BASF reinvents the penny-farthing with high-tech plastics and e-drive
By C.C. Weiss
October 28, 2013
"What would the first pedal cycle have looked like if its 19th-century pioneers had enjoyed access to today's advanced materials?" That's the question German chemical and plastics company BASF seeks to answer with the Concept 1865 bicycle, which updates a 19th century penny-farthing bicycle design with a near full-plastic build and an electric motor.
BASF explains that 1865 was its founding year and the time period that pedals were added to Karl Drais' Dandy Horse wooden bicycle that paved the way for bikes such as the penny-farthing. The company enlisted the help of design studio DING3000 and others to find out what a bike from that era would have looked like if materials and technology were updated to 2013 levels. It was designed under the slogan "Rethinking Materials," in which BASF urges customers to think of new applications for its plastics.
The Concept 1865 maintains the dimensions and chain-free, wheel-pedal drivetrain of early bicycles. The actual construction within those dimensions is completely modernized, however, and BASF is confident that the latest plastics can effectively replace metals and other traditional materials, even in components that take on great impact and stress. In fact, the only metal on the bike is in the motor, axles and brake hardware.
No simple plastic model, the 1865 contains two dozen BASF plastics, foams, epoxy resins and polyurethanes. BASF picked each material out of its catalog based upon its ability to provide the necessary properties for the specific component.
The forked frame is built from carbon fiber made with BASF's Baxxodur epoxy resin, which it claims provides superior mechanical strength. The blue saddle that juts out of that steeply angled frame looks like a sort of torture device, but BASF cushions the rider with a layer of Elastoflex W foam, commonly used in furniture and vehicle seating. A suspension spring made from vibration-absorbing Cellasto, a microcellular polyurethane, is wedged between the frame and lower seat, further smoothing out the ride.
The front fork, stem and handlebar unit is an Elastolit R-polyurethane carbon fiber shell stuffed with Kerdyn and Elastolit D foams, which serve to absorb vibrations and dissipate forces. The fork includes an inlaid, horseshoe-shaped set of LED lights that BASF says puts out a diffuse, uniform light field.
The 39-inch front wheel uses the new Ultracom thermoplastic construction, which BASF introduced in June. BASF says this material offers high mechanical strength, rigidity and thermal stability. Mounted at the wheel's center is a set of plastic cranks and pedals. The cranks' Ultramid D HMG mix is glass fiber-heavy, giving it the rigidity necessary to hold up to the stresses of rider weight and force. The Ultrason KR 4113 plastic's sliding friction and dimensional stability make it possible for a ball bearing-free set of pedals.
Moving to the back, the 24-inch rear rim is built from Ultramid Structure thermoplastic that uses long glass fibers. BASF sees thermoplastic as a functional wheel alternative to metal, offering energy absorption, low weight and durability without the tuning inherent in a traditional spoked wheel. The tires that wrap both that rim and the front one use a dual-layer, maintenance-free construction. The white Infinergy expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (E-TPU) foam core gives the tire a durable, elastic base, while the blue Elastollan TPU outer layer gives it a smooth-rolling, abrasion-resistant surface. The Infinergy foam was introduced earlier this year and has been used by Adidas in its Energy Boost shoes.
The rear brake disc is built from carbon fiber made with Ultrason polymer, a composite construction used in aircraft. BASF says the material can withstand high temperatures up to 392° F (200° C), making it suitable for braking. The rear fork has an LED taillight system similar in form to the one up front.
Because its mission is to highlight its own materials, BASF does not detail the Concept 1865's specific motor or battery, focusing entirely on the layout and housing materials of the e-drive system. The blue plastic cover on top of the rear-axle motor protects it from water, dirt and debris. The battery is contained within the seat, which features an outer shell of Ultradur polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), delivering weather-resistant, electrically insulating protection. Inside, a polypropylene cradle protects the battery from impacts and vibrations. The seat can be removed from the frame for battery charging and snaps back into place on the frame when ready.
The Concept 1865 is a rideable design, but since it was developed as a one-off materials showcase, you're unlikely to see it riding around outside of the company's gates.
We didn't exhaust every copyrighted/trademarked material used on the bike, so if you're interested in seeing an overview of all 24, check out the informational brochure in the source link. To see it in action, check out the following video.
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