book review
Racing Bicycles
100 Years of Steel


Racing Bicycles, 100 Years of Steel, text by David Raply, photography by Susie Latham, published in Australia by Images Publishing Group, 2012, ISBN 9781864704822, list price 35 GBP, 60 USD, hardback: 236 pages, including glossary and bibliography, profusely illustrated. Available online from: http://www.accdistribution.com




You might think that any cycling book which mentions Hetchins in the first feature would be bound to get a favorable review from this editor -- but you would be mistaken (about the editor, not about the book). So let me say straight away, without qualification and without prejudice for the marque of my own peculiar passion, that this is an important and excellent book.

The book operates on two different levels. First, visually, this is a catalog of handmade steel bicycles, covering a century, documented and beautifully photographed. Second, intentionally, this is a call to arms.

The book is presented from an Australian point of view: frames of Australian manufacture dominate the first two-thirds of the century (and of the book), and all but a few of the bikes featured are in the possession of Australian collectors. Apparently, as the author explains in his introductory remarks, there is a paucity of organized effort in Australia to acquire and preserve historic vehicles, including vintage bicycles. This is in marked contrast to Britain and America, where there are well-established and well-funded museums, trusts, societies, clubs, organized rides and other events, archives, research organizations, databases, registers, marque-obsessed web sites, etc. etc., dedicated to the acquisition, restoration, and preservation of historic vehicles and information pertaining to them, including vintage bicycles. Whereas in Australia, the acquisition of historic vehicles seems to be hit-or-miss, and their preservation appears to depend upon the goodwill and financial resources of private collectors. This is made poignantly clear in the descriptions which accompany the bicycles presented in the book: a number of the bicycles were discovered quite by chance, rotting and rusting away in barns and sheds, and were rescued from oblivion by collectors who happened to have enough disposable cash at the moment of imminent vanishment to acquire them. It would seem that the vintage bicycle community in Australia consists of a handful of passionate collectors, and that there is little in the way of concerted, professional researching and archiving going on regarding the provenance of these collectible machines or of the histories of their manufacturers. Some of the bikes featured are the only known extant exemplars of their marques. And so this book, as the author hopes, may serve to awaken interest in this hitherto neglected aspect of the nation's heritage. Surely this legacy deserves to be stabilized, and this book is a significant step in that direction.

The format of the book is a chronological catalog of 100 bicycles, the earliest dating from 1902. At least two pages, sometimes more, are devoted to each bicycle. There is a brief description of each bicycle, what is known of its history or provenance, what is known of the manufacturer or frame builder, outfitter, previous owners, etc. In addition, there is for each bicycle a technical specifications sheet listing such things as country of manufacture, model, year of production, frame number, special features and technical innovations, components etc.-- so far as these things can be ascertained. A good many of the bikes have racing histories and these are recounted, insofar as they can be ascertained. Many of the bikes are in original condition, or in whatever condition they were in when last raced; others have been restored along the way. Many of the marques will be unknown to readers outside Australia: Malvern Star, Maine Star, Bullock, Ixion, and others. But there are others in the catalog which will be familiar to collectors everywhere: Bianchi, Carlton, Cinelli, Colnago, Ephgrave, Hetchins, Hobbs of Barbican, to mention a few. Not surprisingly, the list of components includes all of the well-known manufacturers of the day: Airlite, Bayliss/Wiley, Brooks, BSA, Campagnolo, Chater Lea, Cinelli, GB, Stronglight, Williams, and so on. Clearly, Australian frame builders and outfitters were well acquainted with the high-end component manufacturers of the day. Finally, each bike is presented in glorious color photographs of at least one full page covering 24 cm x 24 cm, plus a further page (or more) of close-ups of components, lugwork, head badges, transfers, elaborate detailing, special fitments, etc.

Above: from David Rapley's own collection: A Condor-build Paris Galibier replica from 1981; featured on pg. 204.

(Klein Quantum Pro, Vitus, and Alan bikes are also featured; interesting and collectible items, albeit not steel.)

The book is a splendid piece of work: binding, paper, printing, typesetting, layout, and photography are all first rate. It is a joy to hold in the hands and a joy to browse through. It makes fascinating reading. It is, on the one hand, a reference work documenting part of the history of bicycle craftsmanship (with special emphasis on Australia) and should act as an inspiration to and a benchmark for further efforts in this direction (in Australia or anywhere else)--it could well serve collectors and restorers to help identify and to put right future finds in barns and sheds; and, on the other hand, it is a work of art in its own right. Highly recommended.

(There are two Hetchins featured (pages 106 and 146). One criticism: there is a bit of mis-information regarding the Hetchins marque: for example, the frame builder, Jack Denny, is variously referred to as Jack Derry and Jack Davey. It is also erroneously reported that production in the UK ceased in 1967 and was transferred to the USA.)

Click here for a flyer from the publisher (pdf format).

Below: 1902 Rambler (USA), featuring elaborate lugwork--30 years before Hetchins; featured on pgs. 16-19.






|   Introduction   |   Editorial   |   The Hetchins Register  |

|   Restoration   |   Frame Identification (Serial Numbers)   |   The Various Models   |   Rare Models  |

|   Catalogs   |   Production History   |   Racing Heritage   |   Harry, Jack,& Alf   |   Special Features  |

|   Frame Components   |   Transfers   |   Lug Designs   |   Gallery  |

|   For Sale Used   |   Wanted Used   |   New Production   |   Other Marques   |   Copycats  |

|   Contacts & Links   |   What's New   |  toc  |

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