book review
1001 Bicycles to Dream of Riding

1001 Bicycles to Dream of Riding, Guy Kesteven (General Editor), published in USA by Universe, 2014, ISBN 978-0-7893-2724-6, list price 36.95 USD, hardback, 960 pages, including index and a list of 12 text contributors, profusely illustrated, photography by various contributors, Foreword by Chris Boardman.

You might think that any cycling book which features one of this Editor's own Hetchins 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 you get a lot of bang for your buck out of this book: it is chunky (960 pages), 5.5 cm thick, and weighs in at over 2 kgs (see below).

This book is an extension of a series of '1001 Things to Do Before You Die'; previous installments include cars to drive, golf links to play, guitars to play, and video games to play. This time round, it's bikes. I did not count, but I'll take them at their word that 1001 bikes are featured.

The book is divided into seven chapters chronologically (and roughly by function or terrain): early beginnings 1820 - 1978; Off-Road 1979 - 1998; Pushing The Limits (experimenting with non-steel frames) 1999 - 2008; carbon comes of age 2009 - 2010; Wagon Wheels & Wind Cheaters 2011; High Modulus & Handcrafted 2012; Riding the Biking Boom 2013 - . There is also an index of featured manufacturers. The first chapter, from inception to 1978, will be of most interest to vintage cycle fans. The first 40 pages or so are devoted to very early designs, before the diamond frame became standard. Thereafter, most of your favorites are featured: Bianchi, BSA, Selbach, Rudge, Baines, Hobbes, Caminade, Hetchins, Rene Herse, Claud Butler, Harry Quinn, Jack Taylor, Thanet, --from USA, UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, even China. For each bike featured, there is a column of text explaining a bit about the manufacturer and the bike itself, giving year(s) of production and what made that particular model or maker special. Many of the bikes featured are also presented in excellent quality color photographs. The first chapter is mostly populated by racing and touring bikes. The theme broadens out significantly in succeeding chapters to include all sorts of human-powered vehicles: cargo-haulers, children's bikes, bikes made famous by movies (Pee Wee Herman's bike, for example), a flying bike (the Gossamer Albatros), folding bikes, BMX, Moulton, trikes, full-suspension mountain bikes, recumbants, time trialers, and, of course, the revolution in frame design wrought by carbon-fibre and aerodynamics.

One thing I found particularly likeable about this book is its broad reach, ranging from every-day bikes produced in hundreds of thousands (such as the Raleigh Chopper), to such unique items as Pope John Paul II's gold-plated Colnago and Chris Boardman's Lotus 108. Quality marques in all ranges are featured, from mass-market Cannondale and Specialized, to bespoke builders (such Rob Mather and Rivendell). It is almost encyclopedic in scope. This is hardly a book to read cover-to-cover; rather, one to dip into from time to time. It is a delight which will continue to delight for a long time to come.

This book is an eloquent reminder what a marvelous thing the bicycle is and always was. The bicycle is, first of all, a marvel of engineering: efficient, reliable, simple, mass-producable and therefore affordable for the man on the Clapham bus--an object of every-day utility. But it has also often been on the cutting edge of innovation (not only within its own two-wheeled domain). And, finally, it is often a thing of great beauty, sometimes even achieving iconic status. This book shows not only how iconic the bicycle has become of our industrialized society over the last 150 years, but showcases some of the actual bikes which themselves became iconic turning points in the development of the bicycle. Below, two splendid examples, one mass-produced, the other not:

Above: style icons: knee-high go-go boots, mini shirt, and a Raleigh Chopper--the iPod of it's day--England swings!

Above: Chris Boardman's 1992 gold-medal-winning Lotus 108; wind-tunnel tested, a revolution in aerodynamics at the time. Not just the material was new; no longer would the bicycle frame be restricted to cylindrical tubes.

Speaking of cycle icons ... two Hetchins are featured: A 1930s Brilliant (page 76) and a 1970 Vade Mecum iii (page 124, mis-labelled as a Magnus [sic] Bonum--maybe this will be corrected in a second printing). The main things Hetchins is famous for are noted: fancy lugwork and curly stays. Toni Merkens got a mention too. We are well pleased. Below left: one of the Hetchins featured in the book. Both bikes are featured in the Gallery section of this web site: click here for the 1930s Brilliant; click here for the other one, this Editor's VM iii deluxe.

I will close with a memorable quote from the book: "There is nothing more sexy in the bike world than a custom steel frame done just right."
--Nik Borem, team rider for Don Walker, USA builder. Amen to that.

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