Folium: A Biomimetic Water-Repellant Bicycle Seat
- Brook Kennedy
In cities worldwide, bicycling is an activity essential to modern life both for commuting and pleasure. Bicycles have improved in lightness, performance, and in many other ways since the 19th century. Bike share programs electric assist e-bikes have been growing in popularity. The bike seat too has evolved to serve many different riding styles from commuting to racing. Comfort and appearance have been widely advanced. Still, a wet bicycle seat is a common nuisance after a rain shower. Most seats which have leather, vinyl or other synthetic fabric covers gather or even attract water when it rains! The result is a soggy pair of trousers and a grumpy cyclist. Many cyclists address the problem with a sad work-around: an ugly plastic grocery bag tied around the seat to cover it. In some European countries removable seat caps do more elegantly what a plastic bag achieves in the USA. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be better if bike seats simply repelled and shed rain water in the first place? What if rain simply beaded up on the seat and rolled off on its own?
Folium is a proposal for a new type of bicycle seat that sheds water after rainfall like the famous Lotus plant, Pitcher plant and some other species in the plant and animal kingdoms. While water-shedding hydrophobic surfaces like these have been a source of fascination to the Biomimicry community since the 1960s, manufacturing limitations have prevented them from being industrially reproduced. Some chemical coating treatments have been developed, but these wear off and contain toxic chemistries that make their way into the watershed. A well-publicized exception has been STO’s Lotusan paint whose costs amongst other issues have prevented its widespread adoption. Plants like Lotus leaves have micro architectural textures, invisible to the eye which repel water by reducing the contact angle of water droplets, causing them to slide off. Such hydrophobic and self cleaning properties could have broad application in design, from packaged goods to consumer products and architecture. Some enabling technologies are only now becoming commercially viable.
As an Industrial Designer I have been engaged with FLEXcon which has pioneered a textile film manufacturing process that can engrave simulated Lotus leaf micro texture into a flat roll of material. They are also responsible for creating Sharklet which simulates another Biomimetic micro texture that is antimicrobial and useful to hospitals and pharmacies. Bicycle seats and other products have yet to adopt this technology. Most bike seat surfaces use leather, vinyl or polyester materials to cover a seat frame with or without foam. Folium would substitute the cover material with an engraved micro texture alternative that would be durable, look as appealing and feel as comfortable.
Currently Folium is being prototyped and shows great promise to improve the quality of life and health of cyclists and our planet. Often Biomimetic design struggles to translate natural phenomenon into practical day-to-day solutions and we believe Folium is a rare and tangible opportunity to do so.