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4.6 out of 5 stars125
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 30 July 2010
I purchased this after having watched the TV documentary of the same name and i was not let down!
I had some initial reservations about watching the programme, city guy moves to wales to rediscover himself and finds cycling in the process, it has british movie industry written all over it! The lifelong passion for the bike that was revealed however left me once again chiding my own preconceptions, and yet another inward promise to be more open minded and less reactionary!
Obviously the book fleshes out the broad strokes painted on the tv, but the passion and almost reverence that comes across is a joy to read. Clever writing prevents the book going the way of a sentimental eulogy to craftsmen passed, and instead reveals a soaring demand for the bespoke bike, albeit for a very different user. As a cyclist myself i was particularly gratified to learn that the principal aim of the author attaining his dream bike was to ride it all the time, celebrating it through use, and not just having it as another expensive accessory, (penn himself compares the skill and artistry of a framebuilder to that of a watchmaker or tailor)thus needing it to be absolutely perfect in every detail. Any jealousy at the author having the time and money to be able to trek globally in order to acquire the components for his dream bike are soon forgotten thanks to the total passion that is revealed for every detail of the bike through very skilled writing. It's always gratifying to connect with a fellow bikie, even if through the pages of book, and i was very pleased to see that i already own most of his selected reading!
If you like cycling, buy this book.
If you like travel, buy this book.
If you want a dollop of inspiration to get you back on your own bike, buy this book.
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on 8 April 2011
I bought this after reading an excerpt in a craft magazine.
Having just started cycling regularly again, and planning some touring, this was perfectly timed to inspire me to look beyond what my LBS offers.
Firstly, this book combines a great potted history of bikes and cycling with Robert's personal quest for his ultimate bike. The historical stuff is all very interesting and well presented, never boring, and overall very informative while remaining fun.
On to the inspiring stuff: I have been planning to invest in a proper touring bike, and had a shortlist of four or five - none hand-built, all from my LBS - when I picked this book up. Whilst I do. It have the time, money nor inclination to travel and research in the same way, I am now far more aware of the components and how they are made, and what the true functions are.
Wile I don't have the money for e Rourke frame - the builder Robert chose for his frame - I searched out one of the other frame builders he mentioned, and am planning a visit to Bob Jackson's workshop and shop in Leeds soon (I am currently selling like mad on eBay to fund the new bike!) and am as yet not certain if I will be able to buy a custom frame or not.
The information Robert presents is both incredibly interesting and useful - this book has been the most useful tome whilst I consider my next push-iron.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is planning to spend good money on a bike, anyone with an interest in bikes, and anyone who cycles regularly.
Simply brilliant!
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on 7 January 2011
I gather this book was related to a television series, though - as I prefer life without television - I did not see the programmes.

I enjoyed the book very much and recommend it to bicycling enthusiasts.

Why?

'All About The Bike' interweaves masses of information about the history of the bicycle (and of companies associated with that history) with the writer's quest to assemble a bicycle that would be perfect for his own use. From what he tells us, it is clear that the adventurous Robert Penn is one of the most serious and devoted cyclists you can imagine: he has pedalled his way round the world and been on numerous other cycling expeditions. So he knows his subject.

But he can certainly write, too! It is unusual to find a book about cycling that is so literate. The use of vocabulary is sharp and you are frequently struck by the originality and effectiveness of a simile. Yet the writing has the fluency of good journalism.

And the book has been well edited: I did not notice any typographical errors.

Within the book there are, unfortunately, no colour photographs. (I suppose that helps keep down costs.) But the illustrations, though generally small and black-and-white, are always useful and effective. And the photo of the writer's 'dream bicycle' - appearing on the dust sheet in colour - is a useful point of reference.

The hardback feels luxurious in the hand, too, and is printed on good-quality paper.
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on 10 August 2011
This book was a very, very fun read. In a former life, some 20 years and 50 pounds ago, I rode, raced and worked in a bike shop. Robb's story reminded me of the pure fun, enjoyment and joy that I find in riding my bicycle. I pulled out my old Bianchi, tuned it up and have looged some 500 miles since mid June. I encourage everybody to get back on there bikes to just ride and live!

Oh, and watch the one hour BBC special based on this book. You can find it on YouTube.
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on 28 July 2010
Rob's enthusiasm, not just for bikes, but also for the climate their innovation has created, springs out of this book. I enjoyed the people he met - the kinds of people who for me become legends in their determined application of skill, creativity and other nuttiness. Tripping along with him as he watched a welder, I found myself halfway through a piece of fairly complex engineering, only to find that I still understood and I could feel and in some way touch the simplicity and development of the technology. I'm not an engineer, so I love a book that takes me back to fettling in the garage with my Dad. Magic.

Connecting me with the heartbeat of our talented forbears (the British contributors to the development of cycling) , their sharing of genius with those across borders, and to their present incarnations, makes me feel hopeful for Britain too - and that's a gift for me. Ta, Rob.

My only problem with the book is that I unwittingly read it without thinking of the obvious result - that the discomfort of my own bike - and the reasons for that - is now achingly clear, and I guess I might just see if I can find a local frame-maker.... and some cash... :-)
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on 2 October 2010
Its the story of the bike and interweaves its rich history with the social impact and a personal mission to build new bike "a talismanic machine that somehow reflects my cycling history and carries my cycling aspirations."

The book is peppered with historical context. In 1815 Mount Tamborain, Indonesia, erupted resulting in the year without the summer and widespread famine. Farmers shot their horses because they could not afford the oats. Inspired by necessity Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbronn conceived the mechanical horse with wheels. The bike was not invented by Leonardo da Vinci as rumoured!

The personal mission involves criss crossing the UK visiting craftsmen to find Brian O'Rourke a 70 year old bike frame builder in "the shrine to the sport of road racing" in his bike shop in the Potteries. Seeking the best craftsmen in the world to build the components he visits Chris King in Portland Oregon to get the headset, aluminium handlebars from Cino Cinelli in Milan, drivetrain from Campagnolo in Vicenza, Italy , wheels built by and ex hippy bike rider, Gravy, from Fairfax , Marin County in the US, with Royce Hubs from Cliff Poulton in Hampshire , England , tyres from Continental in Korpach, Germany and spokes from Sapim in Belgium.

But it is not whizz bang technology - the trips to the manufacturers are "like something out of Willy Wonkers Chocolate Factory" and the characters he meets entertainingly described: "He offered me a hand the size of a tennis racket. Then he broke into a smile the size of the Golden Gate Bridge". His descriptions of the development of the bike and bike racing over the last couple of hundred years are evocative
" A simple bike ride could still rattle a man's molars free."

An original, broadminded approach to biking which provides a refreshing alternative to the conventional trip description or autobiography. You don't have to be a biker to enjoy this one. But if you are a biker it makes you want to build your own!
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on 29 October 2010
Be prepared to be absorbed in this bonanza of a bike tale. If the task of creating a dream bike were stripped down just into the practicalities of actually doing it then, for me, this book would fail. However it isn't. Revel in the history and methodology of inventions, changes and tales revolving around the cycle throughout the ages. It is amazing to learn how the individual components were developed and refined and the reasoning behind. The book delves, unembarrassingy, into such diverse aspects that are music to the ears of a cyclist.
The book also imparts many great up to date pieces of information that can be further researched upon. Be prepared to google and you will be transported all over the planet - it's a travel book - it's an indulged personal celebration of a lifetime's pleasure, it's a components catalogue - it's food for thought!
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on 21 August 2010
Part history & material culture, part engineering handbook. Penn is part cycling-advocate, part travel writer. Educational, inspiring and very well written throughout.

This is a great, compact book and very hard to put down once you start. It was impossible for me to read this without dissembling my own bike in my head, and had me wandering to the shed a few times to look at components on my own bike that I had paid little attention to in the past. Reading the passages of Penn's own bike travel and his relationship with the bike certainly put my own cycling into perspective. His description of how his bike 'saves his life everyday' makes leaving the house each morning for the commute much easier, and reminds readers of the joy of cycling.

I think this book will inspire cyclists to seek out manufacturers with a focus on quality and craftsmanship - in an age of mass-production, this has to be seen as a positive development. Hats off to Robert Penn for covering so much ground with such ease.
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on 1 June 2011
At 46 my joints decided that running was starting to hurt, lets try cycling. Came across the book by accident but it has given me a new lease of life and has drawn me into whole new world. Not only has it informed my decision to start cycling but has provided me with a whole new topic of interest and conversation.
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on 18 August 2010
I could not put down Robert Penn's book, written with a staggering knowledge for the subject, and such passion and infectious enthusiasm. Not only was I totally drawn into Penn's specific quest for building his perfect bike, (though as a painter I would have to plumb for the aesthetic of a Mercian frame!) I also found myself agreeing out loud with the way he used the history of the bicycle and the contemporary scene of bespoke bicycle building as metaphor for a calmer, kinder and wiser world. There is a strong link in this book between the development of a machine and the creation of a more utopian society. And then there's also just the sheer joy of Penn sharing the process of great craftsmanship in the pursuit of perfection, and along the way, through his writing, meeting such strong characters- the sort that are rare now but that I remember from childhood. Utter Bliss.
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