The Bicycle Book, Bella Bathurst – a book that really gets under the skin of what it is to be a cyclist

This is undoubtedly the best book on cycling that I read in 2012. It ranks alongside Mark Beaumont’s “The Man Who Cycled the World” and Rob Penn’s “It’s All About the Bike”, both of which were 2011 favourites. Bella really gets under the skin of what it is to be a cyclist and, presumably because she’s a writer first and a cyclist second, rather than the other way around, the writing style is deeply expressive and easy to read. She describes the different cycling “tribes” from racers to couriers and everything in between.

The Bicycle Book
A fascinating and beautifully written book about bikes, cyclists and the relationship between them

The various types of bicycle are analysed in some detail too. But most importantly, Bella captures the relationship between people and bikes, whether those people are commuters or top class athletes.

Today, some travel writers are jumping on the cycling bandwagon by penning what are essentially travel guides with the odd mention of a bicycle thrown in for good measure. The Bicycle Book is certainly not that. It’s totally  focused on bikes (including their history) and the people who ride them and, through a series of fascinating interviews says much about how those who build bikes (such as legendary frame builder Dave Yates) and ride them relate to their machines.

A new twist on drinking and driving….boozing and biking

In a very imaginative brand extension, New York’s Cooper Spirits International LLC, which owns the St Germain French drinks brand, is selling a single-speed bicycle complete with bottle holder on the crossbar and a free bottle of the firm’s sweet spirit drink. The $1000 steel-framed bike, which is described as a ‘limited edition’ (although no numbers are quoted by the company) uses a coaster brake and combines combines clean, classic looks with some nice bits from Brooks, North Road and Michelin.

St Germain bicycle
The St Germain single speed bike comes complete with a bottle of booze to keep your spirits up

Choose a medium (20 inch) or large (23 inch) frame in any colour you like, so long as it’s navy blue.

Looking back at 2012: turning 60, turning pedals and Bradley winning the tour

At the start of my 60th year I was determined to have a good year’s cycling. I’m not a racer, and not even fast, but I do seem to have the stamina to stay in the saddle for up to 15 hours in a day without feeling totally wrecked at the end of the experience. That opens up opportunities to have fun on a bike, and in 2012 I did. To give you some idea of just how badly I’ve contracted the cycling bug, here’s a  short summary of my five most interesting and challenging rides during the year:

April 1st (my 60th birthday), I set out from Barcelona to ride my 61 year-old Thanet Silverlight back to the place where it was built – Elmdale Road, Bristol. The story is recorded here in my blog of the event. The journey is about the same distance as Lands End to John O’Groats, but sounds further, and the weather is usually better.

Thanet Silverlight
This Thanet Silverlight bike was made in Bristol and first sold on 22nd October 1950

Bike Bath on 24th and 25th June – 100 miles in the Mendips followed by 100 miles in the Cotswolds. Lesson learned: don’t take a road bike on routes planned by a mountain biker! However, it was seriously well organised and great fun. Details of next year’s event are here. I did these rides on my ‘best bike’  –  a Rourke steel frame with Campagnolo components.

Cycling, Cheddar Gorge
Nearing the top of the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset during the Bike Bath Gladiator Challenge, 24th June 2012

July 22nd was forecast to be a glorious sunny day. The other forecast was that Bradley Wiggins would win the Tour de France. He duly obliged of course, becoming the first Englishman ever to do so. I didn’t watch the last stage of the race but instead took the opportunity to have my own little ‘Tour de Wiltshire”, a wonderful ride around my home county on the Wiltshire Cycleway. Usually quoted as somewhere between 160 and 165 miles, I clocked up 173 miles including detours, my longest ever solo one-day ride. Only during the Vatternrundan 13 years earlier had I ridden further in a day, and then there was a lot of support around. The weather was glorious, as is Wiltshire. Try the ride…but take time to savour the sights over 2 or 3 days, that’s what I’ll be doing in 2013.

My last big cycling event of 2012 was L’Eroica. I took my 1965 Hetchins Magnum Opus bike for this classic challenge but in deference to my knees, made up a compact double chain set from TA parts so I could manage most, but not all, of the amazing climbs on the 205km ride, thanks to the lower gearing available. The weather was overcast and reasonably cool for Tuscany, there was even the odd light shower – ideal cycling conditions. The atmosphere was amazing with around 5479 cyclists participating in the event. They were mostly Italians but included 1450 ‘foreigners’ from 33 other countries. Here’s a great blog post about the 2012 event from Wade Wallace (Melbourne, Australia).

I’ve already arranged travel for the 2013 event……