer Profiles" page have revealed that at least some of their frame production is now outsourced to China. What am I supposed to do with that information? Drop them from the list and ignore their reputation as quality bikes? Move them to the "budget" page, even though they cost over $1K retail?.. Write an outraged post about it and upset everyone who bought one of these nice bikes precisely because they thought they *were* made in Europe by hand and not in China? No idea : (

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  16. Portlandize -- Careful! Not all Soviet buildings were created equal. Despite the hate they get, many Soviet apartment blocks were very well designed, efficient, comfortable, surrounded with nice outdoor spaces.

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  17. Velouria - "European" bike companies seem to be relentlessly misrepresenting (lying about) their supply chains.

    I guess this happens for all types of consumer goods ("Made in Italy," anyone?), especially since most manufactures have evolved into marketing entities that often don't even design their own products anymore. It's sad how far brands have fallen.

    Remember how Clarks, Bostonian, Florsheim once made quality shoes? Well now they don't even *design* most of their shoes, instead sending out buyers with marketing degrees to order ready made shoes at trade shows.

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  18. Herzog - In the former USSR many modern apartment complexes were built around the courtyard system, with playgrounds, yards, and sometimes even small leafy parks. "The yard" was a popular cultural concept, referring to the communal yard one grew up around. Have you lived in the former Soviet Union?

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  19. Occasionally for short periods. I actually know quite a its architecture (for a non-expert). Anyway, I get a laugh out of how people in the former Soviet Union love to hate on apartment blocks (and dream about living in American style suburbs), yet in reality there is far more demand than supply for such flats, and new blocks are being constructed.

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  20. Did you notice how Gazelle tries to spin its hybrids with shock absorbers as "modern" reinterpretations of classic dutch bikes, when in fact they are based on generic Giant bikes that Gazelle sources for pennies from Asia?

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  21. Yes, seeing those bikes in early 2009 in DBC Somerville was what made me question Gazelle's claim of being made in Holland. Out of curiosity, I investigated and even spoke to their corporate office on the phone. Eventually I learned that they sold their European production facilities in (I think) 2007.

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  22. Herzog: I agree with you that the apartment block idea is not necessarily bad, and the areas around the apartment blocks also are sometimes quite nice, with parks and play equipment and whatnot - but it's a rare exception when the apartment building itself is pleasant to look at, at least in my experience.

    Velouria and Rob: regarding bikes made cheaply to look like Dutch bikes or whatever - this is part of why I remarked that to me, the quality of an object makes a noted effect on the aesthetic to me. Even though a step-thru Electra Amsterdam has a similar frame shape (at first glance) to the WorkCycles Zwan, to me, the Electra feels cheaper at first glance, and therefore changes the aesthetic appeal for me. There is something not really tangible between the two that just makes it seem obvious to me that the Electra uses cheap stuff (and they do, I've had one). I get the same feeling with pots and pans. A cheaper, thin, flimsy one, even if it looks similar to a nice one just feels different to me somehow, even without handling it.

    Regarding outsourcing frames and such, China and Taiwan do produce some very nice frames, and even if you don't like the idea of outsourcing, you can't deny that still some of the bikes built with these frames are very high quality bikes. Someone can always make the decision to buy from a local frame builder in order to get that quality without the outsourcing, but that bumps the price level up to an even higher price point than a WorkCycles, Gazelle, or Pashley or similar bike. It just depends what it's worth to a particular person, i guess.

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  23. this brings up the whole phenomenon of branding, and how branding has evolved over time. in the recent age of corporate conglomerates, the connection between a brand and a particular quality or character of product has been severed. it is no longer sufficient to choose a product simply by its name (dutch bikes being built by giant, jaguars and volvos being built by ford, etc...) and extra research needs to be done to know what you are getting.

    as for communist architecture, while i would agree that some of it was quite inspired and pleasing, most housing was strictly utilitarian (at least in czechoslovakia, where i lived, where they use the term "panelak" to describe the pre-formed concrete slab, uninspired housing blocks that were built between the 1950s-90s). however, the perspective of these buildings from a westerner can be very different from that of someone who grew up in the soviet era. the main distinction being that people who live in those buildings in former soviet bloc countries don't experience the social stigma attached to people who grow up in "projects" here in the US have (our austere, drab housing projects bear significant resemblance to soviet-bloc panelaks). for westerners, a housing "project" is inextricably associated with poverty and disenfranchisement; in former soviet-bloc countries, panelak living was (and largely still is) totally integrated, with all classes living in them. many of them now in the post-soviet era have become privatized, essentially condo-ized, and spruced up.

    i find it interesting that most east-europeans that i know who grew up in the soviet era and came to the US for a stint (grad school, post-doc, etc) gravitated toward the style of apartment complex that i would never consider living in. for them, a quaint, drafty victorian house with vintage charm would be the equivalent of ghetto living.

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  24. It might be worth noting that some of Brooks products are also manufactured in China. If you look at, say, their "D-Shaped Leather Tool Bag" (www.brooksengland.com) and scroll down to the "criticisms" section, you'll see an impassioned response from the staff about how they chose a manufacturer in China because the quality was BETTER than what they could find in Europe. These things are apparently so complicated...

    I truly appreciate the equal attention given to function, form, and aesthetics on this blog. I feel I'm becoming a significantly more informed and appreciative cyclist, which can only be a good thing!

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  25. A good bicycle will have great function and great aesthetics. It makes me laugh when i see people riding really badly made city bikes that are all about image and not about function.

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  26. Deborah--I am not sure when Brooks switched their bags to China but I have two of their bags on my Pashley and the dealer had to replace one (the larger one) for ripped stitching at the seatpost attachment point. The replacement felt even flimsier in some ways. I am at a loss because I really like the Brooks vinyl bags, they are padded and hold shape. They need to step up the quality control.

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  27. velouria, i wonder how you reconcile the stance you take in this post with the one you made long ago in the "vacuum cleaner" post, in which you stated:

    "A vacuum cleaner evokes associations with: order, work, domesticity, obligation, enclosed spaces, headache-inducing noise, and boredom. A bicycle evokes associations with: movement, freedom, independence, wind in your hair, the outdoors, and joy. It is only natural the the latter invites emotional connectedness and the former does not."

    i mentioned in that past (and still strongly maintain) that any appliance or tool is capable of evoking a positive emotional response. i used the example of my miele vacuum cleaner, which i think reaches a state of near perfection in terms of function and also design. it begins to look aesthetically pleasing to me because every aspect of its design follows a function, all of which simply *work*. when i see how the flow or air was designed to pass through the first, then the second, and finally the third filter, and when i see how the exit path for the filtered air is designed to flow upward and away from the floor (so as not to blow the dust bunnies on the floor all over the place before it sucks them up), and when i hear the clean, white-noise whine of a precision brushless electric motor, i can appreciate how the design elements all work in harmony to create a machine that simply works better than the rest. that is beauty to me. echoing portlandize's comment, the object becomes aesthetically pleasing to me as a result.

    it seems from your older post that objects generate emotional responses from you based on the type of activity associated with using them (domesticity, obligation, etc), not with how well they perform their function. by this token, it shouldn't matter how well or poorly an object performs, because the emotional response associated with the object is really associated with the activity surrounding the object.

    for me, the act of commuting by bike to work also is associated with negative things (obligation to work, deadlines, anxiety, boredom), yet i still enjoy a positive emotional response from the way my bike operates with its comfort and precision feel, as i'm on my way to the place that evokes those negative feelings. so for me, the emotional response of an object is more associated with how it interacts with me, rather than the type of activity associated with it.

    yet, in this post, you seem to be moving more in alignment with this notion.

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  28. A very simple, but heart-felt comment.

    I love the look of your custom mixte: I want one like that, just 'cos it's purty. I'd have no idea about all the parts you chose though.

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  29. MDI -- Bummer that. From the comments on the Brooks site it would appear you are not alone. I see they have an all-leather Glenbrook for a mere 400 Euros... sure hope it shows better workmanship!

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  30. a man who loves his vacuum cleaner! be still my beating heart....

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  31. @Anonymous: We have a Dyson (my parents bought it for us), but I usually prefer my straw broom, to be quite honest :) (so do our cats)

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  32. Yeah, no way I'd hang $1000 worth of luggage on my bike.

    Bags just barely make sense at $100 a pop, I think $50 would make me much happier especially knowing they are mass-produced in the far east. Of course I don't see Brooks lowering prices any time soon and their saddles sell for around $100-$120 so they are trying to keep it in line, I guess.

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  33. I have no issues with frames being made in china or taiwan. I ride a surly, taiwanese to the core, and it is very well made for being a $400 frameset. There are many taiwanese components i like, too. I think what gets me is how the bike "manufacturers" are misleading their customers.

    I used to work in a shop that sold, among other things, Bianchis. It drove me nuts to think that ppl were selecting the Bianchi Volpe over the Jamis Aurora for the stated reason that "the Bianchi is Italian". Now, I can think of other reasons to pick a Volpe over an Aurora, but Italian-ness isn't among them. To me, you take 2 taiwanese framesets, hang some shimano components on em, and the "country of origin" thing is a wash. A "Bianchi" decal doesn't make one more italian than the other. However, they're both nice bikes, for their intended purpose and at that pricepoint. The cliche thing to say about this sort of comparison: they're probably made at the same factory.

    I think I can dig far-eastern bikes when they're up-front about what they are. I can respect a Giant or a Flying Pigeon; it's tougher to generate enthusiasm for a new Masi or Schwinn. I don't dig the masquerade. And, of course, I don't enjoy the prospect of supporting a factory with unfair, irresponsible labor practices. But, it's just too durned hard, these days, to even know who you're buying your stuff from.

    -rob

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  34. Donald A. Norman's books _Emotional Design_ is based around this very subject. In fact, he contends that quality aesthetics actually improve the functionality of an object (or a person's ability to use the object), even if the aesthetics do not have a direct functional impact. It is worth a read. His earlier book, _The Design of Everyday Things_ is a better book and relevant across a range of disciplines.

    Cheers,
    Dan.
    (an omafiets rider in Chicago)

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  35. Great post! Lewis Sullivan said "form follows function." His protege Frank Lloyd Wright improved upon this when he stated "form and function are one." It is possible for a bicycle to resonate with your being. For me, it's the A. Homer Hilsen made by Rivendell Bicycle Works... amazing bike, amazing company... Again, thanks for a great post.

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  36. First time on site and getting taste of user comments. Happy to see a Boston blog. When I lived in Somerville many years ago I rode year around through Cambridge and Boston to my job near the Public Garden. At the time I needed a bicycle with function at the top of my list. It functioned well since it was sort of a beater and I could park it outside. Fast forward to Minneapolis summer of 2010 and I started to think about form. Although I graduated to a 'nice bike' many years ago I had a "beater bike' someone gave me and went to work chopping and flopping drop handlebars and made a modification that allowed micro hand positioning, multiple brake lever placement all with an upright riding position for quick urban travel. Check out blog, it's not why I ride a bike but how I roll.

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  37. While I appreciate the author's elegant statement regarding the three-pillars of her bicycle world view - function, comfort and aesthetics - is there not, in this awful world of ours, a tension between "functional" and "aesthetically pleasing." Functional means the bike can be used. Aesthetically pleasing means that it will be stolen, at which point it will no longer be functional, at least to its owner.

    As for the vacuum cleaner sub-thread, I know of no contemporary plastic, air sucking machine that can be loved, but consider the metal chassis classics: Electrolux and Kirby. I have three of the former and two of the latter, and they give me much pleasure, if I can put it that way.

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  38. I believe the problem is this:

    Functional/Beautiful/Cheap - Choose any two.

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  39. thanks for the article. I'm restoring an old Raleigh rsw (with some schwalbe big apples and an 8 speed sturmey they're very, very good for what they were designed for..) and after putting a brooks b17 on it just didn't feel right. the article jolted something in place, it's a semi sport saddle on a town bike, it needs something sprung, functionally and aesthetically.

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