a bicycle frame is a wonderful object, particularly if you have a new one in the bike shed that you can drag out every now and again and fawn over. i have just such an object which i have procrastinated over waaaay too long. i should be riding it by now, delighting the local populace with its fabulous colour and sleek good looks. but in a perfect example of i used to be indecisive, but now i'm not so sure, it remains a frame because i can't make up my mind what componentry to hang upon its impressive profile. it will happen, and perhaps even before the frame becomes another year older. however, it's supposedly better to travel well than to arrive, a mindful thought i am currently using as an excuse for not having made it into a complete bicycle. there are one or two components awaiting that day; brakes, and rear gear mech are in nice new, once opened boxes, and just today i received notice that the very seatpost i have lusted after, may be within my grasp. until then, the travelling continues.
however, the travelling of which i infer is simply a euphemism; i'm unlikely to be physically moving myself too far from the bikeshed in the quest for bicycleness, unlike rob penn who quite literally travelled the world to put together his dream bike. then, just to turn us a delightful shade of green, he has written about the whole enchilada, from the early visits to brian rourke's being measured for his savile row steel frame (what else?) to the end of his happy travelling when the bits met their repository for that all important first ride.
yet strangely, feelings of envy don't materialise in the fashion i expected; reading this book is much more of a cathartic experience. as ran the slogan for the co-operative supermarket: 'we go further, so that you don't have to'. in putting the ideal bicycle together bit by bit, component by component, rob has been living the dream for us. substitute your own builder, your own wheels and your own preferred saddle, and there but for the grace of a publisher's advance go we (collectively speaking). don't for a minute expect me to believe that you wouldn't travel the world to do this for yourself. however, were the written words solely about building the dream bike, i could perhaps understand your misgivings; a nice idea, not one that any of us hasn't had at least once in a bathtime, but hardly the sort of notion liable to fill over 200 pages. much like those four-part dramas on itv that could have been finished in one.
you see, to fully appreciate why the bicycle is the bicycle, how it made it from the days of the dandy horse to the finest form of human transport on the planet, is something that needs to be fully understood in order to make informed choices. well, actually that's not entirely true, but unless you frequent the bicycle section of the national library, i'm pretty sure you won't be aware of all the nuggets of velocipedinal history and their subtle intertwining that mr penn has uncovered in pursuit of his quest. rob has not only investigated and relayed the historical aspect of the bicycle, but also that of his component choices; even if you strongly disagree with his build programme, there is no way you're going to finish this book less educated in the way of the velo, than before you opened the cover.
in the days when i used to teach basic computer studies to adults, in order to have them practice the art of clicking around the screen with a mouse, i'd have them draw me a house. two windows top and bottom, one chimney (even in this age of central heating), a front door, garden path and a wicker fence. so intent were they on perfecting this idealised abode, that their perceived ineptitude with a point and click device deserted them. rob has taken a similar approach to the chapters in the book; i'm not averse to learning as much about the history of the bike as is comfortably palatable, but it's not always the most rivetting of subject matter. rob is master of an ability, that of skilful manipulation of the written word; you could easily reach chapter three before realising how much more complete your education had become. the quest for each component (wheels, tyres, headset, groupset, bars, saddle) is brilliantly threaded midst their place in the panoply of all that is velocipedinal. the result is a book that cannot be laid aside for long, if at all. the quest for closure must be followed to its logical end; around page 186 if you must know.
rob penn contacted me several months ago with a precis of the outline for this book, and i confess i couldn't quite see any mileage in the project (pun intended), but i now find myself slightly red of face, not only through lack of faith in his initial idea, but because the finished work has proved me unquestionably wrong. i understand that a film crew accompanied rob across the (bicycle) universe, and thus the book (due for publication at end of july - ideally placed to fill the gap left by the tour) will hopefully be closely followed by the documentary. the book is currently available for pre-order at amazon uk, and i'd respectfully suggest that you click the appropriate link to do so.
darned good cover too.
posted thursday 27 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................