The other day Tom called me from our Veemarkt shop to ask about paying the import duty for a mysterious package. It was a tube marked from “The Bird Machine” and clearly addressed to Workcycles. I also knew nothing about it so I asked Tom to have the TNT hold it until we could figure out what it was. A quick search found the website of, no great surprise… The Bird Machine. And right there on the home page was the above poster (called “Portable”) of a bakfiets with a tree in the bak. OK, we might not know anything about it but it’s clearly intended for us, and it’s most probably not a letter bomb or anthrax from a Bullitt or Metrofiet owner still angry about Josh’s Guest Post or some of the 154 following comments.
Anyhow, with the tube now in our possession we opened it up and found indeed a half dozen beautifully hand printed posters as seen above. One’s going up in my office, another in the Veemarkt shop and I’m not sure where the others will go. It would seem rather wrong to sell what’s basically a gift so probably they’ll get through-gifted, perhaps as lottery prizes in our famous annual Oktoberfietsfeest (which we sadly just didn’t have time for in 2010). So if you want a “Portable” you’ll just have to come to our party and cross your fingers for good luck, or go to The Bird Machine’s website and pay twenty buck for one. In the meantime, thank you very much Bird Machine for your cool posters!
Do you also have something cool and Workcycles related you’d like to see featured on this illustrious blog? Well, then by all means send us some of them for free! Please, though, low-ball the stated value so we don’t go broke paying the import duties on the flood of incoming goods!
And why on earth did Bird Machine send us these posters? My guess is that it’s a recognition of the image that inspired the design, or at least provided the basic template. See my photo below:
Oh what a better world it would be if everybody were so honest and forthright about the things that inspire them. Here though is a classic example of how NOT to do it. Supposed do-gooder company Baisikeli in Copenhagen purchased a number of Workcycles Fr8′s, promising to distribute them in Scandinavia. Several months later, with no explanation or discussion they stopped ordering bikes. A few months further we found that Baisikeli was representing our Fr8 as their own design. To add insult to injury they began producing a (very crudely made) copy of our pride and joy. The unique geometry, structural elements and essential features of their copy are all directly lifted from the Fr8 to the millimeter. About a dozen mostly cosmetic elements were changed to dodge intellectual property protections, and indeed they’ll probably be successful in this regard.
It’s frustrating but also unfortunately just something to be accepted about doing business. Do something well and others will be inspired. That inspiration can be taken in many directions, most of them perfectly ethical. The Bird Machine included a little “apology to bakfiets-en-meer” (and to CETMA Cargo as well) but it was totally unnecessary. For the record I think it’s just great that a silly photo I took prompted him (I think it’s a “him” based on their bio) to create a poster loosely based on it. Similarly I’m frequently inspired by technical and aesthetic elements I see in other products, occasionally but usually not bikes. The monotube frame of the Fr8 probably has its roots in the 1960′s Moulton suspension bikes; I wasn’t thinking of that bike when I drew the first Fr8 plans, but I certainly knew of and admired it. The connection only occurred to me while unpacking the Series 1 Moulton I bought last year. On the other hand the Adaptive Seat Tube geometry (seat tube angle and top tube length follow median biomechanical ideals) is purely my own conception. Without a shadow of a doubt others have considered it, probably sketched it, maybe even made such a bike… but in my 30+ years around the bike industry I’ve never seen or heard of it before.
We’ve come to expect that good ideas and products will be copied, sometimes quite effectively and sometimes laughably. Amongst soulless corporations it seems to be standard practice. But Baisikeli’s entire business model (or perhaps just their marketing?) is centered around ethical practices. The bikes (the Fr8 copy they call “Chimoio” that is) are apparently leased to companies for three years with the pitch that they’ll be sent to Africa afterwards. But how can one trust a firm that claims to be philanthropic with one hand while ripping off their colleagues with the other hand?
Meanwhile Mike Flanigan of A.N.T. in the US took the honest, and perhaps more practical route. He simply licenses the use of the Adaptive Seat Tube in some of his beautifully crafted bikes. Mind you, I’m realistic about the monetary value of such an innovation to other bike companies; If we ask too much others will simply alter it enough to evade its protection, confusing people in the process. So we essentially keep the costs low enough to make it a no-brainer: For a modest sum we can share knowledge and perhaps enjoy some marketing symbiosis, or we can save a few euros and fight about it. The same would have been true for Baisikeli, perhaps even more so given their supposed philanthropic goals… but they never asked.
One last thought: The Bakfiets Cargobike with skinny tree above was apparently inspired by a considerably more robust project we’d done a couple years earlier: