18 October 2016

Into The Fold On Being And Nothingness

Handing over a bank note is enough to make a bicycle belong to me, but my entire life is needed to realize this possession.

That insight came from none other than Jean-Paul Sartre.  Yesterday, I made a reference to him.  Well, wouldn't you know it?:  Today I came across the above quote, and this photo:

Here he is riding "Le Petit Bi":

This bike has been all but lost to the mists of time or, more precisely, the ashes of World War II.  Andre Jules Marcelin, a French Nobel Laureate (1926) physicist, invented it and received his first patent for it in Luxembourg in October 1939.  The following year, he received patents for it in France and Switzerland.

No one seems to know who manufactured the bike or how many were made.  All that is certain is that only a few exist.  Did the war severely curtail their production?  Or were many destroyed in bombing raids and such?

Professor Marcelin did his research at the Laboratoire de Chimie Physique (Chemical Physics Lab) of the Sorbonne-University of Paris.  He and other Sorbonne scientists held seminars on Monday nights where writers, poets, painters and other artists to speak.  It's possible that Marcelin met Sartre there, as well as Francois Picabia, seen here on a Bi:

Interestingly, that photo and the one of Sartre ended up in a Nazi propaganda magazine called Signal, which tried to show that life was normal for the French people under the German occupation.  

That Marcelin went to the trouble of filing for patents in multiple countries shows that he saw some sort of commercial potential in the Bi.  He even had plans for a foldable tandem and a motorized Bi:

Perhaps most intriguing of Marcelin's designs is the one he patented in 1935, four years before the Bi, for what looks like a foldable recumbent bicycle.

Whatever its history, the Bi did have something of a legacy.  One of the first lightweight folding bicycles, the Bickerton, came out during the 1970s.  The first prototype of it borrowed heavily from Le Petit Bi:

The Bickerton that finally came to market had a significantly different design, most likely because Harry Bickerton (who was an engineer) saw that he couldn't make the bike out of aluminum (as he did to achieve his bike's light weight) if he were to use the Petit Bi design.

So, although Andre Jules Marcelin patented Le Petit Bi, perhaps no one will realize its possession--or, more precisely, it.

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