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Friday, 8 February 2008


I don't think that I could ever be a dedicated follower of fashion in a clothing sense, and I rarely take an interest in lifestyle advice programmes or magazines, which sometimes makes me think that I'm not much swayed by appearances. However, this is completely cast aside any time that I find an elegant, innovative industrial or mechanical design.

Some time ago, I was looking at the fascinating Gorey Details, hoping to find some unusual Christmas presents, when I came across a beautiful postcard, and just had to buy it. It was a photograph of the Spacelander electric bicycle, taken from an exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. I knew nothing about the bicycle itself, and assumed that it was probably a single model built as a prototype, never going into production.

Then, this week, an old photograph from the wonderful Modern Mechanix was reproduced on several blogs, and I felt sure that this was the same lovely bike as my postcard. Sure enough, it is. I hope my reproducing the image here counts as "fair use", as I've struggled to find out who owns the copyright. The postcard is printed by

This prompted me to find out more about the Spacelander, which I was able to do thanks to the fantastic research compiled by Leon Dixon, whose website, The National Bicycle History Archive of America, is an amazing resource that will delight all enthusiasts. Thanks to Dixon's research, I was able to find out that, far from being only a prototype, the Spacelander was manufactured and sold, although only 522 were ever produced. This figure he counted up from the manufacturer's original shipping lists, which he still owns.

The designer himself, Benjamin Bowden, was born in London in 1906, and died just a decade ago in Forth Worth, Florida. The New York Times carried his obituary. He designed for the British sports car company, Healey, and later moved to Ontario where he had a hand in improving the performance of the Ford Thunderbird. The Spacelander is the most beautiful bike I have ever seen, and I am surprised that the creator of such a perfect marriage of form and function is not more famous. If these were in production today, I would most certainly buy one, and I doubt that I'm alone in that. Like all iconic designs, it is ageless, and looks as futuristic now as it did in 1946.

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