BASF reinvents the penny-farthing with high-tech plastics and e-drive


October 28, 2013

The Concept 1865 uses a 39-inch front wheel and 24-inch rear wheel

The Concept 1865 uses a 39-inch front wheel and 24-inch rear wheel

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"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.

Source: BASF

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

No freewheel Fail

Leonard Foster

Not for sale eh? Pity.


I want one!


I like how cool and retro it is. I think they did a great job in designing and making it. Perhaps it might inspire a company to make them?


Wonder if the relocated seat, which is further back and further down than an original penny farthing is enough to correct the tendency to fire it's rider over the handlebars in the event of a sudden stop or pothole?


On the whole I applaud BASF for this marketing focused design effort but the actual bike is just as unsafe as the original pennyfarthing. When, Not IF, the bike stumbles the rider becomes a ballistic projectile. The higher you are from the ground the harder you fall and the more stuff you get to hit on the way to the ground. They should redo this design study with a conventional form factor, i.e., the original English Safety Bicycle. Also they should team up with at least one, but preferably several actual bike makers to produce an innovative design that actually can be manufactured at an affordable price. Entertaining toys like this are a waste of materials and time. The point should be to introduce innovations that actually aid society. Additionally, focus on making stuff in places where it will sell. Not to fault the Chinese, but we cannot have a modern stable society if pretty much everything is made by offshore serfs.


Somebody is missing the boat here. I would have ordered one of those immediately, but it's not for sale. Guess I keep my money for now.


It's called a "penny-farthing" because the back tire is small like a penny, and the front tire is big like a farthing. My 10 year old boy told me that, I didn't realize he had even heard of old bikes like that!


Plastic crap, and is nothing like the original.

Darin Selby

can't wait to see some stunts. pop a mono...


What a shame. I was ready to by one, thinking about its uniqueness and the wheelies.


Finally an e-bike that is cool, I might have to change my views!


Oh for the love of God, stop revisiting obsolete technology! The penny farthing went the way of the dinosaurs because of some very fundamental flaws in design--not because of inadequate access to materials. Reinterpreting the penny farthing in fancy schmancy carbon fiber composites is putting lipstick on the proverbial pig. It's still a pig--and a very expensive one at that. To be fair, the appeal to the "hey look at me, I didn't get enough attention in high school, but now I'm a ultra-ironic hipster urban commuter" crowd probably shouldn't be ignored. For those I say, your're not as cool as you imagine go full retro and commute on a carbon fiber oxen cart powered by a robotic ox.



You have it the other way around, the farthing, or "quarter penny" is represented by the small wheel, and the penny is the large one.

On another note: The front wheel seems much smaller than the old ~50 inch front wheels they used to mount, although I don't see a mounting block. They also seemed to mitigate the chances of a header by moving the weight more towards the rear with the seat style.


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