Richard Ballantine RIP
Cycling author, advocate and visionary has died
Cycling author and advocate Richard Ballantine passed away yesterday (29 May 2013). He was a hugely influential figure in the cycling world, best known for his book: Richard's Bicycle Book. It was first published in 1972 and went on to sell, in its numerous reprintings, more than a million copies.
Its popularity stemmed from the fact that it wasn't just a guide to buying and maintaining bikes; it was a manifesto for cycling. It fizzed with enthusiasm, ideas and indignation. Ballantine was banging the drum for assertive cycling decades before its widespread adoption today. He told you how to deal with drivers (as an equal) and aggressive dogs (with extreme prejudice). He told you, knitwear-and-beard cover photo notwithstanding, that cycling was cool.
Shortly after stumbling across his book, I'd sold my car, bought a Muddy Fox Pathfinder (recommended in The Bicycle Buyers' Bible, a magazine Ballantine edited), ridden it around Norway, and had an article published about that in Bicycle – a magazine that Ballantine had founded. He also edited Bicycle Action magazine and contributed to many others, including New Cyclist. His most recent book was City Cycling, published in 2007.
He was an early adopter of new technology. In 1991, when the fax machine was still pretty hip, US-born Ballantine was already emailing in his copy from his adopted home of London to the Coldstream office of New Cyclist. More significantly, he pioneered mountain biking in the UK. He imported 20 Ritchey Montares in the early 1980s; these were the first commercially available mountain bikes in the country. He reviewed mountain bikes. He eulogised about them. He set up a mountain bike race series, the Fat Tyre Five.
He was equally enthusiastic about human-powered vehicles; line drawings and photos of recumbents, including Ballantine in his Burrows Windcheetah, appeared in editions of Richard's Bicycle Book from the 1980s onward. He was chair of the British Human Power Club and of the World Human Powered Vehicle Association at the time of his death.
He was the son of Ian and Betty Ballantine of Ballantine Books. As well as his magazine editing roles, he was an editor at Rufus Publications, which his parents founded.
It was a surprise, on meeting him for the first time and being used to his lucid prose, to discover that he was profoundly deaf. 'Mostly I just figure out what people are saying anyway,' he told me with a grin, when we last spoke at a bike show and his hearing aid was on the blink.
Richard Ballantine was a visionary cyclist, always engaged and engaging, who lived long enough to see the UK slowly coming around to his point of view. His legacy lives on in the many cyclists he inspired.
Apologies that we don't have a picture of Richard, just one of his books. We’re searching.