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Verdict: 
Excellent coffee table book that really manages to bring out Tom Simpson's personality
Weight: 
1,610g
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Tom Simpson: Bird On The Wire
9 10

Andy McGrath's Tom Simpson: Bird On The Wire is a beautifully written and designed book that brings a new dimension to a much covered cyclist thanks to some fantastic imagery and insightful writing.

Tom Simpson was one of the most widely respected cyclists in the professional peloton in the early 1960s and became the darling of British racing, arguably becoming the cyclist who paved the way for the likes of Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish to become world beaters. Fifty years after his famous death there has been a huge amount of commemoration, including this book.

The hard cover book is 224 pages of high quality printing, interesting commentary on the man himself, but most importantly a huge variety of amazing photos of Simpson.

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - pages 1.jpg

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - pages 1.jpg

I've read about Tom Simpson a lot in the past few years, having been given a bike originally put together by Harry Hall, the mechanic who famously 'put him back on his bike', and I am familiar with his story. Unlike most other books I've read on Simpson, McGrath's offering concentrates more on specific periods in a non-linear fashion. For instance, the first chapter discusses Simpson winning the Rainbow Jersey, before going on to discuss his early life and move over to Europe.

There are chapters discussing specific race types, such as Monument Man, which looks at his successes in the early season monuments, and Je T'aime, Moi Non Plus, which takes you through his various Tours. It's an engaging and in many ways logical way to look at Tom Simpson's life and achievements.

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - pages 2.jpg

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - pages 2.jpg

One thing that sets this book apart is the amazing imagery used throughout. It is easy to get an understanding of the kind of personality that Simpson had from other books about him, and of course his autobiography, but when these descriptions are next to a full page image of him, you get a real sense of the man himself; they really help to bring his personality alive, from the stupid hats and almost constant smile, through to the suffering on his face as he climbs. It also manages to be emotional while staying classy; I've seen far too many images of Simpson in his final moments and to be honest, I hate them, they seem morbid and do little to actually tell the story of who he was.

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - back.jpg

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - back.jpg

The writing is really interesting, with insightful quotes from Simpson's team mates, friends, and family members. There is also a foreword from Bradley Wiggins giving his thoughts on Simpson and how his story impacted him during his career.

It's also a really well-designed book, with high definition pictures and loads of white space, making it both easy to read and good looking.

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - pages 3.jpg

Rapha Tom Simpson - Bird On The Wire Book - pages 3.jpg

Its RRP of £36 is about what I'd expect for a hard cover coffee table book – even one with a Rapha logo on the cover.

> More books: Essential reading for cyclists

Overall, I was really impressed with this book. As somebody who has done a fair amount of reading on Tom Simpson I thought it would be a case of more or less checking that all the important facts were in there, but in reality I felt like I got to know Tom's personality better than I did before. McGrath can be proud of a book that looks great and reads well.

Verdict

Excellent coffee table book that really manages to bring out Tom Simpson's personality

road.cc test report

Make and model: Tom Simpson: Bird On The Wire

Size tested: Hardback

Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

Rapha says: 'A new biography of British cycling's greatest icon Tom Simpson, guided by rare photography and untold stories from those closest to him, with a foreword by Sir Bradley Wiggins.'

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

From the publisher:

New biography of Tom Simpson

Foreword by Sir Bradley Wiggins

Format: Hardback

Edition: 1st

Extent: 224 pages

ISBN: 9781472949202

Imprint: Bloomsbury Sport

Illustrations: Over 130 photographs, many never before seen

Dimensions: 280 x 245 mm

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
9/10

Really well-made hardback book, strong binding and thick pages.

Rate the product for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the product for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the product for value:
 
6/10

Really well made, incredible photographs, worth the RRP.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Very well, McGrath has managed to source some amazing photos of the man while also writing passionately about his life.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The images sourced are amazing and really bring Simpson's personality through.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Not a lot to not like, a thoroughly excellent book.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Yes

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your score

A superbly written book, very well designed and with some rarely seen and fascinating photographs.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 29  Height: 6 ft  Weight:

I usually ride: Mercian King of Mercia or Cinelli Gazzetta  My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo

I've been riding for: 5-10 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking

George spends his days flitting between writing about data, running business magazines and writing about sports technology. The latter gave him the impetus (excuse) to get even further into the cycling world before taking the dive and starting his own cycling sites and writing for Road.cc. 

When he is not writing about cycling, he is either out on his bike cursing not living in the countryside or boring anybody who will listen about the latest pro peloton/cycling tech/cycling infrastructure projects.  

24 comments

Avatar
Leviathan [2868 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Can anyone explain why people ae still obsessed with this fellow? He died years before I was even born, and I am well old. Most of you never saw him ride. He died when under the infulence of PEDs. It might have been the early years, but it was still cheating. I really don't understand why he has been romanticized by frankly, cycling hipster. Yes you in the Bart/Tommy Simpson t-shirt. Tell me why I should care or why people keep buying stuff with him on it?

Avatar
Johnnystorm [97 posts] 3 months ago
9 likes

Shakespeare, why the ongoing interest? He died years ago, none of you ever saw any of his plays in the original globe.

History channel, why does anyone watch that, etc.

Avatar
HalfWheeler [667 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Have always felt uneasy about lionising Simpson. From what I've read in an era of cheats he cheated the most. Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx; on paper their acheivements are remarkable but God knows what was flowing through their veins.

It's hardly fool-proof but hero worshipping pro cyclists before comprehensive drug testing and after the advent of EPO is fraught with difficulties. Even during this period of relative 'cleanliness' (lets call it the mid 70s to early 90s) all sorts of household names were being caught and given derisory punishments; Sean Kelly, Robert Millar, Steven Rooks, Francesco Moser, Pedro Delgado, Laurent Fignon, etc, etc...

Avatar
Kadinkski [737 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Wow, I haven't seen most of those photos before. Looks like a beautiful book - have just placed my order  1

Avatar
Leviathan [2868 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
Johnnystorm wrote:

Shakespeare, why the ongoing interest? He died years ago, none of you ever saw any of his plays in the original globe. History channel, why does anyone watch that, etc.

Not exactly comparable are they? Simpson isn't even as interesting as Senna, let alone one of the foremost literary geniuses of all time. Shakespeare invented a good portion of the language we all speak, Simpson popped some pills and rode a bike. And as for the History Channel; I am invoking Godwin's Law on that one.

Avatar
mike the bike [980 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

 

Didn't his mother marry the Duke of Windsor?

Avatar
barbarus [502 posts] 3 months ago
7 likes

I think he's interesting because he's a tragic figure. Flawed, driven by ambition and external pressure for results. Interest in him doesn't imply approval everything he did.

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [988 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes
HalfWheeler wrote:

Have always felt uneasy about lionising Simpson. From what I've read in an era of cheats he cheated the most. Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx; on paper their acheivements are remarkable but God knows what was flowing through their veins.

It's hardly fool-proof but hero worshipping pro cyclists before comprehensive drug testing and after the advent of EPO is fraught with difficulties. Even during this period of relative 'cleanliness' (lets call it the mid 70s to early 90s) all sorts of household names were being caught and given derisory punishments; Sean Kelly, Robert Millar, Steven Rooks, Francesco Moser, Pedro Delgado, Laurent Fignon, etc, etc...

Merckx was a serial doper, a bully and refused to admit it was him that was cheating (Sound familiar?) Caught 3 times in some of the biggest races (and another in a low level race IIRC) taking the piss to such an extent that even with limited testing he was found guilty of doping and DQ'd. Why do people knock one out over him/recall with fondness over his exploits?

Was Simpson on the gear, yup, no doubt about it, did he feel the need to take so much so that he thought that would get him through/win the stage or race, yes, is it sad that he died, yes, is it okay to have a memorial where he died doing something he was obsessed with to the point it took his life, yes.

A book that looks at all aspects of someone that is well known for just one small segment of their life could probably be interesting, I'd flick through it if I came across it.

Avatar
HalfWheeler [667 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes
barbarus wrote:

I think he's interesting because he's a tragic figure. Flawed, driven by ambition and external pressure for results. Interest in him doesn't imply approval everything he did.

All true. But in 30 years time, how would you feel about a broadly sympathetic, glossy coffee table book about Lance Armstrong?

Avatar
Johnnystorm [97 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes
HalfWheeler wrote:
barbarus wrote:

I think he's interesting because he's a tragic figure. Flawed, driven by ambition and external pressure for results. Interest in him doesn't imply approval everything he did.

All true. But in 30 years time, how would you feel about a broadly sympathetic, glossy coffee table book about Lance Armstrong?

Very differently of course. Armstrong doped in an era where the catastrophic experiences of someone like Simpson were known. I haven't read much on Simpson, beyond the odd article, but I don't recall hime being a lying, bullying psychopath.

Avatar
StoopidUserName [373 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

.

Avatar
StoopidUserName [373 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes
Leviathan wrote:

Can anyone explain why people ae still obsessed with this fellow? He died years before I was even born, and I am well old. Most of you never saw him ride. He died when under the infulence of PEDs. It might have been the early years, but it was still cheating. I really don't understand why he has been romanticized by frankly, cycling hipster. Yes you in the Bart/Tommy Simpson t-shirt. Tell me why I should care or why people keep buying stuff with him on it?

 

Read up a bit on the history of cycling and then, and only then, will you understand.

 

Oh, may as well read up on doping in all other sports since the 50's too, all yer heros are probably cheats  3

Avatar
davel [1988 posts] 3 months ago
4 likes
StoopidUserName wrote:
Leviathan wrote:

Can anyone explain why people ae still obsessed with this fellow? He died years before I was even born, and I am well old. Most of you never saw him ride. He died when under the infulence of PEDs. It might have been the early years, but it was still cheating. I really don't understand why he has been romanticized by frankly, cycling hipster. Yes you in the Bart/Tommy Simpson t-shirt. Tell me why I should care or why people keep buying stuff with him on it?

 

Read up a bit on the history of cycling and then, and only then, will you understand.

 

Oh, may as well read up on doping in all other sports since the 50's too, all yer heros are probably cheats  3

Leviathan needeth not Heroes.

Leviathan needeth not History.

Leviathan hath:

Sportives

and

STRAVA!

Avatar
alansmurphy [1242 posts] 3 months ago
3 likes

Ahhh nostalgia, it's not like it used to be...

 

One of my heros, died 10 years to the day before I was born.

 

A seemingly very average man born in County Durham and grew up in Nottinghamshire, fell in love with bike racing and picked up medals on the track. Became the first British rider to sign as a pro for a French team. Won the Tour de Flanders, Paris-Nice, Milan San Remo, stages at Vielta and first Brit to win the yellow jersey. He played up to the British stereotype and charmed the French public with a smart suit, bowler hat etc. 

 

Though the 'Put me back on my bike' wasn't exactly true, he was known as gritty, attacking, sh!t or bust and would leave it all out on the road. Look at the imagery in the book, the undescribably punishing cassettes, the citroens chasing them round - power meters, race radio, pah, you went with your legs and your heart.

 

You also need to put the drug taking into context, this wasn't a time of organised doping, blood transfusions, staying ahead of the testers. Most of the riders rattled, they were taking inefficient amphetamines and he was on brandy, brandy! Further context shows he was 29 years old, had just built/purchased a new house and needed a new contract to tide him over after the cycling ended, it was an important time in his career. 

 

Apparently he was having stomach problems on the day he died (and leading up to it) and felt he just couldn't quit. He popped the pills, drunk the brandy and pushed his pedals with all his might up the giant of provence, the air thinned, the temperature rose and it was just too much.

 

And you compare him to someone who used Cancer as a smokescreen for one of the biggest deceits in sport? Encouraged (maybe forced) others to take drugs or quit, had staff members sacked for failing to get with the programme, nearly bankrupt people and even passed comment on Walsh's tragically killed son as people tried to expose him.

 

I paid hommage to him in July, an absolute life experience.

 

Avatar
StoopidUserName [373 posts] 3 months ago
1 like
alansmurphy wrote:

Ahhh nostalgia, it's not like it used to be...

 

One of my heros, died 10 years to the day before I was born.

 

A seemingly very average man born in County Durham and grew up in Nottinghamshire, fell in love with bike racing and picked up medals on the track. Became the first British rider to sign as a pro for a French team. Won the Tour de Flanders, Paris-Nice, Milan San Remo, stages at Vielta and first Brit to win the yellow jersey. He played up to the British stereotype and charmed the French public with a smart suit, bowler hat etc. 

 

Though the 'Put me back on my bike' wasn't exactly true, he was known as gritty, attacking, sh!t or bust and would leave it all out on the road. Look at the imagery in the book, the undescribably punishing cassettes, the citroens chasing them round - power meters, race radio, pah, you went with your legs and your heart.

 

You also need to put the drug taking into context, this wasn't a time of organised doping, blood transfusions, staying ahead of the testers. Most of the riders rattled, they were taking inefficient amphetamines and he was on brandy, brandy! Further context shows he was 29 years old, had just built/purchased a new house and needed a new contract to tide him over after the cycling ended, it was an important time in his career. 

 

Apparently he was having stomach problems on the day he died (and leading up to it) and felt he just couldn't quit. He popped the pills, drunk the brandy and pushed his pedals with all his might up the giant of provence, the air thinned, the temperature rose and it was just too much.

 

And you compare him to someone who used Cancer as a smokescreen for one of the biggest deceits in sport? Encouraged (maybe forced) others to take drugs or quit, had staff members sacked for failing to get with the programme, nearly bankrupt people and even passed comment on Walsh's tragically killed son as people tried to expose him.

 

I paid hommage to him in July, an absolute life experience.

 

^^ this 

Avatar
Kadinkski [737 posts] 3 months ago
3 likes
HalfWheeler wrote:

But in 30 years time, how would you feel about a broadly sympathetic, glossy coffee table book about Lance Armstrong?

Obviously there'd be a massive market for it - he is the most famous name in the history of cycling and has a legion of fans. On a personal level, I'd buy such a book in a second. You should publish one, you'll make a mint.

Avatar
beezus fufoon [956 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
Kadinkski wrote:
HalfWheeler wrote:

But in 30 years time, how would you feel about a broadly sympathetic, glossy coffee table book about Lance Armstrong?

Obviously there'd be a massive market for it - he is the most famous name in the history of cycling and has a legion of fans. On a personal level, I'd buy such a book in a second. You should publish one, you'll make a mint.

of course, you'd have to include a free blood doping kit complete with blood bags, surgical tubing, syringes etc. - don't wait 30 years though 

Avatar
Kadinkski [737 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
beezus fufoon wrote:

of course, you'd have to include a free blood doping kit complete with blood bags, surgical tubing, syringes etc. - don't wait 30 years though 

 

Why would those artifacts have to be included? I bought a book about Winston Churchill recently, it didn't include any cigars, bowler hats, declarations of war, or bow ties.

Avatar
beezus fufoon [956 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
Kadinkski wrote:
beezus fufoon wrote:

of course, you'd have to include a free blood doping kit complete with blood bags, surgical tubing, syringes etc. - don't wait 30 years though 

 

Why would those artifacts have to be included? I bought a book about Winston Churchill recently, it didn't include any cigars, bowler hats, declarations of war, or bow ties.

was it a fancy, overpriced coffee table book though?

Avatar
beezus fufoon [956 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

...also noticed this book weighs 1,610g

hopefully the Lance Armstrong one will be carbon and so come in at under a kilo (not including the bonus doping kit)

Avatar
Simon E [3154 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes

No-one can tell you why you should or should not be interested. You either are or you aren't.

For anyone wanting to read about Simpson and his era then William Fotheringham's book about him, Put Me Back on My Bike, would be a great place to start.

Avatar
alansmurphy [1242 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

I forgot the rainbow bands, 1965 - it's on the t-shirt I'm wearing  1

Bee us, some would argue you ride an over-priced garage bike. I love books, my grandfather was a book binder by trade. I was bought this book for my 40th and need to buy another to take out of the wrapping and read... But all books should have a creased spine and dog ears... Oh the dilemma.

Or you can get it on a kindle and nob off round Zwift island innit!

Avatar
Leviathan [2868 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

 

davel wrote:

Leviathan needeth not Heroes.

Leviathan needeth not History.

Leviathan hath:

Sportives

and

STRAVA!

...always rising.

Avatar
beezus fufoon [956 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
alansmurphy wrote:

I forgot the rainbow bands, 1965 - it's on the t-shirt I'm wearing  1

Bee us, some would argue you ride an over-priced garage bike. I love books, my grandfather was a book binder by trade. I was bought this book for my 40th and need to buy another to take out of the wrapping and read... But all books should have a creased spine and dog ears... Oh the dilemma.

Or you can get it on a kindle and nob off round Zwift island innit!

ah, so what you're saying is that there are books with creased spines and dog ears and some still in the wrapping and some on kindle - (just as there are bikes from over-priced garages, used only for zwift) - and because your grandfather was a book binder, your love for them is conditional and exclusory, and your tastes are limited soley to the bourgeois...

and for that reason you dislike my promotional vision for a broadly sympathetic, glossy coffee table book about Lance Armstrong - makes perfect sense