Re:Cyclists: 200 Years on Two Wheels

Michael Hutchinson

Bloomsbury 2017
A book review by Danny Yee © 2018 http://dannyreviews.com/
Re:Cyclists is a lively history of cycling in the United Kingdom, covering key themes and events and some of the most engaging personalities.

Hutchinson describes the origins of the bicycle, what was (later) called the 'bone-shaker', the first bicycle race, the key innovations of the safety bicycle, chain and tyres, and how cycling became a Victorian high-society fashion craze. He tells the story of the UK obsession with time-trialling, the early connections of cycling with motoring, the long history of cycle touring, and the war between the British League of Racing Cyclists (representing mass-start racing) and the incumbent National Cyclists' Union (time trialling). He pauses to consider the situation in 1957, with the era of mass cycling about to be ended by cheap motor vehicles, then quickly skims over the period from 1960-1990, looking at the "hard school" of pro cycling and the fads of teenage bicycles, before ending with the modern successes of British sports cycling. And in his conclusion Hutchinson stands back to consider the breadth and diversity of British cycling, how that has changed over time and how it may change, before ending with a personal anecdote.

Re:Cyclists includes sympathetic — but perhaps unbalanced? — portraits of figures such as amateur Ion Keith-Falconer, the self-promoting Colonel Albert Pope, Charles Holland, "the first real star of British mass-start racing", the abrasive Percy Stallard, pushing road-racing in the face of all opposition, modern champion and advocate Chris Boardman, and the sports scientist and coach Peter Keen. Hutchinson was a professional cyclist himself, and competitive cyclists and cycling get the best coverage, but he also looks at some of the important companies and publications and the broader cultural world of cycling. (One limitation of Re:Cyclists, which Hutchinson is up front about, is that it doesn't cover the everyday use of bicycles to just get around; that's a topic that probably needs a different approach, more social and oral and economic history than cultural history and biography.)

Despite not having any real interest in cycling as a sport, I found Re:Cyclists engaging and informative. It conveys something of the variety and intensity of the passions and enthusiasms cycling has aroused over the last two centuries.

June 2018

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%T Re:Cyclists
%S 200 Years on Two Wheels
%A Hutchinson, Michael
%I Bloomsbury
%D 2017
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN-13 9781472925602
%P 345pp