Five or six years ago while looking through a book of classic bent plywood chair designs, I sketched out a bike frame inspired by the work of Charles and Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto, and others. I had seen many plywood bike frames in the past, but none of them took advantage of the flexibility that is inherent in the forming process. They all used the material with the lamination oriented vertically (perpendicular to the ground). My idea was to eliminate the seat tube, and allow the two horizontally positioned pieces of laminated plywood to flex slightly and provide a bit of built in suspension.
There were a few issues to overcome with this design, so I never really proceeded past the concept stage. In February of 2008, I posted a page of my sketches here at Bicycle Design, and soon after that I did the quick Photoshop sideview rendering that you see here. That was it though…I haven’t really thought about the idea much since that time.
Imagine my surprise when I clicked a link on Designboom that was forwarded to me by a reader the other day. The Bonobo bent plywood bike, by Polish designer Stanisław Płoski, looks very similar to the bent ply concept bike that I posted a few years ago. At first glance, I felt like someone had just a made a prototype from those old sketches of mine. Of course, it could just be coincidence that the designs are very similar. That happens sometimes…especially when an idea is pretty basic like this one. Ploski’s design may very well have been inspired by the same classic furniture designs that prompted mine. Some of the details seem pretty similar though, so I wonder if perhaps he saw my old 2008 post before developing his Bonobo concept. Check out the two concepts together in the image below. I flipped the sideview image of the Bonobo bike so that both are oriented in the same direction. I can’t say for sure that my design “inspired” his, but there is no doubt that the basic idea is the same. I am a bit biased though, so I am curious what you all think. Could the Bonobo concept be based on my old sketches, or do you think it was just a similar design that was developed independently?
Update: Thanks to Julius for pointing me toward the blog for a video series called Everything is a Remix. It’s worth checking out for anyone who works in design, engineering, or any creative field. One of the quotes that stood out to me is; “We’re all building with the same materials. And sometimes by coincidence we get similar results, but sometimes innovations just seem inevitable.”
Regardless of whether Ploski saw my old sketches or not, I am glad to see the prototype of his design. Even though I never developed it beyond the drawing stage, I do think it is an idea worth pursuing.