Quick. Draw a bike. Don’t look at one first, just draw one. Done? Okay, now step back and look at your bike. It’s total garbage, isn’t it? It’s not just you. Turns out that basically no human being on the planet can accurately draw a bicycle. At least, that’s what the non-scientific evidence of Italian designer Gianluca Gimini suggests.
For years, as part of his Velocipedia project, Gimini has been asking friends, acquaintances, and random strangers to draw a bike. Then he uses the drawings as blueprints for some truly comedic 3-D mockups. They hilariously emphasize just how poor our basic understanding of simple mechanics really is.
Gimini, who has collected hundreds of bike drawings, says people tend to get the same things wrong every time. They’ll get the general shape of a bike right–two wheels, some handlebars, a pair of pedals, and a crossbeam–but they usually whiff on the chain and gear assembly, the part of the bike that, you know, actually makes it work. “Some people attach the chain to the front wheel, or stretch it between the front and rear wheels,” he says.
Another common issue is that people tend to draw parts of the frame attached to the hub of the front wheel, making the bike they’re drawing unsteerable. This is the sort of mistake that might not be obvious when making a 2-D drawing, but which people can see right away when it’s turned into a 3-D model.
The Velocipedia project started in 2009, when Gimini was reminiscing to a friend about a kid he knew in school who was asked by his teacher how a bike worked. “The poor kid panicked,” Gimini remembers. “He couldn’t even remember if the driving wheel was the front or the rear one.” Gimini’s friend laughed at the story, disbelieving that anyone who had ridden bikes could be ignorant of how they work. So Gimini challenged him to draw one on a napkin. Like Gimini’s old school chum, his friend spectacularly failed. “That was when I collected bike drawings.”
Since then, Gimini has collected 376 bike drawings, mostly from friends but also from strangers as part of events like the Venice Biennale and Milan Design Week. He estimates that only about one out of four people can draw a bike that would actually be rideable on the first try. Although everyone is asked to draw a standard men’s bicycle, Gimini observes that men and women tend to focus on different details. “Drawings by women are richer in mudguards, bells, and lights, while male subjects tend to over-complicate the frame,” he says, while also noting: “I am perfectly aware that 376 drawings isn’t a significant statistical sample size.”
So why can’t people draw bikes? Gimini says he still doesn’t know. “Anyone can spot the mistakes on other people’s bicycles, but when asked to draw one, subjects usually end up making the exact same errors,” he says. “It’s like our brains shut down in panic.”