1946 Monark - It's not for sale...Fran-CIS!

Streamlining was the carbon fiber of the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. At the time, it was recently discovered by the auto and rail industries as a means of reducing drag and improving fuel efficiency. It came to exemplify the era's design aesthetic, even when applied to things that didnt really move at all. Toasters, radios, blenders, you name it. Everything was rounded, with horizontal ornamental ridges. Carbon fiber is worshipped in much the same way today. Originally developed for the aerospace industry as a super light replacement for metals, carbon fiber first trickled down to sports equipment, where it's use still made sense. Then fashion took over and, as usual, went deliriously insane over the material's low-weight, high-tech, high-strength chic potential. Now, it's characteristic checkerboard gray and black pattern can now be found imitated on pretty much everything marketed to male humans, from steering wheels to electric shavers.

So it was with streamlined shapes in 1946. It's easy to find pictures of streamlined trains from that time, and they are eye-wateringly gorgeous to behold. The designers knew that streamlining was more than functional, too. The trains were often painted in bright colors to enhance their delicious candy-like appeal.

The 1946 Monark bicycle is just one example of streamlining at the consumer level. The bicycle probably weighed close to fifty pounds, and never saw speeds above twenty miles per hour, making wind resistance a non-issue. That was irrelevant. It was all about styling. It says so right there in the copy: "Airline-style pedal crank...streamlined auto-type rear reflector... built-in auto-type tank horn". A bicycle had no use for a gas tank, but every bike had one, because A) it made it look like a motorcycle and B) it gave the designers some surface area to do some streamline stuff. Two-tone paint is something else borrowed from the auto industry of the time. I have a personal theory that, as part of the recent hysteria over retro car designs, two tone paint will make a return at the factory level.

If you look at the bottom of the ad, Monark mentions another model called the Silver King, made of aluminum. Aluminum production was ramped up for World War Two, and when peace broke out, aluminum producers needed new markets for their new and useful wondermetal. Strangely, a bicycle is an excellent candidate for aluminum construction, as every ounce counts in a vehicle powered by a human whose (adult) legs have been rated at 1/4 horsepower. Even now, aluminum is just about the most popular of the "affordable" lightweight frame materials in the bike industry. Just like carbon fiber, it first appeared in the aviation realm, and trickled down to the consumer level. However, even something as mundane as a kitchen chair makes sense when made from something strong, relatively cheap, and light, like aluminum. Carbon fiber is still pretty expensive, and though strength and low weight will never go out of style, it is my hope that cheesy pretend carbon fiber checker patterns die like the dodo.


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