It’s All About the Bike

It’s All About the Bike, by Robert Penn, Penguin, RRP£8.99, 208 pages

As Penn’s friend observes, a lovingly handcrafted bike with wincingly expensive components is a classic mid-life crisis purchase. Penn’s journal of assembling his own bespoke dream machine, with trips to specialist manufacturers in Italy, California and Birmingham, is spliced with a breezy potted history of cycling.

Penn maps the social impact of the bicycle from the 1817 German prototype of in-line wheels linked by a beam to the modern day. A century ago, the addition of chains allowed for popular racing, and pneumatic tyres made mass transit cheap and comfy; in 1970s California, machines were stripped down for off-road abuse, heralding the now-ubiquitous mountain bike.

Although Penn gives plenty of airtime to his inner geek – pelting down hills as he spits out technical details – his adrenalin-charged enthusiasm also delivers a good ride for the general reader. The social history is snappy and his almost religious quest for ultimate craftsmanship is full of wit.

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