It all started in a bar – generally a great place to start a story. Together with a friend, Gianluca Gimini was reminiscing about their schooldays when he remembered a scene from a high school science lesson: «One of our classmates was being grilled by the teacher. He wasn’t holding up too well and close to tears.»
The teacher’s well-meant suggestion that he should, instead, describe his own bike did not make things better – on the contrary: «The poor guy panicked and couldn’t even remember whether it was powered by the front or back wheel.» This blast from the past brought plenty of laughs to that bar in Bologna back in 2009. Gimini’s friend was of the opinion that anybody who has ever sat on a bike would surely know what a bike looks like. He couldn’t have been more wrong. «He tried drawing one on a napkin and failed completely», Gimini remembers. That was the day he started collecting these drawings.
Armed with pen and paper, he went on to astonish friends and strangers alike with one simple task: To roughly draw a man’s bicycle from memory. A small idea soon turned into a big project. Alongside a few mechanically correct sketches, he mainly collected a cabinet of curiosities that fascinated him more and more. His test persons would get side-tracked and the tiny task was turned into a huge social study with participants aged three to 88. After seven years of collecting, Gianluca Gimini set himself the task to expose the hidden beauty of these sketches. Project Velocipedia was born.
No matter how weird or incorrect the drawings were, Gianluca Gimini discovered something unique in them. An abundance of ideas no single designer could ever come up with. After deciding to bring out the hidden potential with the help of a computer, he worked on each bicycle for an average of 14 hours – step by step transforming a hasty sketch into a work of art that was both confusing and fascinating. Take a look at the process in fast forward here. The designs are stylish and harmonious even though the majority of the bikes are completely dysfunctional.
The models would collapse or not be steerable. They’re simply not fit to ever roll down a street. But they’re different and they’re beautiful. A beauty that would probably have gone unnoticed by all of the hopeless illustrators of the sketches. Gimini has made it visible, thereby not only giving them a new perspective on things.
«They agreed that their inventions contained a lot of beauty – hidden in the drawings yet visible in the final designs.»
Alongside the drawings, Gianluca Gimini also collected interesting insights. Men tended to overcomplicate things and make things worse whenever they were at a loss with the frame construction. Women liked to connect the chain with the front wheel or even both wheels. In fact, they were responsible for 90% of this mechanical sin. «My collection does mean that people actually believe the chain is attached to the front wheel or both wheels», Gimini says. He explains that many people go into panic mode and do things in spite of knowing they’re incorrect.
«I never want to be on a quiz show now that I know this.»
The age, sex and personal bike history of the test persons turned out to be irrelevant: «I collected many non-functional designs from people who use their bike on a daily basis», Gimini adds. The only thing that helps to understand bicycle anatomy is to carry out repairs with your own hands. Otherwise, it seems that your brain just doesn’t care about what your body is using as a mode of transport. This would surely be different if mechanics and physics were to cooperate and you were actually using one of Gianluca Gimini’s models. The designs are wacky and turn heads. The artist hopes to someday see them in a museum: «That would be amazing. And I’m working on it!»
Designer Gianluca Gimini lives in Bologna and teaches product design at the University of Ferrara. Discover more of his designs here. He enjoys cycling and owns four bicycles – one of them is an 80-year old model of which he says: «It doesn't require any maintenance and is probably the best-constructed bike I’ve ever seen.»
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