Sunday, May 31, 2009

Plastic bike

First Launched in 1981, the Itera plastic bicycle was feted as the future of cycling by it's creators, the volvo car company.

Rather than make the bike out of welded metal tubes, as manufacturers had been doing for about a hundred years, they decided to make their bike entirely from injection molded plastics. They used a variety of strong and durable plastics that had already been developed for use in cars, so they didn't have to do a whole lot of research work to get the project started. The swedish government liked the idea, and gave the company a big grant to get the venture going.

It has been estimated that around 30,000 were made but by the time the factory closed in 1985, only a small proportion of them had actually sold. It achieved a small measure of success in its native Sweden, but was greeted with horror everywhere else. This failure was put down to people being unwilling to adapt to new technology, to poor marketing, and to concerns about the bikes creaking all the time.

What its supporters seemed to have completely failed to take into account, however, is the possibility that the itera bike failed, not because the public weren't ready for its innovative construction, but because it was quite possibly the ugliest thing anyone had ever seen. And this was in the 1980s, remember, a time when people had been forced to acclimatise to much more pervasive and grevious muntiness than anything you might see today.

Even if you disregard the paint-job, which was sadly fairly fashionable at the time (the hall of the house I grew up in was painted a similar combination of brown, orange, and beige by the previous owners) it still looks like a incorrectly molded piece of outdoor plumbing from the soviet union.

Interestingly, while they were a failure in Europe. The warehouses full of leftover bikes were shipped to the Caribbean and sold for a knock-down price. Over there people weren't so picky about looks, apparently, and the idea of a bike that didn't rust away in the tropical humidity had widespread appeal.