The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture, edited by Guy Andrews, does exactly what a good compendium should do, and provides a varied and unexpected mix of 'fascinating contributions by leading creatives from a broad cultural spectrum'. Not many cycle brands could be successfully associated with such a quirky compendium, but Brooks is surely one of them.
Italian saddle manufacturer Selle Royal bought Brooks back in 2002; questions are sometimes raised as to whether it is a good thing to allow foreign business to be able to buy a great British business (such as was the case recently with ARM Holdings), but it seems to have been only a positive thing in this case.
I feel that Brooks now appreciates its Britishness and considerable heritage more than it ever did, and takes full advantage of it: this compendium of 'riveting stories and curiosities from cosmopolitan Great Britain' is surely evidence of that.
Most of the book is not about Brooks – although it is generally about cycling, in which Brooks has played a part since the beginning. There is a well-illustrated and informative chapter by Guy Andrews that contrasts the development of cycle racing in the UK with that in the rest of Europe; this is followed by a delightful explanation of the less obvious words and phrases that can be used to describe so much of cycle racing – starting (of course) with 'on the rivet'.
Another article gives some background to the charitable aims of the MTN-Qhubeka team, along with the story of Matt Brammeier's Africa Kit Appeal. Like so much else in the book, this was unexpected, informative, and welcome.
As the preface says, 'This book is not solely about Brooks. It's about the world around Brooks', so there is a Brooks presence, but certainly no 'hard sell' of the brand.
The most Brooks-specific chapter is several pages of photographs by Martin Parr showing aspects of the leather saddle production process – which look to be far removed from the beautifully polished and presented end product we know.
The Brooks name also makes an occasional appearance when one is least expecting it. In an excellent chapter by Jack Thurston about the role of the cycle in adventure and touring, we read that 'a good reason for riding a bike with a Brooks saddle is that, if things get really tough, you can always eat it.'
In another chapter there are several pages of inventions that represent 'Great British ingenuity', but only one, the Brooks saddle, 'is still used and loved worldwide in an essentially unchanged form 151 years [later]'.
There is nothing else quite like this book sitting on my bookcase: there are some parallels with Paul Smith's cycling scrapbook, and if you are a fan of Rapha's equally idiosyncratic Mondial magazine you should enjoy this book.
For those who like to comment on road.cc's curious desire to feature the weight of books, you will be pleased to see that this one has been drilled for lightness, with holes in both the cover and some pages. Only kidding: the holes are there to echo the design found on some saddles. Still, it all helps to keep the weight of the book under 1 kg – and not every saddle can manage that!
Unusual, entertaining and surprising mix of stories about the culture of cycling and its place in history.
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture -
Size tested: n/a
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?
From Thames & Hudson:
A celebration of the bicycle and its wide-ranging cultural impact worldwide – an insider view into the world of cycling bound to inspire the imagination of professional and amateur cyclists alike.
Saddle manufacturer Brooks England has been a British household name and an international cycling icon for 150 years. What continues to motivate and inspire this classic marque?
With the help of a variety of writers, artists, journalists, designers, photographers and illustrators, this eclectic compendium of cycling's joys depicts Brooks's unique and idiosyncratic view of the wide-ranging impact of the bicycle and its place in the world, alongside their dedication to function, quality and style.
While Brooks is, at its heart, a British company, the team explore the bicycle as a worldwide phenomenon that has connected people – the Tour de France luring professional cyclists of all nationalities to the continental countryside – and continues to provide lone travellers with a gateway to all corners of the earth, celebrating journeys undertaken in some of the planet's most extreme environments, from South America's Atrato Swamp to Siberia.
Alongside these ambitious projects, the simple joy of cycling to work, the sense of freedom and adventure afforded to all those who cycle for leisure, and the satisfaction gleaned from crafting the bicycle itself are exalted. The result isn't a book about a saddle maker, but a collection of fascinating contributions from leading creatives from a broad cultural spectrum who are as passionate about their work as they are about their cycling.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: The Brooks compendium of cycling culture
Author: Brooks England, edited by Guy Andrews
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Date: January 2017
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Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It would frequently surprise you.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, as long as I knew enough about their taste to be sure that they would enjoy it
Use this box to explain your score
The book does its job well, but I appreciate that it will not appeal to everyone.
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,