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The bicycle is one of mankind's greatest inventions - and the most popular form of transport in history. Robert Penn has ridden one most days of his adult life. In his late 20s, he pedalled 40,000 kilometres around the world. Yet, like cyclists everywhere, the utilitarian bikes he currently owns don't even hint at this devotion. Robert needs a new bike, a bespoke machine that reflects how he feels when he's riding it - like an ordinary man touching the gods.
It's All About the Bike is the story of a journey to design and build a dream bike. En route, Robert explores the culture, science and history of the bicycle. From Stoke-on-Trent, where an artisan hand builds his frame, to California, home of the mountain bike, where Robert tracks down the perfect wheels, via Portland, Milan and Coventry, birthplace of the modern bicycle, this is the narrative of our love affair with cycling. It's a tale of perfect components - parts that set the standard in reliability, craftsmanship and beauty. It tells how the bicycle has changed the course of human history, from the invention of the 'people's nag' to its role in the emancipation of women, and from the engineering marvel of the tangent-spoked wheel to the enduring allure of the Tour de France. It's the story of why we ride, and why this simple machine remains central to life today.
Wales resident Penn, a contributor to Cond Nast Traveler and various bicycle publications, has traveled 25,000 miles on a bicycle, and his expertise is evident. Seeking "craftsmanship, not technology," he met with top bike mechanics in order to customize an ergonomically efficient dream machine: "I want a bike that shows my appreciation of the tradition, lore and beauty of bicycles." Coasting past the large manufacturers who service the cycling masses, he visited the U.K.'s few remaining artisan frame builders, where he analyzed the angles of frame geometry: "Along with the immaculate fit and the right tubing material, geometry is an intrinsic part of buying a bespoke bicycle." As he writes about handlebars, gears, wheels, and saddles, each component gets a chapter, and the reader feels Penn's enthusiasm at seeing his steed assembled. Along the way, he looks back at bike history, beginning with the 1817 Draisine, propelled by paddling one's feet along the ground. Saddles were a concern to the conservative elements of Victorian society: "That bike riding might be sexually stimulating to women was a real worry." These pages are a delight, packed with facts, informative illustrations and two-wheeled tales, they map a path into the heart of cycling culture.