It’s All About the Bike +video

New book and BBC documentary chart the history of one of man’s greatest inventions

by Martin Thomas   July 21, 2010  

It's All About the Bike book cover

Next week sees the publication of Robert Penn’s new book It’s All About the Bike and an accompanying BBC4 documentary.

The author decided to build himself the ultimate bike after a lifetime’s love affair with cycling and sets off around the world in search of the perfect components.

His search turns into a global exploration of cycling culture – and one that’s well worth reading, according to Guardian reviewer William Fotheringham, who said, “Cyclists pore over the catalogues, websites and magazines known as ‘bike porn’, but Penn's book is the cycling equivalent of Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus. Or it could be seen as a stretched version of the tale that all cyclists tell when the credit card statements arrive: no matter how shiny and costly the item of bike bling, there is a back story, usually a good one.

“Artfully, Penn turns his quest for new hardware – an activity most of us indulge in furtively on the internet – into a worldwide spin around cycling and its culture.”

It’s All About the Bike will be available from Thursday 29 July and the documentary, Ride of My Life: the Story of the Bicycle, will be screened on Tuesday 27 July at 9.00pm on BBC 4. Here’s a taster…

There’s more information about both book and documentary on Robert Penn’s website.

9 user comments

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Pity the myth of Dunlop as inventor of the pneumatic tyre is perpetuated in this programme. It was another Scotsman, a Robert William Thomson from Stonehaven near Aberdeen who invented the tyre some 40 years before Dunlop and this was patented in France. He went back to solid rubber but the invention still stands.

posted by Elle Low [1 posts]
27th July 2010 - 21:31

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The TV programme last night far exceeded my expectations. It wasn't dumbed down to the point of being physically painful to watch for anyone with even a passing familiarity with bicycles, like most of the occasions when cycling is featured on British TV. I learnt some new things from it, which is actually incredibly rare for TV in general these days. At the same time, if anything can explain to non-cyclists how it is possible to have a passion for bikes then this is it. It's on iPlayer, unfortunately only until 8th August. If you've got a friend or relative who you suspect thinks you are saddo for using a form of transport they, if at all, gladly abandoned the day they turned 17, then send them the link.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
28th July 2010 - 12:24

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The presenter was also good. I'd never heard of him before. It is nice to know at least one person who took a couple of years off to ride around the world has made a good living off the experience afterwards. When I read people's accounts of doing something like that on the web, it always worries me that you almost never hear what they did next. The suspicion is that they either returned to the same soul-deadening office job they had before, or worse were considered too flaky to "hold down a proper job" and had to work in MacDonalds for the rest of their lives. This bloke is apparently making enough money off journalism, writing non-fiction books, and now TV work, to at least buy a Record groupset (I guess only Alan Sugar makes enough money from appearing on the BBC to afford Super Record.)

That said, I personally find his taste questionable. The colour scheme is, IMHO, horrible. And oversized Cinelli carbon bars with a Brooks saddle? Both are fine components on their own, but together on the same bike can surely never be considered anything but a travesty. I jest, of course, each to his own. But without mudguard eyelets, and all that expensive kit on it, I doubt he'll be riding it every day for the rest of his life as he claims.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
28th July 2010 - 15:16


I've just watched this on iPlayer and found it strangely dull and 'so what'

Having just put together my own version of a dream bike I expected to find fellow-feeling or possibly violent disagreement but the programme was just like filming someone's shopping trip.

I don't think it helps that the premise is finding the best parts in the world and travelling the world to do it when the first things he orders are Continental tires and a Record groupset. I could have done that on the internet before the opening sequence was finished.

There was no tension in the choice of components. It was just, well I'm off to Italy to buy a groupset that I could get from my LBS. Why not Shimano ? Why steel ? And his breathless excitement at being handed things like a headset was either sad if real or embarrasing if faked.

And seeing him grinding away, swinging the bike through 60 degrees from side-to-side next to the perfect Italian riders I couldn't stop the churlish thought that a Dawes Galaxy would be more appropriate.

Frankly it looked like the main objective of the programme was to help the BBC meet its regional production quotas.

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posted by abudhabiChris [625 posts]
29th July 2010 - 18:00


To be fair Chris, he's a writer and not a TV presenter - nor a pro rider. I think the show was lacking in a lot of areas, the journey could have been expanded to tell a good tale but it simply wasn't given time to express itself in less then one hour. Ultimately, perhaps, the programme is little more than advertising for his book which will I'm sure be far, far better than the show.

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posted by simonmb [360 posts]
29th July 2010 - 18:20


Well now I've watched the Thoroughly Modern programme on the bicycle that was also on the other night and I can highly recommend it.

Well made, engaging people, interesting situations and far more entertaining.

Nobody outside of television industry would care about this but it's basically the difference between regional screen-fodder and quality BBC productions.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [625 posts]
30th July 2010 - 10:34


I have one of my dream bikes, a condor singlespeed, it only came to realisation when I rode it. I had swapped it by selling a tricked out fully sussed Turner Flux. This was at the same time as I saw the programme and read the book that I came to realise that your dream bike is about finding the bike that fits you, physically, emotionally and spirtually. I love my singlespeed, riding and not having to worry which gear I am in just enjoying the movement and feel of riding a bike that I did not get from any mountain bike I have ever ridden. This realisation came from Rob Penn's travels to find his dream bike. The guy knows his craft - the bike - after all anyone who rides round the world must count for something. You may find fault with aspects of the story but for me the over riding message of the importance of bike for a modern world is something he puts across very well and in an inspirational way.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [119 posts]
10th December 2010 - 22:33


Sorry for necroing, but I've only recently viewed this documentary, which has lead me on to reading the book, which I'm really enjoying. Bit harsh to say he should 'get a Dawes'. Like many of us he's a keen amateur who wants a dream bike (actually, he runs Etape training so is probably keener than many). Could he get by on a lesser one? Of course, all of us who don't race professionally could. That's kind of missing the point though: the desire to own the 'ideal' bike is bound up with the enthusiast's passion for cycling. I know shaving 200g off my wheelset isn't really going to matter in the long scheme of things, but it's part of the 'pursuit' on many levels. I, for one, get and envy his journey.
PS He does explain why steel in the programme and justifies all of his component choices in more depth in the book. Obviously he could have done most his purchasing in the internet, he concedes to that in his opening monologue, but given that's the essence of this journalistic endeavour, it's not really necessary to point that out Wink

Cheers M
“Racing Is Life. Anything That Happens Before or After is Just Waiting.”

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posted by Morpheus00 [41 posts]
30th May 2011 - 21:00


Funnily enough - we've got a review on this book coming up very soon

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4178 posts]
31st May 2011 - 8:26

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