Golden days at last for the bike that Burrows built

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The Independent Online
THE MAN whose hi-tech bicycle helped Britain win its first Olympic gold medal in Barcelona weaves down a country lane on a rather different kind of bike - an old boneshaker. Mike Burrows, inventor, cycling enthusiast, small businessman and design hero, has just had lunch at his local cafe.

The waiter served champagne and caviare to mark Chris Boardman's triumph on Mr Burrows's revolutionary machine.

Things have moved on since he started out in engineering visiting potential customers on the boneshaker he still occasionally rides. Now his name will be forever linked to the lightweight, single-shelled machine, with its hollow carbon fibre monocoque frame, which languished in his workshop in rural Norfolk for nearly a decade.

'No one was interested - at least, no one with the money to develop it,' he explained.

Mr Burrows has had a taste for invention since he was a teenager. He developed the Windcheetah Human Powered Vehicle, widely acclaimed by those with a penchant for propelling themselves along the ground in things other than bikes, and is honorary chairman of the British Human Powered Vehicle Club.

Add a love of cycling - he once came second in the West Suffolk Wheelers 12-hour time trial - and designing the machine that captured the headlines was a natural progression.

A happy accident helped. He met Rudy Thomann, a development engineer at Lotus, through a shared love of cycling. Mr Thomann saw Mr Burrows's prototype - now in the Design Museum - and, last August, convinced executives that Lotus should develop it.

'I didn't build it to bring me fame and fortune,' Mr Burrows said. 'I built it to go faster down the A45. But I hope it will spur on a new generation of designers.'

However, after Boardman's victory, fame and fortune beckons. Lotus, which has already spent pounds 250,000 developing the design, estimates that sales could one day generate up to 10 per cent of its annual pounds 50m turnover. Mr Burrows will take a cut on a royalty basis.

Of the long wait, Mr Burrows said: 'It was frustrating, but turns out to have been the best thing. No mainstream bike manufacturer could have improved on the design. It needed Lotus.

'It has come together better than I dreamed it could: Chris is at his peak, Lotus have the skills to get the best out of the design, and Britain was in dire need of an Olympic gold.'

At Lotus, Patrick Peel, head of communications, is revelling in the victory - and all the consequent publicity. The company is to bring out a limited edition - fewer than 100 - of the Olympic racer but the price has not yet been decided.

Mr Peel reckons that rival teams have shot more film footage of the LotusSport than have the TV companies. 'There's been a tremendous amount of scrutiny in Barcelona.'

But the leading edge of design is constantly moving on. 'In two years there will be no advantage in having a Lotus bike,' Mr Peel said. 'People will then be looking for the next technological development. You have the technological advantage for two or three races, then the opposition works out how you've done it and fine tune it themselves.'

Adapting the machine for the mass market and use on the road will mean modifications - adding brakes and gears, for instance. But Mr Peel believes that a slice of the market is there for the taking. That market is worth pounds 240m a year in the UK alone, where 2.3 million bikes were sold last year. The German market is three times as large. Then there's Japan, and the United States . . .

But no one thinks that the LotusSport is the ultimate in bicycle technology. 'Britain needs its visionary inventors. Mike's one of them; we are lucky to be working with him.'

(Photograph omitted)

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