anoraks are the very items of clothing we wore at school. or at least, that which i wore at school. i had a nice blue one which, in the early sixties (i don't look old enough to remember that do i?) had a beatles patch affixed by my mother. it was the ultimate in cool, or at least it was until i left the house. i think the beatles patch arrived courtesy of several box tops form rice krispies packets and was sewn on the top left of the anorak.
i have no real idea whether there is a specific definition that constitutes an anorak, but the rohan catalogue that arrived in today's mail mentions not once the word anorak. everything is referred to as a jacket leading one to suspect that the term anorak is now persona non-grata. this is, perhaps, not a great surprise to most of us, for while at school, those who spent their spare time standing on railway station platforms writing down engine numbers were disparagingly also known as anoraks. this doubtless was in part a reference to their preferred mode of dress, though it does beggar the question as to why the modern equivalent train-spotter is not referred to as a jacket or a fleece.
as i grew up, the blue jacket with its beatles sew-on patch gave way to several others of larger amplitude, the only one of which i recall was bottle green with a full length velcro fastening. this latter feature was marvellous for opening in the school library, much to the consternation of the librarian.
aside from the necessity of an anorak being at least modestly water-resistant, the species had to have a hood, permanently fixed or otherwise. few modern variations seem to possess the accoutrement, perhaps suggesting why they are now called jackets.
the alternative definition followed me all the way to my sixth year at school, not as a personal appellation, but through my choice of subject for sixth year art. having pulled a blinder by choosing modern commercial aircraft to occupy my meagre illustrative talents, i spent over half my week at the adjacent airport, sometimes drawing and photographing planes, sometimes not. those who were aware of my frequent visits and inhabited the anorak quality of aircraft spotters frequently asked that i write down the numbers of anything that might set foot on the runway, rather undermining the basis of the whole affair in my opinion.
though i have yet to see anyone at the roadside with either a camera or notepad recording the name on the downtube of any passing cyclist, i know that cycling anoraks exist, because i am one myself. several times when on the citylink coach to glasgow, i have caught myself noticing cyclists slogging along the shores of loch lomond and straining to note what make of bicycle the coach was about to pass. and in recognition of the fact that i am not the only cycling anorak in the world, richard moore and daniel benson have edited a sizeable volume to satisfy the craving for infinite detail and copious amount of photographs.
and they've called it bike! (their choice of excalmation mark, not mine).
in a similar manner to a carefully wrapped colnago on christmas morning, what's not to like? moore and benson have assembled a sterling crew of contributors well versed in the art of waxing lyrical about velocipedinal matters, including rohan dubash, john stevenson, peter cossins, ian cleverly and ellis bacon. individually they appear to have been given set tasks to undertake involving penning many an essential word about the great marques of the cycling world. these include gazelle, gios, campagnolo, de rosa, colnago, giant and one heck of a lot more. forty-three more to be precise.
the multitude of contributors have done their homework, providing copious snippets of information about well-known and less well-known manufacturers from the four corners of the modern world. these are augmented by some sterling photographs from days gone by, illustrating many a successful heyday belonging to bicycles and riders. there are, in the minds of many, not only iconic marques but iconic bicycles, several of which are isolated on double-page spreads with accompanying explanations of why they occupy such veneration.
these paragons of the peloton include cippolini's cannondale, an once giant tcr, boardman's lotus, a pegoretti (?), obree's old faithful, a lance trek and cav's venge. but at the risk of being hopelessly prejudiced, my favourite has to be the late franco ballerini's colnago c40 on which he won paris roubaix in 1998. this currently resides in ernesto colnago's museum under his house in cambiago. the bike is still caked with the mud it acquired over the cobbles.
bike!, like many books with lengthy gestation periods, suffers from a patent lack of immediacy. thus john stevenson's chapter regarding the german focus brand was unable to mention the usa national championship win of jeremy powers aboard a focus mares 'cross bike last season. such are the bagaries of the publishing world. we can forgive the pinarello chapter being without note of wiggo's win in this year's tour, for such ommissions are always going to be a feature of any book of this type. while the great bicycle makers of the world have a chequered yet fabulous history, much of it is still in the progress of being made.
it does, however, allow for an occasional incremental update in the coming years.
for reasons i really don't understand, preceding the substantial index at the back of the book is a list of tour de france winners since its 1903 inception, thoughtfully then subdivided into wins by manufacturer, components and country. why? did the very same riders, bikes and countries not also compete in the giro and the vuelta, paris roubaix, milan san remo...? this is, i would tender, information that could be found elsewhere and wholly unnecessary here, serving only to aggrandise a three week tour that already has an ego the size of a planet.
much to its credit, and highly appropriately, the foreword to bike! is written by author of 'it's all about the bike-the pursuit of happiness on two wheels, robert penn. if anyone can be said to have explored the ins and outs of what makes the ideal bicycle, surely it is he? this is the ideal book with which to bring yourself up to date with cycling's rich heritage, one we're all supposed to know. an out and out triumph.
particularly if you're an anorak.
friday 7th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................