are you a lifelong cyclist?
Yes, but I only really started cycling every day about six years ago.
did the bicycle book constitute an enjoyable trip?
Yes, absolutely, I found it fascinating. I loved the alchemy of the framebuilding, loved meeting the professional cyclists and loved the insight into a world (or worlds) which encompassed both very extreme edges and very mainstream centres.
did you come into this book from a point of knowledge, or discovery?
Discovery, absolutely. That's half the fun. If you know everything already, why write the book?
do you employ the bicycle as 'mere' transport, or is there a secret vicky pendleton screaming to get out?
Once in a blue moon, I get so pissed off at being overtaken by a fat boy in lycra that I really step on the gas, and occasionally it's a complete delight just seeing how fast a bike can go, but most of the time the pleasure is about being part of the landscape. Besides, I long ago passed the moment for breaking any new land-speed records.
were you an admirer of graeme obree prior to your saltcoats visit?
Yes, I was always fascinated by him. He's a legend, and there was something in his ferocity and outsiderness which I found compelling. And his book The Flying Scotsman is a genuinely harrowing read - he's been places where very few people have been and remained intact.
while many of us are obsessed with the bicycle, not all would undertake a framebuilding course. does this imply an obsession greater than your introduction to the book would profess?
Oh, come on - who's going to turn down the chance to make a frame with Dave Yates? I think there is a fascination there, but I'm not sure it's just with the bicycle - I think it's for engineering in general. The previous non-fiction stuff I've written was about the sea, the Stevenson family and the Scottish lighthouses; great feats of engineering, the complex made apparently simple. And I've always had a bit of a thing about shipbuilding too. To me, bike frames are just an extension of that; a genuinely magical, alchemical process, turning the inert into something almost alive. To be honest I couldn't really give a stuff about different brands of gearing, but I could watch someone skillful wield a brazing torch forever.
do you see the bicycle nowadays as an integral part of society, or is it still sitting on the periphery?
London gives a slightly skewed picture - it's possible to cycle around the centre of town and believe that it's only a question of time before cyclists completely take over. The same for places like Cambridge and York. But that isn't the case with the rest of the UK, and it will take time for things to change.
any desire to become a messenger or even a fakenger?
Nope. The messengers are a genuinely lovely bunch of people, but the level of injuries is very high and there are some days (especially in Edinburgh) where you really, really don't want to be doing a job out of doors.
does the racing world hold any interest? will you be dipping in and out of the giro d'italia coverage this month?
No! Loved investigating it, loved watching it, loved being introduced to that world and those characters, but I think there's a moment - perhaps for about a year or so after a book is published - where events like that just all feel like work. In a year or so, I'll be back into the Tour and the Giro etc, but for the moment I'd rather follow it all remotely.
do you prefer to write, publish and move on, or will there ever be a bicycle book two?
No idea. My experience is that whatever you may set out to write, you get the book you're given.
edinburgh bicycle have long owned the slogan 'because the revolution will not be motorised'. do you see that ever being fulfilled in our lifetime?
Could do. It's interesting to note that during wars the value of bicycles as forms of transport goes up. Cars are too expensive and too complex to run and maintain, and thus the older forms of transport (horses, boats, bicycles, own two feet) always become vital again. Recession does the same thing.
is it the subject matter of your books that holds your attention, or is it the writing? is it an obsession?
Both. I love and need the actual process of writing, but what I like most of all is speaking to people, listening to their stories and being introduced to worlds I would otherwise not have access to. It's a privilege.
would you consider yourself a cycling 'activist', or one happy to observe from the sidelines?
No, not really. I've got opinions, but that's the trouble - there's no-one in the UK without opinions about cycling. Live and let live, innit.
how many bikes do you own?
Er - four. For research, obviously.
are you competent with a spanner, or would you rather rely on a following mavic car?
Very very old-school on this one. I can be competent with a spanner, but I much prefer getting a man to do it
can you say what you're working on next?
Probably back to the sea again.
posted friday 6 may 2011