Book Review: Custom Bicycles

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One of the great tragedies of the bicycle industry is that most of the best work being done in bicycles is presented to readers on crap paper. So, when I heard that someone was finally going to publish a coffee-table book on handbuilt bicycles I couldn’t wait to see a copy. The book is published by images Publishing, which is known for its books on design and architecture and written by Australian cyclists Christine Elliott and David Jablonka.

Amazingly, Elliott and Jablonka uncovered builders I’ve never heard of, very fine builders who certainly deserved to be presented alongside the likes of Richard Sachs and Dario Pegroretti. Those discoveries are perhaps the book’s greatest treat. But those discoveries come at a price. The authors profiled 39 builders, a mere fraction of the builders who appear annually at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, but given the realities of paper cost and the amount of time writers are typically afforded to work on a nonfiction title and you are quickly forced to make some hard decisions. The representation is refreshingly international. Represented are builders from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.

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Those choices—whom to include and whom to leave out—seem almost random. Many of the builders included are must haves: Richard Sachs, Dario Pegoretti, Bruce Gordon and Alex Singer. No book on handmade frames would be complete without them. Pleasantly, there are some lesser known veterans who could have been easily overlooked but no less deserving of the attention; I’m thinking specifically of Andy Newlands of Strawberry and Dave Bohm of Bohemian. However, there are some glaring omissions. No Brian Baylis, no Peter Weigle. Independent Fabrication is included but no Seven or Serotta.

At 240 pages, the profiles range between four and eight pages depending on the number of photos used. And the text, though brief, does a serviceable job of giving an overview of the operation while leaving the majority of the space devoted to a builder for photography.

IMG_0248The photography is, unfortunately the most hit-or-miss aspect of the book, which I find utterly baffling. Hard bound coffee table books are about nothing such much as gorgeous photography. For a book like this, the author isn’t so much the writer as it is the photographer. However, most of the photography is supplied by the builders, sometimes shot by the builders themselves, sometimes shot by a pro hired by the builder. That lack of continuity is frustrating and ultimately it gives some builders a much better presentation than others. In some cases—such as the lifestyle shots provided by Signal Cycles—the builder-supplied shots add a dimension to the portrait giving depth that might otherwise have taken, well, another 1000 words. Some builders included lots of shop shots, some none. The result is a quirky patchwork, but it does give each portrait a surprising individuality as a result.

That I find points to criticize in this book shouldn’t lead you to think I don’t like it. I love this book. I’m critical because this is a topic to which I’ve devoted great thought. And because some of the work contained within is very good, it’s reasonable to hope for the same level of work throughout.

IMG_0249Simply put, for the fanatics, this is a must-have. Because it is hard bound the press-run was likely fairly short; if you want it, don’t wait around to pick it up. And if this one sells well, maybe the publisher will decide to do a second volume and hit another 40 builders; lord knows there are plenty just as deserving.

The builders included:

Anderson Custom Bicycles

Atum22

Baum Cycles

Bilenky Cycle Works

Black Sheep Bikes

Bob Brown Cycles

Bohemian Bicycles

Bruce Gordon Cycles

Calfee Design

Columbine Cycle Works

Crisp Titanium

Cycles Alex Singer

Cyfac

Davidson Handbuilt Bicycles

Don Walker cycles

GURU Bikes

Independent Fabrication

Ira Ryan Cycles

Jeff Jones Custom Bicycles

Keith Anderson Cycles

Kirk Frameworks

Kish Fabrication

Llewellyn Custom Bicycles

Luna Cycles

Lynskey

Marschall Framework

Moots

Naked Bicycles and Design

Pegroretti

Richard Sachs Cycles

Roark Custom Titanium Bicycles

Robin Mather

Signal Cycles

Steve Potts Bicycles

Strawberry

Vanilla Bicycles

Vendetta Bicycles

Vicious Cycles

Wolfhound Cycles

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1 comment

  1. c-murder

    No Brian Baylis?

    I know you can’t cover everyone in a single book, but to not include Baylis seem remiss. I mean the guy worked for MASI back in the day, how much more ethos do you need?

    Oh well.

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