It’s late June, which means La Grande Boucle will soon be under way. Everyone knows that right? Well, maybe not. Despite cycling having been around since the mid-1800’s the average person still knows very little about the passion a relatively small number of us share.
Some of it is our fault, cyclists don’t tend to be great ambassadors of the sport. Some of it is elitism. But I think a good bit of it stems from confusion about what all the sport entails. There’s a lot of equipment, styles of racing, attire and personality in the sport and nearly everything has a funky European name. Cycling is intimidating.
That’s why I found Racing Bicycles: The Illustrated Story of Road Cycling by Nick Higgins to be a huge breath of fresh air. Nick Higgins is a London-based illustrator and has been a cyclist for over 35 years. As an illustrator, his clients include The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Royal Shakespeare Company, and The BBC World Service. He knows what he’s talking about and has the technical skill to put together a truly remarkable collection of illustrations.
‘Racing Bicycles’ is a 210x165mm hardcover comprised of 120 pages and 250 illustrations. The number of illustrations and their importance to the book is significant. Cycling is an old sport with a rich history and tons of culture, its diverse and storied past can’t be expressed fully in words alone. Instead, Higgins’ clear love for the sport pours out of the pages giving the book warmth and depth that even photos can’t provide.
Vélo which traces the history of the bicycle and all of the components that comprise it.
Races which provides a brief history and outline of the three Grand Tours, the Five Monuments, and several other well-known races, rides and climbs.
Riders profiles some of the world’s greatest riders.
Finally, Kit is a colorful rundown of cycling apparel and accessories — from jerseys to race radios.
My favorite section of the book was the rider profiles. There are tons of famous cyclists to choose from but Nick did a good job of digging a little to tell the story of some lesser known yet still thoroughly compelling riders. There’s Hélène Dutrieu who held the women’s Hour Record and attempted to enter the all-male Tour De France in 1908 but was excluded. In protest, she rode the entire route behind the racers (and managed to complete the Tour faster than two-thirds of the men competing). Similarly, Marshall Taylor arguably the best track cyclist of hist time but a person who’s story is seldom told due to the racism prevalent then gets a beautiful illustration and profile.
‘Racing Bicycles’ is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of cycling and its many varied characters. The book is approachable and stunning to look at so you don’t have to be a cyclist or a fan of the sport to enjoy it. That said, it also provides enough depth and respect for the sport to please even the most knowledgeable cyclist.
Racing Bicycles by Nick Higgins