Chris Boardman, one of Britain’s leading lights in the cycling world, has announced his latest venture: Beyond Fifty-Six Special Projects Program. The number refers to his absolute hour record of 56.375km, which he set in 1996
As he launched the project, dubbed ‘>B56’, at the London Transport Museum, Boardman was deliberately vague on details, but he said the aim was to push the boundaries of bicycle and component design in order to make bikes better for everyone.
Speaking to BikeRadar, Boardman said: “It’s a version of the same thing that we did with British Cycling” – referring to the ‘Secret Squirrel Project’ of improvements in bike technology that helped British cyclists win dozens of medals at the 2008 Olympic Games and world championships.
“We want to explore, take ideas not from within cycling, find new ways of doing things,” he said. “Some of the projects are big – as in revolutionary big … if we get them right.”
Whatever they are, you’ll need a sharp eye to spot them. “The whole idea is it’s secret stuff,” said Boardman. “Watch for the label this year. It’s not a label that you’ll see on production items, but things you may see Al [top triathlete Alistair Brownlee] on, or one of the guys testing, or you may see a mountain biker on, or whatever.”
No part of the bicycle is sacred, according to Boardman, who has stopped his formal involvement with British Cycling but will continue to work with composites engineer Dimitris Katsanis.
“It’s whatever you can change,” he said. “Let’s say, for example, you could do away with a chainset for a commuting bike, then we will. So it doesn’t just have to be focused on high-end. It’s probably where the majority of the focus will be, but it’s not the only place it’s going to be.”
In August, Boardman revealed designs for a concept bike that apart from looking amazingly futuristic, made use of a shaft drive, had spoke- and centre-less wheels, was battery assisted, had lights that automatically turn on and off, and used self inflating and repairing tyres.
“All the things in that are doable,” he said. “You could pull it all together from different places and do it now. People said ‘when are you going to do it?’ Well you could do that inside of two years but you wouldn’t have a market for it. It’s like changing from flares to drainpipes. You can go from one to the other but people won’t do it in one leap. It’s too much.”
Boardman is fortunate that his own bike brand has boomed since launching two-and-a-half years ago. That’s helped give him the financial platform to undertake research and development that may not pay off.
“It’s very high risk,” he said. “It’s money you’re prepared to lose. And we’ve not been in a position to do it yet, but if you want to be different to the competition and everybody else, then you’ve got to do it.”
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