In Racing Bicycles, Nick Higgins gives us a great introduction to the world of cycle racing, hoping to get down in 'words and pictures the things that have seized my imagination'. His enthusiasm certainly comes across in his writing, but his paintings are what really make this book stand out from previous works on the subject.
Higgins divides the cycling world up into four sections, being Vélo (which is mainly a brief history), Races, Riders, and Kit, and then gives a roughly even split between text and illustrations. It might not be called a 'coffee-table' book, but you will still be tempted to flick over the pages, enjoying the familiar subjects presented in an unfamiliar manner.
Racing Bicycles describes itself as being 'the illustrated story of road cycling', and it is those illustrations that set this tome apart from any other book trying to cover cycling and racing. The claim is that Higgins' 'painted work and sketches retain charm while remaining technically accurate'. From the examples reproduced here you can see that they are indeed charming, and have clearly been created by someone who knows about cycling.
As with any paintings, I found some to be more appealing than others, with the riders' portraits being the least successful category for me. There are 28 cyclists on offer, and sometimes you need to see the whole context (such as with their jerseys) to recognise them.
I don't want to downplay the quality of the writing, which is succinct, up-to-date, and very readable: the multi-talented Higgins has clearly done his homework, although without a bibliography we don't know his sources. I would say that he has done a good job of summarising his research, but don't expect any ground-breaking new revelations. If you don't know much about the history of cycling and racing, then this will be a good primer; if you already have reasonable knowledge then you are unlikely to discover anything new.
Sometimes Higgins' astute observations will prompt a wry smile, such as his remarks that 'confusingly, pedals that are clipped into are called clipless' or 'a pneumatic tyre: the persistently vulnerable contact point with the road'.
I suspect that Higgins soon discovered how many areas of disagreement there are about cycling's history, and in those cases he has wisely decided to give us the options rather than presenting any single myth as fact.
Take the Tour de France's yellow jersey as an example, 'where the reason for its [colour] selection is disputed. It might have represented the yellow pages of L'Auto, but it is also suggested that yellow shirts were cheaper due to their unpopularity'.
An even more common misconception is that of Tom Simpson's final words, which 'contrary to popular belief...were not 'put me back on my bike', but 'on, on, on!'
Publisher Laurence King does not produce many books about cycling, but when it does they tend to be slightly quirky, of very high quality, and with a strong emphasis on the illustrations. Racing Bicycles fits that mould well, and is exactly the sort of book that could solve a lot of problems when trying to find a 'cycling-related' present – and, crucially, it should be gratefully received by anyone who loves cycling as much as Higgins.
The world of cycle racing as you have never seen it before
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Racing Bicycles The Illustrated Story of Road Cycling
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for
From Laurence King:
Everything you need to know about road cycling – the bikes, the races, the famous riders – in an intricately illustrated, compact volume.
Every major historical development of the road bicycle and the road race is illustrated, from the first geared bikes to modern-day time-trial machines, and from the first penny-farthing races up to the modern Tour de France.
Also included are a wealth of facts, figures and stats, as well as intriguing and quirky stories from the history of competitive cycling.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Racing Bicycles
Author: Nick Higgins
Publisher: Laurence King
A book of this size in hardback is never going to offer the best value for money – but a book of this quality needs to be complemented by a hardback cover.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The story has been told many times before, but this book provides a new perspective.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Those paintings that I found to be less 'recognisable'.
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
Most followers of the sport would appreciate this book: the writing is not detailed enough to be a reference work, but together with the delightful illustrations it makes for an enjoyable overview of road cycling.
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