Saturday, March 19, 2011

Evolution, revolution and mechanical assembly

When I started this blog I rather ambitiously likened myself as a bike builder to the blind watchmaker of Dawkin's fame. As if I can compete either with evolutionary forces or God, depending on what you believe! But then there are some serious points that can be considered from the whole process of building a bike and the creative process.

Initially, I think you need to decide if the process of life is creative or mechanical assembly. The bike building that I have just completed is essentially a mechanical assembly. You could argue that there was some creativity in determining the paint, and dealing with some of the potential problems. In reality though most of the choices were predetermined by the shape of the machine. However, in my mind whilst working there were creative processes working. I am thinking about frame geometry and sizes, wheel bases, tyres and the like. Now I am not a natural engineer and so this creative thinking is unlikely to result in a bike, but creative it is.

Think about all those bike designers who think about and have developed the geometry of the bicycle from the simple wooden horse, through the Penny farthing, and on to the modern bicycle forms we see today. Two hundred years of development and evolution. I find it all quite amazing that anyone would think of these changes to make a better machine. Then again perhaps necessity was the mother of invention. I can of course conceive that an individual would perhaps add a round "wheel" or find the addition of a pneumatic tyre beneficial. But you are left wondering how long things would take if it was left to a random stop/start process. The timescales are immense and the processes required to meet each stage complex. Understandable that we should seek a concept that describes what happens according to our own social understanding. The scientific method (often forgotten) is to formulate a hypothesis based on available evidence and to test hypothesis to destruction. So in reality all scientists are actually uncertain if any of the theories by which we build stuff and do things really works.

What about building a bike you say. Well I hardly did the work in a vacuum of knowledge. I have had a bike since I was 7 years old. So although perhaps not the most engineering of brains has managed to absorb one or two things in the intervening years. Then there are books, manufacturer's booklets and the Internet as a sources of information. Which, despite my best efforts I couldn't totally ignore. A good thing too, or I would still be trying to build the damn thing right now. My bank balance would be a lot emptier than it is now, and my shed would be full of components that did not fit. An excess of brake bosses is enough thank you very much. How long then for a blind bike builder to produce a modern bike from nothing?

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