Sunday, 1 May 2011

Book Review: The Bicycle Book. By Bella Bathhurst. Harper Press; 306 pages; £16.99

Bella Bathhurst
A few months back I confused this book with one by Helen Pidd, the girl with the Velorbis Victoria Balloon (a bike I'd love to own), but now I've spotted a review of Bathhurst's book in The Economist.

I didn't know that there were more than a billion bicycles in the world, which is over twice the number of cars or that the bike has 'regularly proven to be the fastest form of urban transport, reaching its destination more quickly than cars, buses, tubes or pedestrians'. Something, perhaps, for London Mayor Boris Johnson to bear in mind.

Bathhurst, says The Economist, made her name writing about lighthouses built by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson and her new book – on bicycles – 'affirms her as an elegant chronicler of quirky subjects'.

BBC Four recently screened a programme based on her book about the Lighthouse Stevensons, which was excellent and she writes for the Guardian too.

When I get some money – I'm virtually unemployed at present – I'm definitely going to buy this book as it is claimed to appeal to cycling nuts as well as those who simply possess a bike that is sitting in the garage doing nothing. I'm somewhere in the middle, although I guess with this blog you all think I'm a cycling nut. I suppose I am on some level, but I'd call myself a weekend cyclist. I wonder if Bella Bathhurst rides a bike?

Don't worry, Bathurst's book is not devoted to the environmental debate. Instead it offers other stuff, interesting facts like Evans Cycles selling four times as many bikes as usual on the day of the London tube bombings. Did you know that bicycle couriers started life in 1874 or that, up until 2004, the Swiss army had three regiments of cyclists working in security, border control and dispatch?

Then there's the story of Zetta Hills who cycled across the English Channel with her bike mounted on two planks. What about Vinod Punmiya, the Indian businessman who raced against a train, the Decan Queen, between Pune and Mumbai (140km). And who can forget cycling legend Graeme Obree, known as the Flying Scotsman, who cycled to beat depression and broke the hour record – apparently the ultimate time trial – twice.

Obree's philosophy of life boiled down to being about 'you and the bike' – and that, as any cyclist will know, is what it's all about.

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