Smart Thinking

Patterns and Anti Patterns – What we can learn from the design of cycles

Patterns and Anti Patterns. What we can learn from the ‘design history of cycles’ from the bone shaker to the safety bike.

Patterns becoming Anti Patterns and Anti Patterns becoming Patterns.

An illustration of Patterns and Anti Patterns using the ‘design history of cycles’:

1817 to 1819: the draisine or velocipede

Positives: basic concept established

Negatives: no pedals

Note: Foundational Pattern Established.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History

1860 Bone Shakers

Positives: Reduced weight, sleeker, more elegant designs, facilitated mass production.

Negatives: Rigid frame and iron banded wheels. Uncomfortable.

Note: Foundational Pattern extended – inclusion of pedals on front wheel

Photo credit: Wikipedia

1870’s The Penny Farthing

Positives: Fast, lighter frame (small rear wheel)

Negatives: Dangerous – easy to get thrown over the front wheel, with catastrophic consequences

Notes: A seemingly illogical design variation, but with speed and weight benefits. By modern standards this would undoubtedly be considered an Anti Pattern. Velocipede and Bone Shaker considered Anti Patterns in this design

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Bike!: A Tribute to the World’s Greatest Cycling Designers

1886 Coventry Rotary Quadracycle

Positives: Stability, balance, room for two

Negatives: elaborate construction, size

Notes: Arguably a useful derivation of an Anti Pattern (the Penny Farthing)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

1880’s and 1890’s – The Safety Bicycle

Positives: suspension, pneumatic tyres, enabler of female emancipation. Improved comfort and speed, as the drive was transferred to the non-steering rear wheel and allowed for smoother pedalling.

Negatives: Comparably few.

Notes: Gone the Penny Farthing Anti Pattern, return of many features of velocipede and bone shaker patterns.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

1001 Bikes: To Dream of Riding Before You Die

The basic design pattern of the Safety Bicycle has changed little in over a century.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Technological Context

Complex Information Systems do not always tend towards a ‘Safety Bicycle’ design. There are too many factors such as shifting dynamics, business models, technological advances and trends. Many Patterns become Anti Patterns (although it is not inevitable). In all of the examples above, the wheel (Pattern) is a constant. Patterns become Anti Patterns when a better solution is found, possibly due to new capabilities or insight. Patterns can falsely become Anti Patterns, as illustrated by the design deviation towards the Penny Farthing. The Penny Farthing Anti Pattern was soon recognised, due to serious safety concerns.

In legacy transformation, it is impossible to convert the Penny Farthing into a mountain bike. Penny Farthing conversion Anti Patterns are however regularly attempted in application and infrastructure modernisation.

The Hype Cycle

To continue the metaphor, the Hype Cycle fuels Pattern / Anti Pattern misclassification. The ‘latest and greatest’ might well be the enduring Pattern (the Safety Bicycle). In some cases however it could also be a Penny Farthing, nice to look at, but with few practical or enduring qualities.

Further Reading on Bike Design

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.