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Creation of influential British designer; only 522 were ever made

Fancy owning an extraordinary piece of cycling history? This amazing-looking machine is a 1960 Ben Bowden Spacelander and if you can’t live without it, it’ll set you back a cool $42,000 (£27,000) from eBay seller Bike Blue Classic USA.

Benjamin Bowden was the car designer and engineer responsible for the Healey 2.4, the first post-WWII 100mph production car, but like Mini suspension designer Alex Moulton after him, he was fascinated by the idea of improving the bike.

In 1946 he showed his Bicycle of the Future  at the Britain Can Make It exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, to public acclaim and amazement.

His patent said he had just intended to "provide improvement of aesthetic and practical character" of the bike, but many features of the bike that became the Spacelander were radical departures for the time.

The frame was made from two steel clamshell halves welded together into a monocoque and the front fork and mudguard was all one piece. The prototype had a shaft drive, a suspension fork, and batteries inside the frame powered lights, a horn, and a built-in radio.

It was far too radical for the deeply conservative British bike industry of the day. Bowden moved to the US to seek backing for the bike and over a decade later, in 1960, the production Spacelander was built in Michigan with a fibreglass frame and more conventional chain drive.

By then its swoopy lines, harking back to the streamlining and tail fins of 1940s and ‘50s American cars looked distinctly dated, and only 522 were made before the company went bust.

Ben Bowden continued to work as a designer until he retired from coordinating designs for military tanks at General Dynamics in 1986 aged 79. He never really recovered from the failure of the Spacelander, even though he could take heart from the widespread use of pressed steel construction in scooters and mopeds that the Spacelander inspired. He died in 1998.

According to the ad, this Spacelander is: “A marvel of mid-century post war aerospace design, this bicycle is a must-have for any collector.”

We’ll have a modern replica in carbon fibre please. Baby blue, of course.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

5 comments

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wes13985 [1 post] 2 years ago
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is it U.C.I legal?  7

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 2 years ago
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...well it tips the scales at fifty pounds, so the weight limit's no problem...

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TeamCC [146 posts] 2 years ago
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That seat looks like a comfy trampoline.

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Tovarishch [58 posts] 2 years ago
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Interesting there is a German wikipedia page for Benjamin Bowden but I can't find an English one. I prefer it in red.

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cat1commuter [1418 posts] 2 years ago
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Looks brilliant! Leads me to wonder what you could do these days in carbon fibre. You could make something which is light, streamlined, and integrates mudguards into the frame and forks in one piece.