It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels by Rob Penn   £8.99


Very much more than a book about a search for the perfect bike


by William Fotheringham   July 4, 2011  

It's all about the bike paperback

On first reading Rob Penn's It's All About the Bike, I wrote that if the shiny bits we all ogle, weigh and covet are affectionately termed the generic bike porn, this book is the equivalent of Delta of Venus: erotica for the cycling fan. It's an account of Penn's search for the perfect bits for his perfect bike, but the joy of the way he has written this is that it's not just techie stuff for technoweenies.

I am among the least mechanically minded of cyclists. I find the grand lines of the history of the derailleur fantastic but shiver at little once the details start to become too arcane. So I liked this, partly because Penn's love of Reynolds tubing, Brooks saddles, and Campagnolo widgetry stirred the not so latent conservative in me, but mainly because in Penn's way of thinking bike bits are far more than merely bits of a bike.

So what this book does is take us on a quick flip through bike culture down the ages with his quest for the best tubing, wheels, headset and so on. The stories are condensed but pretty much all the needful is here: the early machines, a brief diversion out into the history of racing, nods to the greats who have written about the bike - Flann O'Brien, Jerome K Jerome and company.

Penn's paean to steel and the dying breed of custom frame builders is sung to a Brian Rourke frame. Reynolds and Brooks get their due, so too DT and Royce. A trip to Italy takes in those entertaining chaps at Cinelli as well as the somewhat more straightlaced guys at Campagnolo, and he even manages a quick digression down Repack way en route to picking up some extremely recherch wheels from Gravy in Fairfax, California. Well, why not? If opportunity knocks, let it in.

It's all approachably written, the right mix of enough info without being overpowering, and it zips along happily like a comfortable steel-framed bike powered by the right pair of legs. The paperback version is small enough to fit into a pannier if you want to take it with you for inspiration. The pics aren't great, but the words do the job just fine.

The point here is a key one: the bike is the heart of our cycling lives, but it's a starting point for all sorts of journeys, literal and metaphoric. So Penn's title merits a tiny edit: it's not actually all about the bike, it's all about the stories behind the bike. But it's all the better for it.

William Fotheringham is a cycling journalist and the author of a number of well known cycling books his latest, Cyclopedia, is available at all good book shops


Very much more than a book about a search for the perfect bike test report

Make and model: Rob Penn It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels

Size tested: Paperback

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.

Would you consider buying the product? Yes, but I've read it now

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 46  Height: 185cm  Weight: 82kg

I usually ride: Condor  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, club rides, track racing


4 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I thought this was a brilliant read. Penn's enthusiasm for cycling oozes off the page and resonates with the reader.

Linking his search for the best of the best components for his custom build with the history of the bicycle was great, as was learning about the massive social impact the bicycle had in it's first heyday.

Highly recommended (and do try and catch the accompanying documentary that the beeb repeat on occasion).

posted by moonbucket [60 posts]
5th July 2011 - 1:24


It's all about the proofreading... Check again the subtitle you've given the book. Thinking Fixed, so now my comment makes no sense. Just to let know- I love you because of your faults, not in spite of them Smile


posted by Littlehuan [46 posts]
5th July 2011 - 14:05


I read the Kindle version, and found it a very enjoyable read indeed. I second the comments from moonbucket!

posted by paulj [17 posts]
6th July 2011 - 6:10


Really enjoyed this; lots of things about bikes I didn't know and made a nice change from reading about racing, doping etc. Must have made an impression on me as I went out and bought a steel road bike!


posted by Shades [272 posts]
19th February 2014 - 17:17