Tron’s Light Cycles
Dave Bradley, Group Editor- in- Chief
I was hooked on my ZX Spectrum when I was a young ’ un, and every trip to the seaside involved ploughing large amounts of 10p pieces into bleeping arcade cabinets. So the very idea of Tron was impossibly intoxicating – the glorious neon dream of being inside a videogame.
The two Tron films, the original in 1982 and its belated 2010 sequel Legacy, are narratively disappointing, but the visuals and the concepts are spectacular and the computerised world they conjure is sleek and exciting. The centrepiece of each film, and the creation which has almost come to symbolise the series, is the Light Cycle. I want one.
Its original design sprang from the same mind that gave us vehicles and buildings in Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and, erm, Timecop. Syd Mead, now 81, is the designer and “visual futurist” who gave us the Spinner from Ridley Scott’s classic, making him one of the most influential creators in sci- fi. Working alongside art legends Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Peter Lloyd he gave us the essential elements of Tron, including the tank and Sark’s carrier.
The basic Light Cycle, which spits out a solid trail behind it, forming a wall rival bikers can’t cross, is a masterpiece of simplicity. It only turns at 90- degree angles and there’s a canopy in the original model that covers the rider – it was a practical choice to make the graphics easier to render, but it leaves the Cycles rounded, with an artificial smoothness that could only belong to the stylised, virtual world. Daniel Simon updated the design for Tron: Legacy. They have a hint of Audi TT about them now, in the big wheels and gleaming lines. Technically these canopy- free bikes are designated “fifth- generation” Light Cycles and they tilt as they turn, the dangerous stream of energy spewing from their rears now fluid “light ribbons”, not rightangled “jet walls”.
It’s essentially these glorious machines, especially Syd Mead’s original, that – along with American telly imports like CHiPs and Street Hawk – are responsible for my feverish childhood fetish about motorbikes.
Roads? Where he’s going, he don’t need roads!