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
road.cc 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
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