Bring out your bike. Take a good look at it. Close and from a distance. What do you see?
You might see a nice interconnected structure of steel, rubber and plastic components. Maybe more components than you thought. Details you have never paid attention to. The rear tyre you bought in the south of France when the previous one blew out on a descent. The little …. Wait a minute, what did you say about that rear tyre? Isn’t that like a story we have there? Yep. Your bike is packed with stories. In fact, you could see it as a huge interconnected structure of stories. And you are probably unaware of most of them. In It’s all about the bike, Robert Penn unveils many of the stories connected with the bike and its components.
The main story Penn tells is the story of his dream bike. A hand made racing bike. He follows the entire process of his bike being built, and pays visits to the factories where the components are being made. The story falls apart in the basic components of a bike: frame, wheels, drivetrain, handlebars and saddle. He starts with telling the history of these components, how they came to look like they do. There are some engineering bits, angles and measures, and how these influence the ride. But most interesting are the stories he tells about the people who make the components. How they found out what works best, how their craftmanship shows from the way they work, and how they are connected to what they make.
All of these stories are clearly what makes the book absolute fun to read, especially when you love cycling. Through these stories, you become more connected to your bicycle. You could see a wheel not only as a set of spokes, but as the idea of a spoke pattern that once came to mind of a certain person, and the struggle he had to make the first wheel. Or you could imagine that Mr. Dunlop, Mr. Michelin, and Mr. Goodyear all influenced the way your tyres look nowadays.
In the end, not only bicycles, but basically everything has stories attached to it. And these stories are, in my opinion, what makes things really interesting.
Robert Penn (2010) It’s all about the bike. Particular Books, London, England.