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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.

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  • Guest

    Pretty, but obviously not that useful. Above a certain speed cornering is done by leaning the bike over. Not only does steel on asphault not grip well, since the bottom edge is perfectly flat, you'd end up riding on the corner of the "rim", probably slipping right out.

    Furthermore, regular bike tires produce a rounded front profile to puddles, pushing water to the sides of the tire. This is why tread on bike tires are so narrow, they only serve as an indicator of tire wear and to calm customers who are used to tread on tires being normal (note: This only applies to road tires. Off road riding is different). While the individual "pedals" of the wheel might slap water out of the way, I'd hate to see what happens to a bike that hydroplanes on cities streets. 

    Very pretty though.

  • Douglasdavis

    My name is Doug Davis, I love bikes. Email me so we can talk about bikes:

  • smarterkitty

    I love it! The only improvement I would suggest is to update the overall look of the bicycle frame, incorporating similar design curves. It is a bit of a mismatch right now with hard angles vs. curves.

  • Hector2553

    I think it would be perfect for Cuba. My mom just sent four tires and it cost
    $120.00 to send them on top of the $ 68.00 for the tires.

  • mwxl

    I agree very strongly with the previous post and disagree very strongly with the next-to-previous. Why so stodgy and unconstructive, people?

    Any idea how to put a tyre or a rim on this? Put a groove into the circumference of the wheel and put an elastic rubber band into it?

  • A.Jerk.

    As an art piece, it's lovely. As an engineering marvel, it has a few problems that I don't even need to describe. 

    Honestly, though, of all the vapid "I designed a bicycle" projects I've seen in the span of the last five or so years, I actually LIKE this one. Why? Maybe because it's an actual, rideable work, rather than someone's "concept" rendered with a hole where the spokes should be. There are far too many people out there who want to be Syd Mead, and the internet is burgeoning with far too many images that lack any correspondence to physics, or heaven forbid, that place we all love to avoid called the Real World.Industrial Design needs to do some growing up. This might be a step in the right direction...

  • Trimtab Dave

    Along with the burrito, the bicycle wheel is one of the most elegant fusions of form and function that I can think of. This project seems to mock the whole idea of fusing function and aesthetics. This is seriously the kind of project that makes our profession a joke.

  • Ericko Larez

    Seems very interesting.. Completely "outside of the box." I wonder how this would hold up. Can't judge by looks, we can only judge by it's actual performance.

  • YubYub

      ZOMG THE INTERNETZ IS SRS BIZNIZZZZZZZ. Relax. It's an opinion for a reason. Everyone is entitled to it. Personally, I think its an interesting design but it has its obvious flaws, such as traction, structural integrity, and ultimately ride quality as you translate your contact point from one steel arm to another. Cool idea in theory but I'm sure it could become a practical application if altered to be more energy and weight efficient. 

  • Dean Smith

    Looks to me like most of the energy expended in riding would go into flexing the spokes.  Not very efficient, but this a good 'outside the box' thinking.

  • John Michaels

    I think this is awesome. Sure it's not perfect but there will beo n punctures or pinch flats! I'd love to ride it. GREAT design idea. Whimsy for whimsy's sake.
    And @Jeff Kunkler, it's damping, not dampening.

  • Ashanda

    Very pretty and a nice art project, but not an improvement in design. The major problem I see is not handling and braking, those can be addressed by treating the wheels' perimeters and by hub brakes. No, the major problem is METAL FATIGUE. A bicycle wheel can rotate many thousand times even during a short ride, improperly tensioned spokes in a regular wheel will snap from the repeated bending load. These wheels bend significantly as part of their design, and the attachment points are stress concentrators. I would foresee one of those attachment points failing catastrophically after a relatively short period of use. And unlike a standard wheel which simply goes out of true when even multiple spokes break, these wheels are likely to lose integrity when they fail, putting the rider at significant risk of injury.

  • Lasi mani

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  • BillCozbi

    what an interesting way to re-invent the wheel, as it were. sure, this prototype is impractical but the concept could have some very practical applications.