Book Review: A History of Cycling in 100 Objects



It has taken me some time to write this book review for a few reasons, foremost being that it arrived at the height of the cycling season when I am always a bit busy/distracted. However, I did take it on my week long holiday after the Tour de France and on day one I reclined on a sun lounger, G&T at hand, propped it on my knees, and prepared to relax and enjoy. At that precise moment 3 wasps who had been concealing themselves up to this point, waiting for me to fully settle, launched their ambush. Now this is a weighty hardback and as a weapon would have merit in some circumstances but in these conditions manoeuvrability and flexibility were required and it came up short. Despite a shaky start I eventually managed to get going with the task at hand. If you read my live stories and blogs here regularly you know that the world of cycling is never far from my thoughts so could anything stop me devouring this book cover to cover in one go? The answer is yes. Nothing to do with wasps though, it was the book itself which irritated me in chapter 1. So much so that I have not gone back to it until this week.

What we are presented with in this book is exactly what the cover promises. 100 objects. All cycling related. Some from a long time ago, some recent, some in between. Our author Suze Clemitson (aka @festinagirl) likes a cycling list. She has also written 'P is for Peloton, an A-Z of Cycling' and '100 Tours, 100 Tales'. In this particular case she has chosen 100 objects to highlight, some of which have been scooped up into coherent categories to form 'chapters' and others which have been shoehorned together and given a title to fit. We begin, as you'd expect, with 'The Bicycles' and a straight timeline of 11 bikes from the Draisine - pretty much just 2 wheels joined by a plank, through boneshakers, and penny-farthings to Graeme Obree's DIY built masterpiece on which he broke the world hour record in 1993. I admit that I found it a bit of a slog to reach this point. Some bits were interesting, especially the step-through frame and the impact that had on the lives (and freedoms) of women. We end with the thing of beauty that is the steed upon which Chris Froome has found such success: The Pinarello Dogma. And that is where I got in a right strop about it. I mean what the hell has the man got to do to be properly recognised for his achievements? Here we have a cycling book written by a cycling author/journalist who either can't count or hasn't really been paying attention for a few years and announces that Froome won his second Tour de France on this bike in 2016. FFS. The picture alongside claims to be Froome training on the very bike he rode to TdF victory in 2016. It isn't. It's a gorgeous Pinarello Dogma F8 but it clearly isn't the distinctive race bike livery plus the big giveaway is a round chainring when Froome always uses an osymetric one for racing. Call me picky but it's not like there aren't plenty of photos available of the right bike:

You'll be pleased to know that is my rant over. The rest of the objects selected for scrutiny in the book are gathered into fairly random groups, described and explained well and illustrated appropriately. Clemitson does not shy away from mentions of Lance Armstrong, a subject at risk of being airbrushed from history as many (including myself until recently) shy away from even mentioning his name but here he comes up in general tales as well as in the short section devoted to doping. What I really liked in the book was the regular reminders of what a great role cycling has had in liberating women from the bonds of society's attitudes across Europe and the USA. As with all aspects of history there are plenty of examples of sexist attitudes which endeavoured to keep women "in their place" and in the world of cycling it has been no less prevalent than elsewhere. Early concerns of cycle designers about allowing women on bikes were along the lines of saddles provoking "unnecessary physical stimulation". "Well bollocks to that" said the adventurous women of the time and they set off to discover what was beyond the end of their streets. A genetic biologist is quoted as saying he "ranked the impact of the bicycle on the gene pool as one of the most significant events in human evolution" due to it's impact on widening the geographical area in which populations (especially rural) would intermingle. Yes that's right, girls finally got to meet boys they might not be already related to!

As for the 100 objects in the book we have a mixture of: ▪ the mundane (with good and interesting descriptions) like spokes, puncture repair kits and bidons. ▪ the innovative, such as pneumatic tyres, time trial bars, Bromptons and Go-Pros. ▪ the professionals, including jerseys, hairpin bends, massages and leg shaving. ▪ the ridiculous - superstitions, MAMILs, the Japanese Keirin. Except for that one big mistake early on which spoilt the first chapter, overall its a good book. I liked it. I learned some things I never knew before and enjoyed the journey. The illustrations are good in the most part. If you have £20 (just checked, £16.89 on Amazon just now) to spend on someone keen on cycling I'd say yes, get them this. But maybe do a tippex job and correct the number of Tour wins by Froome before you wrap it up. My overall rating? 🌟🌟🌟

Alan Wilson

Sounds like it could do with a good edit ! Very entertaining review :-) Someone should do a comparative review alongside the British Museum's History of the World in 100 Objects (which I presume inspired this). Then again, we want to attract *more* people to the site ...


Go ahead Alan, any contribution is welcome here and we don't make anyone read it if they don't want to (but thanks for reading this, I didn't think anyone would!).