I finished reading the captivating book by Robert Penn entitled, It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, last week. This fascinating read approaches the evolution of the bicycle and its storied history in a unique fashion – by the author crafting his own bike from scratch utilizing top-notch, often hand-crafted source components from around the globe.
Each chapter in the book was dedicated to a specific part of his proposed bicycle. Within those chapters, Mr. Penn describes in glorious detail why he is seeking out a particular manufacturer of that component, summarizes the history of that component, as well as the manufacturer, and then travels to the manufacturer to see this particular bike part being crafted in person. Places he visited to acquire the necessary components for his dream bicycle included:
- Drivetrain – Campagnolo Company of Vicenza, Italy
- Frame – Reynolds Company of Birmingham, England, UK
- Handlebars and stem – Cinelli of Milan, Italy
- Headset – Chris King Company of Portland, Oregon, USA
- Hubs – Royce by Cliff Polton of Hampshire, England, UK
- Saddle – Brooks Leather Company of Smethwick, England, UK
- Tires – Continental Grand Prix 4000s from Korbach, Germany
- Wheels and spokes – Steve “Gravy” Gravinites of Fairfax Cyclery in Fairfax, California, USA
As Mr. Penn so eloquently sums up his goal in the book:
“The components –the handlebar, stem, forks, hubs, rims, spokes, bottom bracket, freewheel, chainwheel, sprockets, chain, derailleurs, cranks, brakes, pedals, and saddle – will be chosen to match the frame. They won’t be the lightest or the sexiest components on the market. They’ll simply be the best made. The wheels will be built by hand. I’ll visit workshops and factories in Italy, America, Germany, and Britain to see all the components I want on my bike made. Individually, each component will be something special; collectively they’ll make my dream bike.” (page 16)
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a detailed, yet concise history of the bicycle and the evolution of its individual components. It’s a terrific resource for everyone from the novice rider to avid power cyclists. In his book, Mr. Penn clearly depicts the bicycle as not just a utilitarian object, but as a finely crafted work of art.