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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I bought this book based on a review in The Economist that made it look interesting. I'm not a bike nut, though I have one and ride it a couple times a week. This book, though, is not written for the bicycle fanatic, but for a layperson for whom bikes are, and have always been, part of the background of life. There's detail on the origins and development of the bike, along with enough -- just enough -- insights from the author's experience to make it not a sterile read. It's also interesting to meet the people involved in various aspects of the bicycle business, from mountain-bikers in Marin County to handlebar manufacturers (who knew there was so much technology in a handlebar?) in Italy. There's also enough here, in terms of content and accuracy, to make it of interest to people who ARE already knowledgeable about road bikes: two of my friends who are competitive road biciclists have read it with enthusiasm. So, all in all, a pleasure to read, and over way too soon.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
well written, well told, well explained, complete with diagrams and pictures of bike mechanisms, history and design. funny and interesting, a travel journal cum bike celebration.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Without a doubt, Robert Penn is a great writer. However, this book failed to catch my attention due to its highly technical nature. This is not a criticism - if you're into learning about what every piece of the bicycle is called, what it does and its history, then this is the right book for you. Personally, I would have been more interested in reading a book with more of an emphasis on the author's travels on his bicycle and less emphasis on the angle of the handlebars, but hey, that's not what this book is about. I really did enjoy the beginning of the book, when the author delves into the history of the bicycle and its impact on human civilization - definitely fascinating and worth a read just to understand that although bicycles are routinely dismissed today by the average person, they were once a huge step forward in transportation and a BIG DEAL.

One thing that is a criticism, though, is the lack of images in the book. The bulk of this book is devoted to talking about parts of the bike, but it's hard to understand what the author is describing without images to accompany the words. There a few images scattered here and there, but it's simply not enough, especially when the author gets nitpicky about the parts he's discussing. I think I would have found the book more interesting had more things been illustrated for me, because after a while I found it tiring to have to imagine all the parts of the bike in my head, and I wasn't even sure if I was getting it right.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The author's love for all aspects of bicycling is quite evident in this book: the history, its culture, the joy of riding, the challenge of long trips, and the bike itself. But most of all, he is intrigued by "old-school" bicycle craftsmen, who know virtually everything about bicycles, tend to use traditional tools and techniques, and are committed to quality above all else. The basis of this book is the author's quest to have the perfect - for him - bike built, utilizing the knowledge of bicycle artisans/experts scattered across Europe and the US, most of whom he spends time with in the book - a process that he calls "bespoke," or one-of-a-kind.

He sees these modern-day craftsmen as following in the footsteps of long forgotten bicycle innovators, who spent nearly a century from the 19th into the 20th centuries reinventing and perfecting the bicycle. He notes the development of the basic diamond bike frame in 1885, followed by the slow perfecting of steel ball bearings, headsets, handlebars, drive trains (chain, bottom bracket, free wheel, and derailleur), saddles, wheels and tires, and light weight, steel-alloy tubing. In his search for quality, he is allowed inside some of the most revered bicycle component manufacturers, such as, Chris King, Cinelli, Campagnola, Brooks, Columbus, and Continental, many being key players in component development over several decades.

Beyond the perfect bike, it is the social implications of bicycling that most interest the author. The production of literally millions of the so-called "safety" bicycle in England in the late 19th century had a significant effect on, not only, expanding distances that could be traveled in a day's time but also on the emancipation of women, now more able than ever to make trips on their own. The explosion of bicycle ownership, the associated technical skills to build them, and the infrastructure required such as roads and repair centers directly facilitated the rise of the automobile in the next century. The author notes the ebb and flow of bicycle popularity over the 20th century, peaking in the decade following WWII. More recently, it is in some urban areas, such as Portland, OR, where specific planning efforts to accommodate bicyclists have resulted in thriving bicycle communities.

The author's nostalgic ode to bicycle craftsmanship and quality is perhaps a bit overstated. The idea that a bicycle builder can almost instantly size-up a customer seems rather wishful, although modern, mechanistic "fit-kit" techniques too have their limitations. The author, being European may be unaware that it was the low quality of big-name, Italian bicycles in the 1960's and 70's that helped to fuel the growth of American bicycle companies. Evidently, modern, sophisticated, and repeatable manufacturing techniques are considerably more reliable than the ad hoc methods of the masters. Of course, many of them have too changed.

It is not just bicycle aficionados who can appreciate the author's enthusiasm for bicycling and his many experiences both in the past and in his perfect-bike endeavor. He is surely correct to emphasize that a quality, good-fitting bike is an indispensable part of enjoyable biking. The fact that few have the same access as the author to master bicycle craftsmen is not terribly important. There is no availability shortage of technically advanced, high quality bicycles in the US, which bring every bit as much enjoyment as the author's "perfect bike." The book is a succinct look at the technical development of bicycles and as well touches on many areas of bicycle lore. Finally, the "perfect bike" turned out perfectly.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This is an odd book. Robert Penn owns a lot of bikes, but decided he wanted one more and that this one would be perfect -- it would have a custom frame, and exactly the components he wanted, and it would be assembled by the best mechanics in the world. The task took about a year, and while Penn never tells us what the bike cost, one can estimate that with the cost of his flights around the world to view the components being built, it was almost certainly over $10,000.

This is the first oddness of the book. It is simultaneously anti-consumer ("I am not going to buy a Toyota Corolla and replace it every five years; I'm going to buy a bicycle that will last me for the rest of my life.") and intensively consumerist ("This is the list of expensive things I am going to buy for a bicycle that I clearly don't need because I already have a shed full of bicycles at home. This bicycle is going to define me as a person.")

Penn describes some of his previous bicycle adventures, and he discusses the history of bicycles generally and bicycle components in particular. This material will have nothing new to those who have read Herlihy's Bicycle: The History, which is clearly Penn's major source, but it's fun to read.

The second major oddness of the book is that, though it tells the tale of the design and assembly of a bicycle, and contains many photographs and diagrams explaining the origins of different bike parts, it does not end with a photo of the completed bike. Penn takes delivery of his completed bike and rides off into the rain. The end. No photo. Odd.

I ride a custom Peter Mooney, so can I understand some of what drives Penn in his quest, but even I found myself wincing at his conviction that this bicycle would make him finally happy. Happiness can't come from a purchase, and for a collector, as Penn seems to be, the collection will never be complete. Personally, I can't help but imagine that Penn continues to stew over the little things that aren't quite perfect about his new machine, and to plot how he will fix it. But even if he does, I don't think he'll be happy.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I am a avid cyclist. I will ride 150 to 200 miles a week. I have never paid more than $700 a bike.

Overall, I thought the book was entertaining. But the major issue I have with Mr. Penn is that he comes off with the attitude if you don't spend $1,000's and $1,000's on a bike you are not a real cyclist. My bike is also not a bike because it is a massed produced bike. I think Mr. Penn is a bike snob.

My main bike is a Trek FX 7.3 I paid $650 and everything is stock and I have no problem keeping up or blowing away people riding bikes that cost up to 10 times more. My bike does not define who I am, and don't think that is the case for Mr. Penn.

Also how is there not a picture of the finished bike in the book?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
It's All About the Bike is a great read for anyone who loves cycling. If you love the technology of bikes you'll enjoy it even more. Through the story of one man's assembling of his custom dream bike he takes you through the history of bikes as well as across the world to some of the best component manufactures in the business. Opinionated at times as all bikers are when it comes to their gear preference, he is also humorous. The book entertains with some wonderful stories about unique moments in cycling history and the characters that have taken cycling to where it is today.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Penn's gift is that he takes the bicycle, the thing we all had as kids and take for granted, and gives it its proper place in our culture, history, and record of technological innovation. And it's no small thing. He's a deft writer, clever and witty, and you will never look at your bicycle the same after reading this. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, which describes the author's quest for the perfect bike. He intersperses the history of the bicycle through the ages with the various parts of the bike he is assembling. I was disappointed with the few plain black and white pictures, which didn't do justice to the "eye-candy" components of the finished product. There is not even a picture of the finished bike.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I knew this particular book was going to be about a man and his pursuit to have the perfect custom bicycle built for him. What I didn't realize, however, was how much I'd learn along the way about the history of the cycling itself. The explanation of the role of the bicycle in late 19th century society is just fascinating.

This is a very well-written and entertaining book, particularly if you like to ride and if you are familiar with some of the top component manufacturers out there. The author (Rob Penn) must have loved this project, and after reading this book, you might just find yourself wanting your own personalized bicycle.
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