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When car brands do bikes

When car makers turn their attention to bicycles, things get... well, take a look!

With a shared history and a mutual love of wheels, it’s no surprise that car makers keep flinging themselves into the world of bicycles. And when great minds are set free from inventing ways to cheat emissions tests, or making you buy cars with more cupholders than steering wheels, amazing things can happen. Things like these – some of the best collaborations between petrol and pedal power ever.

But first, a quick note on that vital shared history. Join me, if you will, in Coventry circa 1870, as a sewing machine factory called Coventry Machinists’ Company decides to diversify into velocipedes. These were basically bikes with no cranks, like kids' balance bikes today, and doomed to failure as even brief arguments over gear ratios were impossible.

CMC foreman James Starley made some improvements of his own to the new velocipede, before turning traitor and joining William Hillman – yes, that Hillman – at what would become the Hillman Motor Car Company. It was all go in 1870.

With Starley gone, CMC needed a new... well, Starley, so they took on John Kemp Starley, James' nephew. John then created the Starley Safety Bicycle, the first bike ever to have a chain-driven rear wheel and equal-sized hoops. Riders instantly started arguing over what size wheel was best, and the rest, as they say, is history.

An early ad for the Rover Safety (Wikimedia Commons).jpg

Starley named his creation the Rover, and called the company after it. Rover would go on to knock out a car or three itself, including the Land Rover, the Range Rover and the Rover Metro. Two out of three ain't bad.

It wasn't just Rover that dabbled. Humber, Triumph, Riley and Singer all saw the opportunities too, and that's just looking at this one, Coventry-centric corner of the Midlands. Beyond the UK, everyone from Czech brand Skoda to South Korea's Kia began with the humble bike.

As I said, it was all go back in 1870. But what about today? Let’s take a look.

Now, there's a slew of car makers that have created outlandish concept bikes just to show off at shows. That’s nice an’ all, but pointless, so I'm just going to ignore them until they go away. For the most part, I've included brands who have made honest, concerted attempts to put production bikes on general sale.

eF01-peugeotdesignlab-secondaire

Peugeot

I’m putting this one first for personal reasons. As a child of the 80s, no brand brings better memories of bike racing than the French lion. For Anglophones, the Peugeot pro squads were rare sources of comprehensible heroism – Anderson, Roche, Millar, Yates and Peiper all wore the checkerboard or funky Z-Peugeot livery at some point. 

With Peugeot first and foremost a car manufacturer in 2020s Britain, that all seems a long time ago. A brief effort to revive its cycle offerings in 2010, via Bianchi distributor Cycleurope, ran out of steam after a model year or two. 

Back in Peugeot’s French homeland, though, it’s a different kettle of poisson. Peugeot Cycles offer an interesting range of urban, mountain, road, classic and electric bikes, and its eF01 folding e-bike is even designed specifically to fit the boot of a Peugeot 5008 SUV. If you don't know what one of those looks like, you may own one.

Cooper E Disc

Cooper

Motorsport fans know John Cooper for his engineering of grand prix-winning cars, but that's not why he's a household name – that's for the iconic sporting success of the Mini Cooper. A model that, to this day, still bears his moniker. 

In 2009, John’s son Mike and grandson Charlie revived the Cooper name with a pair of quite charming, retro-inspired bikes. In the 11 years since – some of which Charlie spent at Rapha – they’ve pivoted heavily towards e-bikes, although non-assisted custom builds are also available.

McLaren Venge

McLaren

While we’re in a motor racing frame of mind, let’s not forget the influence legendary F1 marque McLaren had on Specialized’s breakthrough Venge back in 2011. 

OK, so McLaren doesn’t actually make the bike, but the Venge was far more than a marketing tie-in. McLaren Applied Technology’s composite construction expertise led to a bike that was 20% lighter and 11% stiffer at the bottom bracket than Specialized had been able to achieve on its own. McLaren even managed to do it without getting Lewis Hamilton penalised for anything, which just goes to show what you can do when you put your mind to it.

McLaren has since paired with Specialized on the S-Works McLaren TT helmet and the Tarmac S-Works.

1_pashley-product-lifestyle-image-header-220980x490

Morgan

I've already explained why concept bikes are banned from this list, and now's a good time to explain about badge engineering. There's no place here for rebadged bikes from established brands, else this page would be littered with Ferrari bikes made by Bianchi, Lamborghinis made by BMC, Maseratis by Cipollini or Montante, and Mercedes-Benz bikes made by Focus or Rotwild.

The Pashley-Morgan range, however, is different. Although separate companies, they share a very similar ethos – not least in their dedication to traditional British engineering and craftsmanship. Pashley has been hand building bikes since 1926, and with them in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the 110 year-old Morgan in Malvern, each lies on the fringes of that historic Midlands area.

Consequently, their bikes are everything you'd imagine them to be: cool, timelessly classy and beautifully made. The Pashley-Morgan 8 looks particularly fast in its retro-TT racer stance.

Land Rover

Land Rover and Hummer

Can you have too much of a good thing? Land Rover certainly doesn’t think so, as its name has been used on at least two bike ranges. The most interesting was the 1995 Pashley-Moulton Land Rover APB (All Purpose Bicycle), which is something of a collector’s item these days.

The APB combined the engineering genius of Alex Moulton – the man who created, among other things, the rubber cone suspension for the Mini – the craftsmanship of Pashley and the... er, the name of Land Rover. 

A few years later, the Land Rover name appeared again, this time on a range of less-exotic leisure bikes brought in by distributor 2x2.

Funnily enough, 2x2 also held the UK distribution rights for Montague folding bikes, which in the mid-2000s teamed up with General Motors to produce the Hummer Tactical Mountain Bike. Like the Peugeot ebike, it was specifically designed to fit in the boot of a car, in this case the Hummer H2 behemoth.

Then again, most things fit in the boot of a Hummer H2.

Lotus Ed-Clancy-2

Lotus

Although possibly the most famous car/bike collaboration of all time, if history had any dignity the Lotus 108 – which took Chris Boardman to 1992 Olympic glory and ushered in the carbon monocoque – would have been the Burrows 108.

Mike Burrows – the nearest thing the UK has to genuine genius – had already done most of the important engineering and design, and had been riding very similar machines for years.

Still, various stars aligned: Lotus saw the potential and refined the design, carbon monocoques made it through cycling's political process, and Boardman was near the peak of his powers. Thus the Lotus Sport legend was born. A total of 15 Lotus 108s were made, and a further eight replicas sold, before the production version – the Lotus 110 – was released.

In 2019, Lotus teamed up with Hope Technology to re-enter cycling with a new track bike which, they believe, will create the same excitement and success for Team GB as the original three decades ago.

BMW Gravel bike

BMW

You can say what you like about BMW drivers (and trust me, I often do), but there’s no questioning the brand’s enthusiasm for two wheels. Alongside its motorcycle range – regularly found under peloton camera crews – BMW’s UK website lists no fewer than 14 self-propelled offerings.

These range from balance bikes and scooters to a £2,795 ebike and a 3T-developed carbon gravel bike. It also does branded cycling helmets, rucksacks, baskets and mudguards. Perfect for cyclists who never signal and refuse to budge from the outside lane. If only there were Porsche bikes you could tailgate to prove your superiority, eh?

Porsche

Porsche

Another German auto brand that knows the value of cycling, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that Porsche’s three-bike range is not cheap. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s overpriced, although the bikes do look fairly awesome. 

For £2,500 you can have the 'entry-level' alloy Porsche Bike (the money didn't go on naming it) with Magura discs, DT Swiss wheels, Suntour suspension fork and a Shimano Alfine hub. At £4,700 there’s the more off-road focused Porsche Bike RX with a carbon frame and sexy Crankbrothers 27.5 hoops.

And for a whopping £6,200 you can have the ultimate commuter machine – the Porsche Bike RS – with “design elements in lava orange, the colour of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.”

Who could say no? A road user perhaps? Strangely, Porsche Guildford’s site says: “Due to their design and equipment, Porsche Bikes are not approved for use on public roads.”

We can only presume it’s because they’re too cool to come with a bell and reflectors.

Aston-Martin-Factor-limited-edition-one-77-factor-cycle-3

Aston Martin

In 2012, the Aston Martin One-77 bike appeared, featuring ‘motorsport-derived data logging’ and countless other cutting-edge ideas. Yes, it cost £25,000, but as the limited edition car it's named for cost £1,150,000, it's really a bargain. I'd have both but the bike won't go in the boot.

While the Aston Martin name was mostly branding, the technology was not. The seven-strong team behind the bikes worked at bf1systems, "a market-leading provider of electrical, electronic and integrated electronic solutions to clients within the motorsport and automotive industries."

What's more, they'd previously created the BERU Factor 001, which actually beat the McLaren Venge to the release-date line as a specialist, hi-tech carbon speed machine inspired by motor racing technology. It was built by engineers from World Rally and F1, and it showed: the thing was festooned in sensors and came with a suitably elaborate pricetag of £20,000.

Also, Factor Bikes – the company that grew from all this – has gone from strength to strength, and now produces a range of awesome road machines.

Skoda

Skoda

Czech brand Skoda might now be part of the almighty Volkswagen Audi Group, but it started in far more humble circumstances. Namely with Vaclav Laurin and Vaclav Klement, makers of bicycles. 

The story behind the company’s formation is quite fun. In 1894, 26-year-old bookseller Vaclav Klement couldn’t get parts for his German-made bike, so he sent it back to its manufacturer, Seidel and Naumann, with a letter (in Czech) asking for it to be fixed.

The reply, in German, said: "If you want us to answer you, we insist that you convey your message in a language we understand." Klement wasn’t very impressed, so in 1896 he teamed up with local bike maker Vaclav Laurin to create a bicycle repair shop.

Germany subsequently invaded the Czech Republic and occupied it for years, though some say this was nothing to do with bicycle repairs at all.

> 16 of the best £2,000 to £3,000 road bikes for 2020

Skoda went on to make bicycles, motorcycles and cars (if you're wondering why Skoda's not called Vaclav, the company was aquired by arms-maker Skoda Works in 1925). It hasn’t forgotten its roots, either, and Skoda intermittently releases bicycle ranges, most recently in 2019.

This included children’s bikes, classic urban bikes, mountain bikes, ebikes and a couple of quite tasty-looking road bikes.

Skoda’s link with road cycling remains especially strong, as it's been the official Tour de France vehicle supplier since 2004, and the green jersey sponsor since 2015.

KTM X-bow

KTM

Finally, rather than a car company that makes bikes, how about a bike company that makes cars? KTM manufactures ace pushbikes, awesome motorcycles and the road-legal yet frankly ridiculous X-Bow trackday sportscar.

KTM has been making motorcycles since the 1950s and bicycles since the 1960s, but only launched a production car in 2008.

And that, we like think, only goes to show that KTM – more than any other 2020 company in this list – has got its priorities at least somewhat straight.

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