Scoop Review of Books

Dream Cycles

Guy Kesteven, General Editor, New Holland, $40

Review by Jim Robinson1001 bikes

A good few of the bikes in 1001 bikes to dream of riding before you die, I’m actually perfectly happy if I never ride. But that’s a complement to editor Guy Kesteven rather than a complaint. A book filled with razor-tuned race machines would have quickly tired, whereas this one, with bikes all the way out to Pee-wee Herman’s beach cruiser, is way more fun.

1001 bikes starts at the beginning, with an 1820 Swiftwalker — “ungainly, dangerous, and doomed to fail”. Then it’s on to the Michaux, the first bike with pedals, and before long, the Rover Safety of 1890, “the bike that established many features still used on bicycles today”.

Most of the book’s full-colour, glossy spreads present a couple of bikes, with a few classics enjoying a full spread to themselves. Almost all the bikes are really nicely shown, either clear-cut on white so you can peruse all the detail, or shown in action below a rider. That all adds up to over 900 pages — this is an absolute wedge of a book that weighs more than a modern carbon fibre racing bike frame.

Flicking through the book over the last fortnight has proved continually rewarding: there are so many bikes I’m still discovering new ones. Bikes like a Brompton folding that would just about fit into your back pocket. Biggies like the Raleigh Twenty, with 140,000 sold in 1975 alone, and the Raleigh Chopper, “one of the most iconic children’s bikes of all time”.

I love the Pratik Ghosh, a cycle rickshaw, shown loaded down with a huge pile of sacks as well as a passenger; and the Ordonnanzfahrrad, the “longrunning workhorse of the Swiss Army”. Spanning the extent of possibility, there’s the Gossamer Albotross that was pedaled over the English Channel in 1979; and the Spherovelo, an Australian jellybean shaped bike for toddlers.

There are steel bikes, aluminium bikes, carbon bikes, titanium bikes, plastic bikes. The Souplesse bamboo bike is custom made in Uganda and is evidently very comfortable and robust. Rather less practical is a bike frame made from woven steel mesh — spectacular look, cleaning nightmare.

Scattered through it all, there are race machines for road, velodrome, keirin track, mountain trail, paddock, triathlon, and bmx berm. There’s Jacques Anquetil’s Gitane — “Although marked as Gitanes, Anquetil’s earliest racing bikes were hand made by Bernard Carre”. There’s Fransesco Moser’s 1984 Moser Pista, on which the Italian broke Eddy Merckx’s hour record. There’s Lance Armstrong’s 1999 Trek — “we all now know the truth [but at the time] the Trek-Armstrong partnership could do no wrong”.

There’s the Specialized Venge of British rocket Mark Cavendish — “a bike that I believe is the fastest bike in the world,” according to the rider. There’s the Colnago Bititan, ridden to Tour of Spain and World Championship victories. There’s the Pinarello Dogma, the Merlin Mountain, the Malvern Five Star. Klein. De Rosa. Moots. Lotus. Litespeed. Orbea. Cervelo. Tomac. Willier.

On and on and on and on. I’ve even found two from New Zealand: an Avanti Quantum racing machine, and a Yike Bike, a folding urban electric, that is “a true icon [that has] inspired a host of other E-bikes and scooters.

It would have been great to have also seen an EMC, the company of New Zealander Eric Mackenzie, which makes a quality range; to my mind, Bianchi is under-represented for being one of the greatest bike brands ever; and you could argue that some of the more recent listings read a little like a bike manufacturer’s brag sheet.

But that’s being harsh. It must have been one heck of a challenge to pick a broadly representative and highly entertaining collection, write 300 to 600 words of copy literally hundreds of times, and keep everything objective and fresh. I’ve never heard of Guy Kesteven before, but his final acknowledgement explains a lot: “[Thank you to] my mum, for sticking me in among the groceries on the back of her bike as a baby and starting a wonderful life on wheels”.

He’s shared that passion superbly.