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Book Review: “The Competition Bicycle” by Jan Heine

Posted Jan 25 2009 5:11pm
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Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

Summary:  Following up on  The Golden Age Of Handbuilt Bicycles,  Jan Heine teams up again with photographer Jean-Pierre Pradéres in the  The Competition Bicycle  to create a great photographic history of handbuilt racing bikes from pennyfarthings to the bikes of Coppi, Merckx and LeMond.

Rating:  5/5

Price: $60

Availability:   Order directly from Vintage Bicycle Press  or purchase at finer local bike shops

As I mentioned in last week’s review of the The Golden Age Of Handbuilt Bicycles, Bicycle Quarterly’s editor Jan Heine has been closely connected to the resurgence of the true touring bikes as a viable, if niche, product that deserve to be offered to the cycling public. With this narrow focus on more utilitarian bikes over racers, I was pleasantly surprised to find his latest book,  The Competition Bicycle, not only very good, but a far better book than  The Golden Age Of Handbuilt Bicycles.

The 1903 Pedersen Racer that used a suspension hammock system for its seat. Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

The 1903 Pedersen Racer that used a suspension hammock system for its seat. Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

In the  The Competition Bicycle, Heine attempts to provide a history of the development of the racing bike, from its earliest inception to the end of handbuilt racing bikes at the highest level in the mid-90s when carbon started becoming the rage. While racers were resistant to developments like the derailleur in first 40 years of racing due to a need for bullet proof technology and a fear of increased resistance, there was still quite a bit of experimenting in frame design before the standard road frame we know today was settled upon. Most interesting of these early design experiments were the Dursley Pedersen Racer that used a suspended hammock for a seat and the Labor Tour de France that used single fork and seat stay. This later design was a nod to easier tire changes in the days before quick releases and would not return until the 1990s when Cannondale experimented with single stay mountain bike forks.

A close-up of Gino Bartoli's 1949 Tour de France bike. Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

A close-up of Gino Bartoli' s 1949 Tour de France bike. Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

Of course, some of the best parts of the book for any racing fanatic is seeing up close the bikes that took greats like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, and Eddy Merckx to racing greatness. There is interesting facts like how during their intra-team rivalry in the 1949 Tour de France, Bartali and Coppi used radically different shifting systems. Bartali was the traditionalist with a Super Champion style derailleur of the 1930s that required adjusting chain tension and shifting at the same time. Coppi on the other hand used the Simplex derailleur, the design modern derailleurs are built on, to make quick, single action shifts. Details like this are brought to life with numerous, high quality pictures. 

Early mountain bikes like this Charlie Cunningham still used road drops with bar-end shifters a lá cyclocross. Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

Early mountain bikes like this Charlie Cunningham still used road drops with bar-end shifters a lá cyclocross. Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

 

 

 

The Competition Bicycle gives you a detailed view of the history of bicycle innovations in all their competitive incarnations. Not limiting himself to road bikes, Heine covers motor-pacing stayer with their backward looking forks and small front wheels, the first competition mountain bikes (with road drops!), and track bikes used to set the hour record including Francesco Moser’s 1984 bike that looks like it came out of a Salvador Dalí painting.

Part of what makes  The Competition Bicycle so interesting and in my opinion a better book than  The Golden Age OfHandbuiltBicycles is how varied the selection of bikes are here. Heine did not seem to select arbitrarily to meet a certain number of bikes for the book as it appears he did in the previous one. Every bike is there for a reason, and there is no unnecessary repitition. By doing so, Heine has given himself the space to throughly explore each bike with oodles of close-up pictures.

Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

Image courtesy of Vintage Bicycle Press.

I think  The Competition Bicycle  will have a much broader appeal than Heine’s other. Not only will framebuilders and bike collectors find this book interesting, but anyone who races or is interested in racing history will find the book enjoyable and learn something new. For most of us who have made idols of the greats of cycling history, this is a close as we’ll get to the equipment that propelled them into legend, and my hat is off to Jan Heine for saving us the endless travel to experience them.

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