Updated: Apr 3, 2019
Bikes are cool in every form. If you don't agree, I have to hear your argument because I can't begin to think of what it might be, but I like to learn! My husband and I love going on bike rides all spring, summer, and fall, and watching all the YouTube videos of mountain bikers flying down the trails during the winter...and also during spring, summer, and fall.
I love bikes, but I have one deep issue with them. Have you ever tried to draw bikes? They're deceptively difficult. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out the proportions and my bikes looked more like abstract fruit bowls than any form of transportation.
But then, I learned a secret and it's ridiculously basic. Ready to be as enlightened and stunned as I was?
Yes, as in the various conglomeration of lines that you learn the names of early on in life and education. Nearly everything you could ever draw can be broken down into combinations of simple shapes. The world is cool like that.
Bikes are basically circles and triangles, but don't worry, you don't have to have aced Geometry to draw all the bikes you could ever want.
I'm going to break down how to draw what I would call a stylized standard bike, what is closest to a diamond frame bike. Recognizable as a bicycle, this will get you where you need to go, but this is a stylized illustration, not an exact replication of a specific bicycle. Stop with this design, or go on and learn the rest of the variations. I think it's a good jumping off point for adding your own flair and playing around with the design. If you do play around with the frame design, I'd love to see what your bike looks like! Drawing is interpreting the world around you, not necessarily always creating an exact imitation, so have fun with this! (For more on my thoughts regarding how everyone is creative and being "good" at drawing is a stupid idea, read this).
Bike lingo is a whole new language. Because I'm not fluent, because I don't want you to get lost in the precise nomenclature, and because we're not drawing an exactly anatomically correct bicycle, I've checked most of my bike terminology at the door. For your own edification, do a quick read up on Wikipedia's bike anatomy page; it's not necessary to this blog, but it's still fun information to know.
Alright, let's do this thing.
1. Begin with the wheels.
These are your base, your foundation to a fantastic bike drawing. Draw two circles that are as close to the same size as you can. Make perfect circles if you're into that. Or make them slightly wiggly. Whatever floats your boat or spins your wheels. The distance between them can be adjusted (i.e. tandem bikes), but I recommend starting with drawing them about half the width (bonus points if you remember from your math classes that this is called the radius) of the circle apart.
2. Add in the hubs, gears, and spokes.
The bonus with adding in the hubs at this step is you're actually creating guides for your future self. So high-five that illustrator-self five minutes from now and get ready for some fun. Start by drawing three dots: one in the middle point of each wheel and one fairly close to the back wheel--this will become the chain ring and where your pedals attach. I made mine slightly lower than my back hub. Each dot gets another circle around it, the front wheel (here shown as the left one) gets a small circle to make the front hub; the back wheel (here shown as the right one) gets a slightly larger circle than the front because the back hub is where the action happens; and the floating dot between your wheels gets 1-2 circles around it to transform it into the chain ring. Nice job. Usually, the chain ring is larger than the back hub because physics, but you're the one in the saddle, so you can decide what type of bike illustration you're about.
Now, thread your spokes and use those well-placed dots as a guideline--ideally, each line would pass through the middle dot on the way to the other side, thus creating a spoke. I recommend drawing each of your spokes as one straight line that halves the circle instead of drawing a bunch of lines spiking out from the middle gear point. My reasoning for this is simple: even though it's not exactly how real spokes work, it will make your bike's wheels look like wheels instead of distracting fireworks. Unless the wheels play a major part in your illustration or you want it to be VERY anatomically correct, the less dense the wheels look, the more balanced your illustration will be.
3. Frame it.
The frame is the trickiest part, in my opinion, so this is where the shapes knowledge really comes in handy. This frame is made up of three connected triangles that ultimately make up a trapezoid, shown here in green. The topmost line and the bottommost line should be basically parallel. No need to pull out your ruler, but you should aim for some level of similarity.
Speaking of parallel, look at the two outer triangles. Notice how both of their left sides (sides face the front of the bike) are parallel, too. This is good. This will help with future proportions.
Remember, remember, your well-placed guides and use them to make sure you're creating a frame for your bike, not just floating triangles. Start by drawing the top line of your trapezoid to stand in for the top of your frame. Honestly, you might just have to play around with this to find the height you want. I settled on this height after 3 or 4 tests. With your top guide in place, connect the chain ring center dot to the back wheel hub dot. Now connect the back wheel hub dot to your top reference line; give it a soft angle and aim for the top point to be about over the middle of the front half of your back wheel. Finish your first triangle by connecting the chain ring dot to the top point of the triangle. With me? Basically, I'm throwing a lot of words at you that add up to: connect the dots and make a triangle.
Your next triangle to create should connect the chain ring, the top point of your first triangle, and another imaginary point that hovers over the back half of your front wheel. You're doing great, you just have one more line to make and you will have created the most solid foundation for your rad bike. The last of your triangles shares the left side of your second triangle, connects the top point to the front wheel hub, and hangs empty at the bottom.
Seriously, give yourself a high-five because, in my opinion, you just completed the weirdest and hardest part. It's definitely the most important because all the flair you could ever add is null if your bike doesn't look like a bike.
4. Saddle up.
To make it actually look like a bike, you just need a few more details, so let's bring back our trusty triangles and circles and flesh out our bike build with handlebars, a saddle, pedals, and a chain.
The handlebars are up for interpretation; I patterned mine after dropbars, which curve out and down. As you can see, I used a triangle to keep the proportions and angles how I wanted them. First, extend the front bar (called the fork) to make the stem that the handlebars will jut out from. Then pencil in the triangle (in your head or on paper), and fill out the handlebars. If you wanted to bust out your handy circles again, they're extremely helpful for getting that curve of the dropbars consistent.
Your saddle is essentially a rounded pizza slice chillin' above the back wheel. Add some swerves and curves if you're feeling bold to give it some extra oomph. Your saddle should connect to the extension of the left side of your back triangle, somewhere above the top crossbar, at about two-thirds the length of the saddle.
"Woah," you might be thinking to yourself, "This is a bike!" I like your positive thinking and you're not wrong, but you still need two critical pieces to make your totally awesome bike actually movable. If you want to get fancy with your pedals, I encourage you to do so, but I like to keep them simple. Draw one thin rectangle that intersects your chain ring and extends a little past the outer circle. Erase a small section on the top or bottom to give the illusion that one pedal is behind your chain ring and one is in front. Finish off by adding in two small rectangles to the ends of your first rectangle--dope! You're almost there.
The last essential part of your bike is the chain! Giving your line the tiniest curve, draw a line from the top of your chain ring to the top of your back hub. Repeat the process on the bottom with one small addition: stick a small mark that extends from the bottom of the back hub to create your "rear derailer," for as much as I can tell, because of physics, creates less work and more force when pedaling. Not all bikes have them, but ours does. Your chain should connect to that, then up to the rear hub.
5. Make it yours!
I am so proud of you! You drew a bike! Here's a virtual high-five for several reasons: 1) you took time to learn something new today and I think that's stellar, 2) you drew a bike for the first time or the tenth time and let's just agree bikes aren't the easiest form of transportation to draw, 3) you learned some fun drawing tips that you didn't even realize you were going to learn, like the use of shapes to create nearly everything, using guides aren't cheating they're actually just really helpful, and illustration isn't supposed to be one particular way, there's plenty of room to explore. Rad, right??
I think the best part of any illustration is how the artist (yes, you) makes it their own. It's ridiculously fun to see how your friends, neighbors, strangers, see the world. Some of that unique viewpoint comes out when we illustrate, even basic things like bikes! So make this bike your own. Maybe add a basket, or a fresh baguette, or a bunch of stickers, or an adventure partner. Or expand it into a tandem bike! The possibilities are truly endless. What would your dream bike look like? What color(s) would it be? Does it have a horn? Tassles? Painted flames? Have some fun with it!
I'd love to see your bike when you're finished! Post it to Instagram and tag me @cayligraphy so I can marvel at your illustration, you brilliant painted unicorn of an artist.
Until our next learning adventure,