Seven years ago, Bologna-based designer Gianluca Gimini started approaching friends and strangers with an odd request: He’d hand them a pen and a sheet of paper and ask that they immediately draw a bicycle from memory. Most of their drawings, he found, were way off. Only about 25% were accurate. Some people drew bikes with no pedals, others forgot chains. Later, Gimini learned his homegrown experiment was quite similar to a classic psychological test that shows most people simply can’t accurately draw a bike from memory. It’s meant to demonstrate how our minds can trick us into thinking we know something that we really don’t.
Over the course of six years, Gianluca eventually collected nearly 400 drawings of these imagined bicycles, made by people ranging from age three to 88. Now, in a project he calls Velocipedia, he’s turned some of these wonky bike designs into realistic 3D renderings. Paired with the sketches themselves, the renderings become a unique illustration of the human imagination’s tendency to fill in the holes of our limited memories. The drawings are also a collection of strange impossible machines — most of these bikes, if built, would be unrideable.
“There is an incredible diversity of new typologies emerging from these crowd-sourced and technically error-driven drawings,” Gianluca writes. “A single designer could not invent so many new bike designs in 100 lifetimes. This is why I look at this collection in such awe.”
After marveling at these botched attempts, I tried drawing a bike from memory and the result was pathetic — it took me a minute to realize I’d forgotten to add pedals. Why is this seemingly simple task so difficult? “We may use the world as an ‘outside memory’ to save us from having to store huge amounts of information,” cognitive psychologist Rebecca Lawson writes in “The Science of Cycology.” “Since this information can usually be found simply by moving our eyes, we do not need to retrieve it from our brains …. We overestimate our ability to explain how things work, whether artifacts like greenhouses and bicycles, or natural phenomena like tides and rainbows. This illusion of explanatory depth is especially severe for objects with visible parts.”
Gianluca’s admittedly unscientific study yielded some strange new findings. “Nearly 90% of drawings in which the chain is attached to the front wheel (or both to the front and the rear) were made by females,” he writes. “On the other hand, while men generally tend to place the chain correctly, they were more keen to over-complicate the frame when they realize they are not drawing it correctly.”
The project currently exists online only, but Gianluca is hoping for an opportunity to build some of the bikes and exhibit them alongside the drawings to create a multidimensional visualization of the limits of our little brains.
See the full project here.