The Bicycle Book by Bella Bathurst

Just read this book on our recent holiday.  Unexpectedly entertaining, insightful and just the thing while on a holiday and missing my own bicycle.

Bella Bathurst takes a unique look at the world of cycling in this very readable book.  Each chapter is an individual vignet, each reflecting on a different aspect of cycling.  There were quite a few laughs, surprises and thought provoking parts to this book.  Each one was disguised by the chapter title and it was all too easy to conclude “oh but I’m not really interested in ….. but then Bathurst puts it in a different light.

Let me give you an example.  Chapter 11 “Knobbled” is all about mountain biking and something I’m not interested in myself and yet I read every word!  As she explains, it’s very easy to think of mountain biking starting in Marin County, California during the 1970s.  We all knew where it started, right?   Wrong!   It is true those Californian kids did have a huge role in the development of mountain bikes but Bathurst argues it was those ‘rough stuff’ chaps in the UK who pioneered the concept decades before.  She goes onto explain [in March 1919] a certain W. M. Robinson who “….having ridden sixty miles to the starting point, he meets another couple of cyclists who ‘reported passing storms of snow and hail, through which they had ridden – a pleasant change from the monotony of sunshine cycling'”.

The book itself starts off with Bathurst making her own steel frame from scratch under the tuition of master frame builder Dave Yates and goes into great entertaining detail.  If you’re not technical, don’t be put off at all.

Then there’s the account of the Dirty Tricks Brigade in world war two.  This was all about those ingenious chaps using the bicycle in the broadest sense towards winning the war.  An example was substituting bicycle pumps on German bikes in occupied Europe with exploding pumps, the Germans eventually caught on.  Fearing that every time they attempted to use a pump to inflate a tyre, they ended up riding around on flat tyres!  Hilarious!

Then there’s the Tour de France and a fascinating glimpse into the history.  Never mind the elaborate organisation it is nowadays with well resourced sponsors supporting the needs of their cyclists in every way possible, in times gone by the competitors had to support themselves – even it meant carrying your broken frame to a farmhouse to have it re-welded.  To make things even more ridiculous that particular cyclist had some time docked because someone else worked the furnace bellows and not the cyclist himself.

So thee y’a go.  A very readable, entertaining book.  Ideal for a holiday while having withdrawal symptoms of my own bike.

The Bicycle Book, Bella Bathurst, published by Harper Press in 2011
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