REVIEW: The Elite Bicycle - Portraits of great marques, makers and designers

Gerard Brown (photographs) and Graeme Fife (text), with a forward by Sir Paul Smith

Published by Bloomsbury Press (September 2013)

Review by Wheelsuckers member  Julian Smart

With the proliferation of cheap and easily available carbon fibre bikes it is easy to forget the rich heritage and cultural history of the artists and craftsmen who’s ideas and creativity paved the way for the current popularity of cycling.

This book, therefore attempts to make a small but revealing portrait of 29 companies and individuals, those whose contemporary contribution to the aesthetics and science of cycling goes beyond mere form and function. Each of the featured companies or craftsmen has an ethos and a cultural inheritance that transcends the mere act of producing a useable road machine. Indeed, one has to look into the history and influences of each in turn to appreciate the collective effort, that which compels the buyer to own and use a specific design because it is just, well, right for him.

Artisans at work in the world famous Brooks factory in Smethwick in the West Midlands of England.

The book is a richly illustrated, hardback coffee table style publication of 223 pages. Inside you will find a short chapter devoted to each of the companies or craftsmen chosen by the authors to represent the epitome of quality, design and manufacturing that sets each company apart from, and above, their competitors.

The full spectrum of component manufacturers is represented here from the likes of Reynolds Tubing, the hand made tubular tyre maker FMB, through to the component manufacturers  Royce and Chris King  and on to surprisingly large companies such as Mavic and Continental.

The writing, though rather prosaic at times, attempts to give a rounded, affectionate and rather jocular impression of each of the subjects and one gets the feeling that there has been quite a degree of editing applied to each text, such is the scope the authors have found in their subjects. A particularly enticing chapter is that devoted to the Italian frame maker Dario Pegoretti, wherein the author delves into the design philosophy of the frame making and calls into play the historical, cultural and contemporary influences visited up his paintwork designs. Stirring stuff.

The photography within the book is of a very high standard, being largely journalistic in its nature, presumably to complement the bespoke, craft led nature of the products it illustrates. No great attempt has been made to illustrate, in a scientific way, the final product, rather the pictures serve to complement the text and give a visual cue that sometimes words cannot adequately articulate.

Overall then, a highly recommended book that one can pick up, browse through and glean a thrilling insight into the small but essential components that make up a class road bike. The reviewer was delighted to find that his own road bike is composed of several components featured in its pages.

Wheelsuckers thank Julian Smart for kindly submitting this review.

The Elite Bicycle is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Press (RRP: £35) and is available online and in all good book shops. 

When it comes to custom frames, perfection is everything, as illustrated in the workshop of Brian Rourke

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