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Motorbikes, Bicycles and Buggies: The Essence of Engineering

The bicycle, the most efficient form of human propulsion and largely unchanged since it first appeared in the modern form around 1885, was one of the most common entries to our contest. The iconic Maclaren buggy wins a place in the listings for its great merits of simplicity and eminent fitness for purpose

Brough Superior motorcycle

During its production years (1920-1940) the Brough Superior was the Rolls-Royce of the motorcycling world. The simple and visible layout of the engine components, with gearbox, carburettor, exhaust and pushrod casings all on show, provides a clear understanding of how the engine works.Each component is beautifully designed and manufactured. Such is the graphic simplicity of this composition that one is reminded of the exposed structure and services of buildings from the Hi-tech era. The combination of mechanical sounds that can be heard once the Brough is fired up, suchasintake and exhaust roar and the clattering operation of the rocker arms and valve springs, emphasises that this is something almost alive - the very essence of engineering?

Jonathan Wilson


The bicycle is one of mankind’s greatest inventions and the most popular form of transport ever invented. Its performance is extraordinary; it is the most efficient self-powered transportation available with, up to 99 per cent of the energy delivered by the rider transmitted to the wheels. The engineering parameters required by the bicycle are exacting. It must be lightweight - racing bikes now weigh less than 6kg - it must be compliant in the vertical plane for rider comfort and stiff in the horizontal plane to resist the pedal forces. The typical diamond frame of a bike has a purity of design rarely encountered in any other machine. If engineering is defined as: ‘the application of science and mathematics by which the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people’, then the bicycle is certainly relevant. More than 100 million bicycles are produced worldwide every year and in theright hands (or legs!) it has a top speed of 82mph or can carry half a tonne of vegetables to market - all with zero emissions. It is one of the few machines where the biodynamics of the human form so closely meshes with a piece of engineering.

Andrew Weston & James Harrison
Weston Williamson & Atkins Global (Respectivley)

The Maclaren buggy

Why be so macho about the Essence of Engineering? Here’s my nomination - a superb and revolutionary design by Owen Maclaren, who was a former aeronautical engineer. Designed and patented in 1965 and put into production in his converted stables in 1967, it is superb not because it is beautiful (it isn’t), but because its brilliant engineering means it excels at what it does. What does it do? Holds and protects and transports a baby, carries shopping, luggage, and then folds into a stick when not in use, so it can hang on a hook or stow in a corner of a car, or on a railway luggage rack. At 3kg it weighs practically nothing. Why do today’s parents seem to prefer Chelsea Tractor-type buggies?

Robert Sakula
Ash Sakula Architects

Cycloc bike storage

It’s not a building or structure, but I nominate a recent product - the Cycloc. Its lightweight and neatly solves a problem by using the weight of thebicycle: Simple, elegant, efficient.

Jackson Hunt
The Building Centre

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