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Soft-Ride Bike Has Steel Tires, And You Can Ride It Now

For W Hotels' "WOW Bikes," Ron Arad designs a bespoke bicycle that reimagines the wheel using nothing but curved sprung steel. And anyone who stays at the hotel can ride it.

Twenty-five years after his Well-Tempered Chair, Ron Arad has used a similar process—in which the naturally sprung properties of tempered steel, bolted in tension, gives a natural yield or "softness"—to build a bike with wheels made of sprung steel.

To account for the added flexibility in the materials, Arad’s sprung wheels of steel are in fact a little bit larger than the average bike wheel, says Marcus Hearst, director of the design department at Arad’s studio. But it’s this yield that gives the wheels a slight cushion and makes the wheels work in a practical way. Hearst said it’s a surprisingly comfortable ride, and, ironically, the faster you go, the smoother it is.

The wheel uses 18 individual strips of steel that are pinned at various tension points to act together as one single unit. "We’ve actually done very little with the material," Hearst tells Co.Design. "When you bend that steel, the way you pin it, you create natural curves. It’s almost like a flower." The adjacent "spokes" create an additional shape that your eye naturally wants to fill in.

The bike was put together in two weeks, from start to finish, which left no time for testing. "The ultimate surprise was that it worked the first time," Hearst says. Sprung steel, in particular, has a bewildering array of choices, based on the tempering or mixes, because the process to give the steel more or less "spring" is notoriously difficult to gauge without testing. And, of course, there was some initial skepticism from the manufacturer. "They laughed at us when we told them what it was for," Hearst chuckles.

Until October 29, the bike is available for guests of the W Hotel in Leicester Square to ride around the city. And as part of a fundraiser for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the bike is up for auction, along with other bikes custom designed by the likes of singer Paloma Faith, illustrator Natasha Law, fashion designers Patrick Cox and Alice Temperley, and artist Benedict Radcliffe.