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Christmas is coming – and compendiums start to fill the bookshelves, most hoping to cash in on the gifting market. The results have been variable, with some rather good ones, and others less so. Fortunately 'A History of Cycling in 100 Objects' is one of the better ones.
Every few years there seems to be a successful book format that is subsequently milked for all it's worth – often with disappointing results. I feared this might be another of those, but although the title 'A history of...in 100 objects' appears on several books, they are from different publishers, so perhaps this does not really qualify as one of those 'standard formats'. Whatever the case, topics as diverse as Ireland, World War I, and football have already had the '100 objects' treatment – and now it is the turn of cycling.
© Schwinn, courtesy of Pacific-Cycle
The book gets off to a promising start by using Suze Clemitson as the author, who has some excellent work to her name. By referring to the book as 'an alternative insight into the cycling revolution', Clemitson is free to cover virtually anything she wants without being tied to any ranking or ratings. She is not claiming her selection to be 'the most important 100' or anything similar, just a 'quirky look at the history of cycling'.
The result is an eclectic choice of objects; in some cases the object has a very narrow scope (such as the Simplex derailleur), and in others it is a very broad topic – such as BMX, which leads to a condensed history of the sport and its bikes.
© Google Patents
The layout is a page of text facing a page of 'fascinating photographs and illustrations'. I doubt that there are any images that have not been seen somewhere before, but for the most part they are worthwhile and relevant – and few compendiums manage that. Helpfully, there is a detailed index at the end of the book; less helpfully, there is no bibliography.
I didn't notice any of the suspect facts or errors that are sometimes regurgitated in such a book, and I did get the impression that Clemitson has done some thorough research. For example, this is one of the few books about the history of cycling not to make the mistake of referring to Kirkpatrick Macmillan as the inventor of the bicycle, which is a claim that is often repeated but has largely been discredited.
As is the nature of such books, you will not find all of it to be equally interesting or entertaining – but I can guarantee that there will be some parts that will delight and inform. If one topic does not interest you, then move on because there will be plenty of others that will – and I imagine for most people this book will have far more hits than misses.
© David Taylor
Take the chapter on 'Hi-vis' jackets as an example, which was an unexpected gem for me. After covering the story of how DayGlo fabrics and paint were created, Clemitson moves on to a succinct summary of the perennial debate about the effectiveness of hi-vis. The text is then complemented with a picture of an advert for road safety in France featuring fashion-leader Karl Lagerfield wearing a yellow jacket, next to the headline: 'It's yellow, it's ugly. It doesn't go with anything, but it could save your life.'
Alongside the topics that you might expect, such as EPO and MAMIL, it is good to see some off-beat chapter headings as well: from 'lead weights' to 'carpet tacks', they give Clemitson the opportunity to bring together many stories that you will rarely find elsewhere.
I don't know how well the other '100 objects' books fulfil their mission, but this one does a good job of providing the 'alternative insight into the cycling revolution' that it promises. It is informative without being 'dry', and as is typical of the genre, nearly every time you dip into it you will find something that encourages you to keep reading.
If you are given a cycling book at Christmas 'because you have a bike', you won't be disappointed if it is this one
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road.cc test report
Make and model: A History of Cycling in 100 Objects by Suze Clemitson
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for
An alternative insight into the cycling revolution
Have you ever wondered why the leader's jersey at the Tour de France is yellow?
Where Graeme Obree's record-breaking bike 'Old Faithful' got its nickname?
Or the role of bloomers in bicycle design?
Find out in this absorbing and quirky look at the history of cycling and the development of bike-related design through 100 pivotal objects. Charting the journey from the laufmaschine to the Brompton, through the early prototypes and the two-wheeled toys of the aristocracy, to the speed machines we know today.
Filled with fascinating photographs and illustrations, immerse yourself in the history of cycling – from the boneshaker via the bicycle powered washing machine, to cuddly lions and ball bearings.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: A history of cycling in 100 objects
Author: Suze Clemitson
Date: June 2017
Good value: a fairly large hardback with lots of pictures.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well: one of the better cycling compendiums.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The variety and the unexpected.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
No bibliography or sources given.
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 overall score
Does its job well, and will provide something for 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