Richard Ballantine RIP

Cycling author, advocate and visionary has died

by Dan Joyce   May 30, 2013  

Richard Ballantine

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.

27 user comments

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Such sad news.

I recall getting a copy of Richard's Bicycle Book as a kid in the 80's and that really got me into cycling.

It is a cracking read - I've still got it. You are right, you can really feel his enthusiasm for bikes as you readthe book. It's full of ideas and many as you rightly point out were ahead of thier time.

He did however, have a strange obsession with Stevanage

posted by Nevis the cat [19 posts]
30th May 2013 - 11:49


Remember having some of his books from the library in my school days when trying to fix my bike.

Sad news.

All the gear but no idea

matrs's picture

posted by matrs [60 posts]
30th May 2013 - 11:52


Nevis the cat wrote:
He did however, have a strange obsession with Stevanage

Do you reckon he ever had a pint in the Ted the Grass(Edward the Confessor)?

posted by farrell [1914 posts]
30th May 2013 - 12:21


I still remember how matter of fact he was about dealing with a dog...

Not had to shove my arm down a dog's throat yet thankfully.

Inspiring read back in the '70's

posted by IanD [22 posts]
30th May 2013 - 12:38


Very sad to hear this. He was the man who made me realise that you could turn cycling passion into a lifestyle and a career. He was one of the people who got me writing about bikes with Bicycle Action magazine, at the time owned by Muddy Fox. I read his original book cover to cover several times. He was a true inspiration. Still is.


posted by Steve Worland [95 posts]
30th May 2013 - 12:48

1 Like

i appropriated my father's copy of Richard's Bicycle Book when i was a teenager getting involved with bicycles and read it from cover to cover several times, there are still sentences that stick in my brain about ankling and cadence

from there it became grubbier and grubbier as it was used as a resource for my early spannerings of home mechanicing, i still remember that strange mix of fear and then pride when heading out to test my first attempt at brake fettling

the book is still up there on the shelf

thank you Richard

posted by VecchioJo [806 posts]
30th May 2013 - 12:51

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IanD wrote:
I still remember how matter of fact he was about dealing with a dog...

Not had to shove my arm down a dog's throat yet thankfully.

Inspiring read back in the '70's

That part of the book came to my mind first when I heard the sad news. Richard's Bicycle Book was my key cycling guide from starting in the 70s, racing in the 70s and 80s and I reminisce about it to this day. His memory will live on.

Cycling - not just a pastime or sport - free your soul on the open road.

timbola's picture

posted by timbola [229 posts]
30th May 2013 - 13:17

1 Like

This is sad news. Richard's bicycle book got me into serious Cycling in the 70s. Despite being a dog lover myself.

I met him at a Bristol Bike Show in, I think, 1981 when I had a stand there (with partners, bike shop). We discussed the Bob Jackson mountain bike I had on display, whether mountain bikes would take off (ha ha), and how suitable cantilever brakes would be on all types of bike. He was incredibly knowledgeable, and very critical of anything anti-cycling. I got the impression he did not suffer fools gladly.

A huge influence in cycling. He'll be remembered by many for the rest of their lives.

posted by bikeylikey [194 posts]
30th May 2013 - 13:41


How very sad.

I've still got and refer to my copy of Richard's Bicycle Book. It was this which really got me interested in cycle mechanics in the 80s and ultimately to a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

I always coveted that green Evans tourer on the cover of RBB too.

RIP Richard. Sad

michophull's picture

posted by michophull [123 posts]
30th May 2013 - 14:04


I suspect there's a whole generation of bike journalists who can at least partly thank Richard Ballantine for the inspiration to make our livings writing about bikes. Or blame him for our not directing our admittedly limited talents toward something more lucrative.

I followed Richard's instructions the first time I stripped down a hub and managed to get it back together and working. A few short years later I was basically recycling his advice in MBUK's Grime Time column. The rest is history.

I loved his column in Bicycle Action - a great mix of ideas, polemic and inspiration that helped shape my pro-bike consciousness.

Hail, farewell and thank you Mr Ballantine.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [1520 posts]
30th May 2013 - 14:11


A real shame.

His name evokes early cycling memories of my dad quoting him while doing various bike maintainence.

posted by Super Domestique [1687 posts]
30th May 2013 - 14:27


Very sad news, got my copy in 1985 & still have it. inspirational book!

posted by Ian531 [38 posts]
30th May 2013 - 15:09


I remember debating helmets with him at the London Cycling Campaign thirty years ago!

But now is not the time to bring up differences.

He was keen on what we now call assertive cycling or vehicular cycling, and what he called "traffic jamming", although later referred to segregated cycle tracks in Stevenage and in other countries. I also worked for him on Bicycle Buyers Bible.I used to bump into him around Regents Park (he lived just off Primrose Hill).

The bottom line is that he helped LOADS of people to ride bikes.

RIP Richard, see you up the road,

Robert Davis

posted by ChairRDRF [262 posts]
30th May 2013 - 15:58


Like many others, my bicycle tinkering was fuelled and enabled by a copy of the bicycle book. I remember trying to apply the exploded diagrams of bike parts that probably hadn't changed since the 1950s to my new fangled BMX with mixed results.


joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [1098 posts]
30th May 2013 - 16:48


Everyone remembers the bit about dealing with dogs.

Top man who did an incredible service to cycling.

I'm going to go and re-read that section now.

posted by Mat Brett [2180 posts]
30th May 2013 - 21:05


Lovely to see the impact RBB had on so many others, his conviction and enthusiasm helped make cycling my hobby for the first twenty years after reading it and my career for the last.

For me the single most important book I've read in shaping me and far and away the most read of all the books on my shelves.

Thank you Richard, RIP

posted by rascal6000 [7 posts]
30th May 2013 - 23:09

1 Like

I can't overemphasize the influence his book had on my life; reading it as a teenager it really did help me to understand and grow to love cycling, all cycling. The book (he wrote others but it's The Book), greasy and dogeared is still somewhere in the garage with my tools. He taught me basic bike mechanics, riding technique that nearly killed me, and yes, how to kill a dog .


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posted by Tuvelo [9 posts]
31st May 2013 - 1:08

1 Like

Richard taught me everything I know with his wonderful Bike Book. RIP

posted by Oli Brooke-White [1 posts]
31st May 2013 - 1:30


RIP. I've never read the book, so for pity's sake will someone tell me what it is he wrote about damn dogs?! Big Grin These comments are driving me nuts!

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3710 posts]
31st May 2013 - 10:04


A true cycling classic ...happy memories of stripping down and rebuilding my Freddie Grubb. In later editions I think the popular 'Dog' section had to be cut open to avoid offending more sensitive souls but essential reading for a teenage boy! RIP Richard!

posted by chillmoister [1 posts]
31st May 2013 - 11:47


RIP Richard, greatly missed. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't know how to adjust my brakes without help. (I also wouldn't know how to kill a dog...)

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
31st May 2013 - 14:36

1 Like

I have lost touch with Richard and often wonder what had happened to him. I have several editions of Richard's Bicycle Book which illuminated cycling to many in the dark ages of thirty or so years ago.

I recall in the early 1980's challenging Richard about his advice on frame sizes which I argued produced too large a frame for the rider. His response was to invite me to write an article for Bicycle which he then owned and edited. He published the full article with no editing and paid me the NUJ rate. A real gentleman.

Incidentally.time has proven me right with today's riders using very small frames indeed.

posted by pga [8 posts]
31st May 2013 - 21:16


I always thought he was an American?


posted by davebinks [136 posts]
31st May 2013 - 21:56


Have the book still. Along with Sheldon Brown in the US Richard did so much to celebrate and market cycling - and beards. Both very fashionable again.

Thanks Richard.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1197 posts]
31st May 2013 - 23:24


Yes, the combination of manual and manifesto in Richard's Bicycle Book was unusual and original. The cover pic of the first paperback edition, of him spannering an Evans 531 bike, was mighty influential -- 'iconic' I think people say now. One disagreed profoundly with his opinions on gearing, but found the advice on maintenance invaluable. The grubby pages of my first edition testify to this. Examples were specific to the period -- how could they have been otherwise? -- but were the texts that founded a lifetime of bike building. I recorded all of last century's bike builds on the flyleaf and remember each one. The greatest surprise of all was when I collected my new Condor Pendio from the store, then on the east side of Gray's Inn Road, in June 1991. Richard was there, and swooped down to examine the bike and endorse Monty Young's opinion that it was "quite a nice little bike". I still have that bike, tho it is much changed now, and no longer first choice. Richard Ballantine -- thank you.

harman_mogul's picture

posted by harman_mogul [193 posts]
1st June 2013 - 0:40

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I would have loved to engage with him. Particularly on 'assertive' cycling. Is it wise to be assertive just by using your frail unprotected body against large heavy essential machines on the move & operated by complete strangers of widely varying ability & mental processes? A reliance on law & rights alone? 'Fine' says St Peter as you pass his Pearly Gates, 'come in you're welcome you were in the right' or possibly as you and your family cope with your paraplegic state. Does applying your rights or jailing drivers make you and your family feel so much better?

A cyclist's hero I'm sorry I didn't know him. R.I.P. Sad

Road safety 'experts' are often folk who's CV doesn't cut the mustard.

posted by Sedgepeat [90 posts]
1st June 2013 - 10:08


Richard Ballantine gave much enthusiastic encouragement to the Bristol pressure group Cyclebag that started on 7 7 77. We met and ate together in 1978 at Cranks in Soho London. Cyclebag became Sustrans. Thank you, Richard.

George Platts (Cyclebag / Sustrans) Bristol UK.

posted by George Platts [1 posts]
13th June 2013 - 15:24