There was a time when Americans imagined a “Space Age” future that we now know is simply not going to come about. Anyone who ever visited Tomorrowland at Disney World knows exactly what we’re talking about. Or think of the Jetsons, the family that inhabited that kitschy future-world with its flying cars and push-button everything — it is all a far cry from today’s reality. We recently wrote about a retro videophone that seemed to leap from the shelf of this imagined future, and today have found another piece that would keep that videophone company.
Today’s remarkable find is this Vintage Original 1960 Ben Bowden Spacelander Retro Bicycle Bike Blue Classic USA:
The design epitomizes thoughts of what that Space Age future would be like – sleek, but approachable in a Robbie-the-Robot kind of way. The bike seems like a windup toy come to life, but this is the real thing, and these bikes are extremely rare. The listing explains:
“You could be the proud owner of this vintage one-of-a-kind used Bowden Spacelander bicycle. Originally designed by the famed Ben Bowden; the MG manufactured Spacelander made it’s debut at the “Britain Can Make It” trade exhibition of 1946. After years of searching for a manufacturer the Spacelander finally reached a very limited production run in 1960, executed by Bomard Industries of Muskegon MI of 522 bikes (this number is unconfirmed but frequently sourced as the total production run).
It is rumored that Bomard was forced out of business in this year by a lady who claimed she was injured on one of their vibrating chairs (a couple of sources site this as the cause, but there is no documentation; either way it’s a fun story). The bicycles frame was entirely manufactured of fiberglass, with a silky smooth finish showing off the fibers used in construction. A marvel of mid-century post war aerospace design, this bicycle is a must-have for any collector.”
The bike is in its original “Outer Space Blue,” and seems to be in relatively good condition. The seller is unsure whether the headlights are in working condition, and our research tells us the headlights (as well as the horn and taillights) are powered by a single “D” battery.
A fascinating marriage of form and function, then, with a distinctive enough form to earn one of these bikes a spot in the Decorative Arts collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Arts. The curators there have a lot of interesting things to say about this bike’s design, deeming it a “marvel of postwar biomorphic design.” It’s sounding more and more like a spaceship from “The Jetsons,” isn’t it? The curators like the “amoeba-like voids” which they claim “represent the mutation of the prewar streamlined style into a new expression based on organic, rather than machine-made, forms.” It does have that feeling of a beatnik graphic design or the cover of a pulp fiction novel from the early ‘60s.
The experts at the Brooklyn Museum cite another reason why this remarkable listing is such a find. “By the time it finally went into production in the United States in 1960, tastes had changed and the price of the bicycle—$89.50—was too high. It is believed that only about five hundred examples were ever sold, making it one of the rarest and most sought-after industrial designs of the mid-twentieth century.”
Retro and custom bike culture has had a huge resurgence in recent years, as evidenced in such trends as the devoted followers of fixies and the celebration/lampooning of urban bikers on the IFC show Portlandia. Maybe cool wheels like the Spacelander are one of the few ideas from the Space Age that also have a bright future.