Sometimes the attraction of a book is that it covers a wide range of subjects – which should give it a broad appeal – but often the result is that nothing is covered in much detail, and so it risks not fully satisfying anybody. The Splendid Book of the Bicycle by Daniel Tatarsky is, I'm afraid to say, one such.
I am reminded of books such as Schott's Miscellany, a once-popular farrago that solved a lot of Christmas present problems: you would be pleased to receive one, but would be unlikely to buy one for yourself.
The book delves into areas such as history, adventure, racing, culture, technology, and maintenance, and is not afraid to get involved in some areas where the facts are frequently debated – starting with 'who invented the bicycle?' Later on, the same question is addressed about the origin of mountain bikes. Whole books have been written about both topics, but Tatarsky gives reasonable summaries of the 'facts'.
I would often find myself being impressed by the inspired choice of some of the topics chosen, yet at other times be frustrated by errors or omissions. The extent of your frustration will depend on your existing knowledge, but I can only give examples based on my own position.
A succinct summing up of the pros and cons of 26in and 700C wheels for touring round the world is an example of the sort of debate I was pleased to see, and I feel better informed for it. Contrast this with my misgivings a few pages later at the one line covering the monthly wheel maintenance that you should do for yourself: 'tighten any [spokes] that are loose, replace any that are bent.' That won't be of any help to anyone who knows what they are doing, but could lead to some dangerous or expensive meddling by those who don't.
I was pleased to see coverage of ground-breaking machines such as the Gossamer Albatross, which was the first aircraft to cross the English Channel by pedal power; shortly afterwards I was frustrated that the book does not manage to report on the conclusion of Kurt Searvogel's attempt on the annual mileage record (which finished in January), reporting that it 'is very much on target'. You accept that facts can go out of date, but with the book not being published until August that seems like an oversight.
There may be a new 'unit of measure' to add to Olympic-size swimming pools, football pitches, double-decker buses, and so on: 'If you took your bike apart ... and laid all the pieces end to end, it would cover a distance of almost 50 metres!'
Occasionally I was disappointed at some of the advice, which did not seem to reflect how a cyclist would think. It is suggested, for example, that 'a footpump is probably the most essential piece of maintenance kit'... It might be an option if you have Schrader valves, but a workshop floor pump is surely the more usual – and versatile – recommendation?
There are a lot of pictures in the book that I had not seen before, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the selection of adverts from cycling over the ages. However, sometimes the captions were not of the same calibre: there is a picture of the start of a folding-bike race (such as the one held at the London Nocturne), which we are told shows 'City workers doing a Le Mans start after finishing work' – despite the fact that the riders are wearing race numbers, and there are spectators behind barriers. An attempt at humour, perhaps.
I also feel that a book like this would benefit from a bibliography, partly to clarify the source of information, and partly to allow those whose interest has been piqued to read more about the subject.
If you buy (or are given) this book you will undoubtedly find something of interest in it, because it really does cover a lot of ground. I'd imagine you will also be frustrated at times where there is insufficient detail, occasional questionable advice, or the odd error.
Some unexpected gems of information, some that might frustrate you
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Splendid Book of the Bicycle, by Daniel Tatarsky
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?
Cycling is hugely popular nowadays. Since 2003 more than 100 million bikes have been produced each year, more than twice the amount of cars. And in 2011, more than 741,000 people cycled to work, an increase of 90,000 from 2001.
The Splendid Book of the Bicycle is a wide-ranging celebration of the bicycle and cycling, incorporating social history, sport and science. It covers the bicycle's invention and subsequent historical development, stories of intrepid early cyclists who travelled the world, the 20th-century popularity of cycle touring, and the depiction of bicycles in films, books and art.
It examines the sport of cycling, including histories of the Tour de France and the other great European races, the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, and goes on to explore velodrome-based cycling and the rise of BMX and mountain biking.
It investigates the science behind balance and aerodynamics, and covers the future of bicycles, including innovative flying, floating and electric bikes. It also touches on the technical aspects of bicycles, including an exploded diagram of a typical bike and tips for basic maintenance of your own bike.
Beautifully illustrated with vintage and modern images, this book is a perfect gift for both bike obsessives and general readers.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: The Splendid book of the Bicycle
Author: Daniel Tatarsky
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It covers a wide range of subjects, many of them unexpected.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Some of the information I would disagree with...
Did you enjoy using the product? Some parts.
Would you consider buying the product? It is more likely that it will be bought for you.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your score
Some interesting parts, some less so, and some frustratingly inaccurate. I can't say I was overly smitten with the book, or would wholeheartedly recommend it, so I'm giving it a middling 5 for 'average'.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding