PEZ Bookshelf: Racing Bicycles – The Illustrated Story of Road Cycling
In spite of what we think here, professional road cycling (well, all pro cycling, actually) is a pretty marginal niche sport. Hence the perceived need for books to explain, in the most basic terms, all the elements that make up road racing. But even the cognoscenti can benefit from some of these and the latest iteration, “Racing Bicycles—The Illustrated Story of Road Cycling”, is a worthy addition.
Author Nick Higgins is described as “a keen cyclist” and from this compact and attractive book it is clear that he is an enthusiast about pro racing and this enthusiasm really comes across strongly in the more than 130 illustrations he has prepared for the publication. Art is his vocation and rather than rely on the stock photos commonly found in general books about racing he has instead supplemented his writing with exceptionally charming pictures.
Of himself, Higgins notes: “Early exposure to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a love of museum collections left him with a passion to catalogue and describe.” This is certainly evident in “Racing Bicycles”, a mini-encyclopedia of sorts.
The book is divided into five parts, covering different aspects of racing and begins with a chapter entitled “Vélo”. After a bit about the origins of the bicycle, there are sections dealing with specific components: frames; wheels; chains; brakes; pedals and so forth. The author is clearly enchanted by the minutiae of the equipment and in addition to some fine portraits of notable racing bicycles, he offers detailed renderings of lugs, chains, wheels and geared transmission systems, all of them lovely mechanical or styled pieces of art in their own rights. As to frame materials, the author notes that “it is generally accepted that aluminium has no soul.” Unlike steel, of course.
Once you have a bicycle, you can do something with it and the next chapter, after another brief explanation on what is happening, offers atmospheric portraits of the Grand Tours and the Monuments. Being British, it is no surprise the author has included the once-famous Milk Race in his home country. With his eye for colour and action, Higgins’ pictures are full of life and movement and encapsulate the character of the races—whether climbing the Stelvia at the Giro, on the steep streets of Belgium at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, crashing at the Tour of Flanders, or hammering through the Arenberg Forest—in a perfect shorthand.
Nick Higgins has done a lot of work as a portrait artist so it is no surprise that the longest section of the book deals with portraits of individual cyclists. The usual suspects are there: Anquetil; Merckx; Coppi; Hinault; Armstrong; as well as UK local heroes Boardman, Froome, Wiggins, Cavendish and that primordial cycling champion James Moore. But a number of unusual and interesting characters appear as well: Marie Marvingt; Alfonsina Strada; A.A. Zimmerman; Théodore Joyeux; and even M. Desgrange himself. Each of the selected riders has a page to him- or herself, dominated by a portrait, with a few succinct paragraphs highlighting their accomplishments.
More colour can be found in the final section on cycling kit, irresistable to the artistic mind. Cycling jerseys, past and present, are highlighted, along with shoes, eyewear and even newspapers to stuff down the front of the colourful jersey when going downhill. The book concludes with a brief lexicon of terms, including some bits of sly humour: “However much suffering you can imagine on two wheels, the flahute will take it, and just a bit more.” The author does admit that he is not really able to explain the difference between a “baroudeur-rouleur” and a “puncheur” but I note that we cannot always allow in daylight upon magic.
“Racing Bicycles: The Illustrated Story of Road Cycling” is an appealing little book that would be welcome both by neophytes wanting to learn more about the personalities, technology and history of road racing as well as those with an appreciation for fine art and concise and graceful writing. One can do no better than to quote from the lexicon that indicates “Chapeau!” is an exclamation of respect for cycling achievement—so, hat’s off! to Mr. Higgins.
Racing Bicycles: The Illustrated Story of Road Racing
by Nick Higgins (author and illustrator)
128 pp., hardbound
Lawrence King Publishing, London, 2018
Suggested Retail Price: US$17.00/C$24.99.
You can order ‘Racing Bicycles: The Illustrated Story of Road Racing’ from AMAZON.
When not trying to make his riding look like a work of art, Leslie Reissner may be found in unnatural fleshtones at www.tindonkey.com