Category Archives: Book Reviews

Brompton Bicycle Book - 2nd edition

Brompton Bicycle Book

Brompton Bicycle Book - 2nd edition

The first edition was hugely popular with the legions of Brompton fans. The review below refers to the first edition, the second edition contains an extra 32 pages, with a whole new chapter on where Brompton may be heading in the future plus new coverage of early folding bikes in the U.S., more detail on military use of folding bikes and, of course, the low-down on new products and company developments.

Author signed copies by credit card on 01305 259998 or BUY NOW

The only folding bike that people fold when they don’t need to.’ This comment on the Brompton sums up the genius of the design. Created a third of a century ago, the Brompton still sets the bicycling benchmark for compact portability. Now, David Henshaw has produced the book that many have long awaited – a comprehensive, readable, informative and beautifully illustrated history entitled simply Brompton Bicycle.

The volume is attractively presented, with numerous illustrations, some very rare, and the majority in colour.The Foreword is by author and TV presenter Adam Hart-Davis, who took to the Brompton whilst filming his television series ‘Local Heroes’, in the early 1990s.As Adam points out, ‘David writes clearly and amusingly … about the tortuous history of this superb bicycle.’

David briefly describes his own involvement with the Brompton – how he discovered it in 1991 and how it changed his life: ‘If it wasn’t for the Brompton, I might still be writing books about historic motor cars.’

A short history of folding bicycles then sets the scene.As early as 1878, Grout’s Portable ‘penny farthing’ highlighted the key factor of wheel size. In the post-Suez era,Alex Moulton’s development of 14-, 16- and 17-inch rims and tyres for adult cycles established the practical limits for wheel size reduction. Moulton had no interest in folding bicycles as such but the fact that some of his bikes separated for easier stowing stimulated interest in folders. David Henshaw recounts the nest of curates’ eggs laid by imitators of the Moulton, including Raleigh’s ironically named RSW Compact, the Russian tank of the folding bicycle world.

A groundbreaking development was the Bickerton – lighter and more compact that any previous commercially produced folder but flimsy and wobbly to ride. For some years, the Bickerton represented the state of the art in compact folding bicycles. As David explains, it was also the catalyst that stimulated Andrew Ritchie to try and do better.

Brompton's Andrew RitchieAndrew is a gifted but shy person, who has successfully side-stepped publicity for most of his career.This makes his surprisingly cosmopolitan background all the more interesting – his ancestors include a Prussian Count and a Chancellor of the Exchequer. (Read the book to find out more!) Like Alex Moulton,Andrew graduated in engineering from the University of Cambridge, albeit a generation later. David highlights the inventor’s initial restlessness: ‘Andrew Ritchie had shown a flair for engineering design, but chose to move into computers; he had a talent for computer programming, but moved into the world of commerce.’ For a while Andrew even ran a business selling house plants to housewives.

The story of the Brompton’s evolution is an heroic one, full of fascination, both in the technical ingenuity displayed, and in the human drama involved. For a private individual successfully to design and market a new bicycle is a huge and daunting task. It has led to at least one tragic suicide among my own circle of friends. That Andrew Ritchie succeeded is truly remarkable and you will need to read this book to understand just how he did it. It was certainly not helped by the giants of the industry, such as Raleigh, who twice rejected the Brompton.Andrew Ritchie must surely be excused a little schadenfreude now that Raleigh no longer manufacture bicycles in the UK, whereas his output, made by British workers in a British factory, continues to climb, year on year, decade on decade.

As David Henshaw explains, by 1977 Andrew Ritchie had evolved the Brompton into a form we would still recognise today. From thereon,Andrew demonstrated a remarkable tenacity.The earlier restlessness was harnessed, tamed and directed.Where other designers might be tempted to make frequent major changes, a key aspect of the Brompton story is the continuous incremental development and refinement of the design.

David’s book contains chapters on each phase of the Brompton’s history.There is also a section on Brompton specials and useful information on using and maintaining a Brompton.The appendices include a detailed chronology, a guide to serial numbers, and charts showing profit and sales figures. At the back of the book, there are short sections on Brompton people and making a Brompton.The book is comprehensively indexed.

‘Iconic’ is an overused and clichéd term, but it certainly applies to the Brompton. Brompton Bicycle by David Henshaw is the definitive companion volume.Whether or not you own a Brompton, you will find this an interesting and inspiring read. I heartily commend it.

David Henshaw has edited and published A to B magazine, specialising in folding and electric bikes, since 1997 and helped Brompton establish its dealer network in the 1990s.

Author signed copies by credit card on 01305 259998 or purchase BUY HERE

How to Live well without a Car

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

This book is an accident. Chris Balish, a TV reporter and six times Emmy awardwinning newsreader who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, had a problem. His Toyota SUV was causing him financial headaches, so he reluctantly sold it and lived without a car for a short while. Much to his surprise, he got along nicely, and managed to live quite well without actually owning a car.That period also did some positive things for his checking account, and soon enough he found himself totally debt-free for the first time in his adult life. That experience led Chris Balish to a car-free life, and eventually encouraged him to produce a 200page paperback book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car. Sometimes life takes a strange turn, and his experience has produced something profitable for A to B readers.How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

Mr Balish shares some of his life philosophy. He strongly believes that most US citizens who live in metropolitan areas can not only survive, not only just get along, but can live WELL without the burdens and expenses of car ownership. It doesn’t work for everyone, but his experiences seem to show that it could work for most.Why?

 …Your car is no longer a chariot of freedom; it’s a money-sucking horse  that gets you to the office…

Contrary to popular European misconceptions, metro areas in the USA offer many personal transportation options, including car-sharing, car-pooling,  public transit, bicycling, walking, motorcycling, scootering and others. These can easily and profitably replace car ownership.

The finances are compelling.The average American worker must earn about $13,000 (pre-tax) per year to finance car ownership.That works out at about $8,400 per year after taxes. Compare this to the actual expenses of about $1,700 for small motorcycles and $200 for bicycles.Walking shoe costs are not mentioned. It is no wonder that Mr Balish’s checking account fattened up quickly after he sold the Toyota.

There are other less obvious benefits as well. Life without car ownership means life without worrying about crashes, theft, daily road rage and all the other tribulations of car culture. As Mr Balish learned, these problems come with car ownership, not so much with car usage. He has no problem with using a car, just owning one.

He writes about the minor lifestyle changes needed, as well as a few attitude adjustments. There are the concerns of getting to work every day, response to emergencies, shopping, socializing, and the other travel problems we all know so well. He looks at them all – clearly and with humour. Any complications? Apparently Mr Balish commutes daily by bicycle, travels ‘all round’ on foot, by mass transit, and by carpooling with friends, girlfriends and co-workers. And according to the publisher’s blurb, ‘Chris is single and has a vibrant car-free dating and social life.’

Chris BallishEach chapter starts with a bit of wisdom, such as:

‘Adventure is just bad planning…’

‘Don’t even consider keeping up with the Joneses. They’re broke!’

‘If you think about it, some of the most meaningless times of life are spent in a car…’

‘Never measure the height of a mountain until you reach the top.Then you will see how low it was…’

‘Your car is no longer a chariot of freedom; it’s just a money-sucking horse that gets you to the office…’

Not so long ago, comments like these were unknown in mainstream America, but times are changing.The real highlight of this book are the dozens of personal testimonies from people who are actually living well without owning a car.They tell all sorts of stories about their metro lives. Remember, the ancient truth still thrives – with or without owning a car Living Well is Always the Best Revenge!
How to Live well Without Owning a Car Chris Balish . $12.95 USA £6.80 UK ISBN: 1580087574 . Published July 2006 Publisher Ten Speed Press

A to B 57 – Dec 2006

Martin Snelus


New Consumer Magazine

new-comsumer-magazineUnlike certain ‘Green’ publications, New Consumer strikes a nice balance between consumerism and hair-shirt utopianism. It’s printed on a matt-finish recycled paper, which sounds a bit dour, but the content is lively and the cover stories eye-catching and (dare we say it?) sexy. In March, for example, the magazine features fair trade clothing – once the preserve of scratchy-looking T- shirts, but now firmly entrenched at the fashion end of the market.

This all sounds suspiciously New Age and touchy-feely, but New Consumer is a practical and informative guide to ‘fair trade’ products. With global trade increasingly dominated by greedy mega-corporations and unscrupulous trading cartels, it’s all too easy for the little folk to get squeezed out, leaving millions reliant on hand-outs, when all they really want to do is sell their bananas, tea or cocoa at a fair price.

Fair trade – spear-headed in the UK by the excellent Co-operative movement (the Co-op sponsors New Consumer) – is a neat way of circumventing the inequities of the global trading system, by working closely with producers and guaranteeing to pay them a fair price for their labour.You might think that this would make the products expensive, but because there are no middle men and corrupt officials taking a cut, that’s not necessarily so. A quick search around our local Co-op reveals that fair trade products are broadly mid-range (and we can vouch that the chocs and Clipper tea are jolly good). Until recently, fair trade meant coffee, chocolate and little else, but the list is expanding rapidly, and – watch out – supermarket giant Tesco is beginning to take an interest, which gives you some idea of the way the wind is blowing.

New Consumer has been around for nearly three years, but we think the concept is about to take off.To get you all enthusiastic, we’ve negotiated a reduced introductory subscription of £12. Just quote ‘A to B’ when subscribing.

New Consumer annual subscription (6 copies) £15 . ISSN 1478-8527. tel 0141 335 9050 mail


The ‘Classic’ Moulton – Paul Grogan

The Classic MoultonWe have to admit to a soft-spot for Moulton bicycles. In historical terms, their manufacture spanned a brief era, but what an era! Dr Moulton rethought the bicycle from fundamental principles, creating a unique machine that helped to define the 1960s. Small wheels, suspension, fitted luggage, and one-size-fits- all monotube frame… The Moulton was both radical and practical, and for a brief period it overwhelmed the cumbersome clunkers of the day.

Nasty corporate suits soon conspired to destroy the Moulton, and by the mid-70s it had gone, although the good Doctor still builds a few rarefied models for gentlemen with bottomless wallets.Today, your average punter thinks small wheels are bad news, rather like his dad in the 1950s. And that’s why we keep a candle burning for the ‘classic’ Moulton.

We reviewed the first edition of this book in October 2002 and the hard back reprint is broadly the same – painstaking research, exquisite illustrations, and helpful if rather dry text.This concoction is livened up with a few contemporary advertisements, which are becoming interesting sociological documents in themselves: ‘The smooth one’ (aimed at men), ‘The lookable one’ (aimed, one assumes, at women), ‘a with it move!’, (young people) and so on. The ‘Classic’ Moulton is more a directory than a history book: every model, and every part is identified, enabling us – for example – to pin down Grandpa Henshaw’s Moulton as a Deluxe M2.Wonder what happened to it?

New in this revised edition is a fascinating chapter drawn from rare photographs and factory archives, explaining how the bicycles were made. It’s all priceless stuff for Moulton buffs, historians, and anyone else with a love of nice bicycling things.

The ‘Classic’ Moulton . Paul Grogan . ISBN 0-9543265-0-4 . 80 Pages . Hardback UK price £28.50 Europe £29.50 Elsewhere £33 . Credit card sales 0121 743 8646


Bicycle Design: The Search for the Perfect Machine – Mike Burrows

Bicycle Design - Mike BurrowsThe sleeve of this book reads like a who’s who of the UK cycling world: written by Mike Burrows, edited by Tony Hadland, first printed in 2000 by Jim McGurn (and now in the safe hands of Bicycling Books), photos by Jason Patient et al, cartoons by Jo Burt and Geoff Apps, foreword by Richard Ballantine, and so on.

Burrows spends 173 pages gleefully debunking the legends and long-held urban myths of the bicycling world, and the result is almost guaranteed to delight. Positioned somewhere between Richard’s Bicycle Book and Bicycling Science, Bicycle Design is technical in parts, but the complicated bits are generally deciphered (and/or debunked) in the most elegant fashion.We reviewed the first edition in A to B 21, but someone seems to have nicked that copy.We’re reliably informed that recumbents get more of a mention this time around and there are some new colour photos.

Bicycle Design 2nd Edition . 2004 . £16.95 . 173 pages . ISBN 0 9520603 2 9 . Pedal Press


The Bicycle Book

The Bicycle BookHaynes is best known for its car manuals, less so for washing machines, computers, mankind (no really – ‘120,000BC to the Present Day’) and bicycles.The inspiration for The Bike Book came from a keen cyclist at Haynes’ Sparkford factory (just down the road from Castle Cary), and the 1994 volume is now in its 4th incarnation.

Editors and sub-editors tend to know little about bicycles, allowing all sorts of bloopers to get into print, leading novice cycle commuters to buy carbon fibre grunge-inserts, zillions of derailleur gears and flo- yellow skin-tight Lycra.Yes, The Bike Book includes plenty of knobbly tyres and sexed-up racing machines, but it’s a well-written and carefully researched book that covers hub gears and mudguards too.

Most people of modest mechanical ability should be able to change a cable, or adjust most species of brake or gear mechanism using this book. Just for the record, the 4th edition has been updated to include STi and Ergopower combined brake and gear levers, hydraulic discs, suspension forks and those troublesome Aheadset things.There are also a couple of new pages specific to women, presumably following criticism of male-centricity.

In the grumbley department, we can’t agree with the sub-heading, ‘Helmet wearing is voluntary, not a legal requirement, but few bike riders are brave enough to venture on to the roads without one.’ That’s a misleading and one-sided dismissal of a complex debate. We also lament the passing of line drawings, as some of the 800 colour photographs are a bit small and indistinct, but this seems to be a publishing-wide phenomena.

The Bike Book 4th Edition . 2003 . £14.99 . 178 pages . ISBN 1 84425 000 8 . Haynes Publishing


Bicycling Science – 3rd Ed – David Gordon Wilson & Jim Papadopoulos

Bicycling Science - 3rd EditiionBicycling Science is a hallowed canon. Published in 1974, it was the first serious, academic work on general cycle science to appear since Archibald Sharp’s Bicycles and Tricycles in 1896. A collaboration between Frank Rowland Whitt, technical editor for the Cyclists’ Touring Club, and David Gordon Wilson, professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bicycling Science affirmed cycling and human power as subjects fully worthy of proper scientific study and analysis, and sustained exploration and development.

In the then climate of a cycling renaissance, Bicycling Science enjoyed success precisely because it was academic and technical. In 1981 a second, much expanded edition was produced, largely the work of Dave Wilson as sadly, Frank had suffered a stroke.The second edition is a bible which anyone involved with cycling technology is assumed to have read – carefully. However, modern cycling has seen many changes and developments, and the book has been in need of a strong update.

It has come. Bicycling Science Third Edition is far and away the best and most interesting edition yet. It benefits from substantial contributions by Jim Papadopoulos, a mechanical engineer and ‘recognized genius’ with a special interest in cycling and the mechanics of steering. Areas in previous editions which were weak, or have seen change, have been strengthened.The result is a well-organized book, consistent in quality throughout. Between what is new, and lucid, literate presentation, there is never a dull moment, not even for a reader who is familiar with the first or second editions.

The first section on human power includes a chapter on bicycling history with a few choice revisionist elements, a long and important chapter on power generation, and a short but fascinating chapter on how cyclists keep cool. (Start: ‘For each unit of work put into the pedals, a cyclist must get rid of about three units of heat.’)

The substance of the book is in the second section covering bicycle physics – power and speed, aerodynamics, mechanical resistance, braking, steering and balancing, mechanics of power transmission, materials and stresses, and much more. It is good, solid stuff, comprehensive yet concise. A nice touch is a continuing personal practical note. Dave is a cyclist, and so for example, the discussion of the mechanics of shimmy, an event which can scare a rider witless, includes the things one can do to stop it.

The final section of the book is on human-powered machines and vehicles. Unusual human-powered machines are described, and there is a discussion of how human- powered vehicles may develop in the future.

Cycling has grown, and so has Bicycling Science; the new edition is more than twice the size of the first one. For veterans of earlier editions and new, technically-minded readers alike: highly, highly recommended.

Bicycling Science . US$22.95 . 477 pages, 226 illustrations . Author David Gordon Wilson . Publisher MIT Press mail web . ISBN 0-262-73154-1


High and Mighty: SUVs – The world’s most dangerous vehicles and how they got that way – Keith Bradsher

High & Mighty - SUVs: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How they Got That WayThe image of the school-run 4×4 is an enduring one. Range Rovers, Shoguns and Land Cruisers may seem like gas- guzzling bad jokes, but as this book by American journalist Keith Bradsher shows, the laugh is on all other road users, not to mention the entire planet. Working as The New York Times’ man in Detroit, Bradsher was well placed to knock down a few SUV myths. Like safety. SUVs have four-wheel-drive and are built like small trucks, so it stands to reason they are safer than flimsy economy cars (not to mention cycles and scooters).The reality is that they’re less stable than cars, so are more prone to roll-over accidents. And if they hit a smaller vehicle, they can crush it, and its occupants. Pedestrians and cyclists get sucked underneath. For every life saved by an SUV calculates Bradsher, five are lost.

But that’s just part of the story.The author explains how the SUV came about – in the 1960s, Jeep was a lame duck, until it had the bright idea of selling four-wheel-drive to trendy surburbanites instead of farmers and backwoodsmen. Better still, SUVs could be based on small truck chassis, so they were cheap to build. And in a massive scam, the US motor industry lobbied to have them classed as trucks, making them exempt from increasingly strict economy, emissions and safety laws. Bradsher also looks into the psychology of SUV buyers and points out that older, cheaper 4x4s are getting into the hands of young, inexperienced drivers, which is a scary combination.

All of this is based on US experience, but it’s just as applicable to Europe, where SUVs are taking to the roads in increasing numbers. High and Mighty is an eye opening book, based on solid research – if you care about road safety, please read it.

High and Mighty: SUVs – The world’s most dangerous vehicles and how they got that way Keith Bradsher . Public Affairs . ISBN 1 58648 123 1


Slow Coast Home – Josie Dew

slow-coast-home-josie-dew-reviewIf you ride a bicycle you will probably already know of Josie Dew, patron saint of cycle touring and diminutive travel writer, whose previous volumes The Wind in my Wheels, Travels in a Strange State, A Ride in the Neon Sun and The Sun in my Eyes, have rightly become classics of their kind.Well, they have at A to B Towers, anyway.

For the uninitiated, Josie is afflicted with a genetic urge to travel, and she’s been doing it since her parents finally loosened her reins, at the age of about ten. Many of us suffer from travelitus, of course, but Josie also turned out to be a fine writer and observer, thus allowing the rest of us to share her experiences in exotic and sometimes rather odd corners of the world.

Slow Coast Home is a rather different – and in some ways more difficult – project, because it’s the story of a cycle tour in dear grubby old Blighty: a 5,000-mile circumnavigation of England,Wales, and a scattering of rocky satellites and islets.

It must be easier to write about foreign parts, because in Britain most encounters seem to begin, end, and very often major on, the weather and the lack of camping accommodation. All credit then, to Josie, for producing a readable and at times very enjoyable volume.

One also needs to take extra care with the research at home, because most people will claim to be an expert on at least part of it.We’re glad to say that in our own little corner, Josie is spot on, unearthing the same charming Westcountry factlets we love to bore you with ourselves.

In places this is a thoroughly depressing book. It’s the story of a land populated largely by fat, vulgar, rude and arrogant folk, with a few decent old dears thrown in when you least expect ‘em. From the gormless, aggressive youths spitting on passing cyclists to the lethal, muddle-headed elderly motorists, we’re all in here somewhere.

Ah yes, motors. As any ‘A to B’ cyclist will appreciate, cars were bound to be a key theme in Slow Coast Home. As Josie discovers (as if she didn’t know already) there are too many cars, being driven too fast, on roads that simply weren’t designed for such unpleasantness.True to form, cars sit in country lane-blocking jams, fill our heroine’s lungs with mucky particulates, then break free and sweep past with inches to spare. Again and again and again. Once in a while, the monsters behind the wheel vent their anger and frustration on this innocent passerby, but the best passages are reserved for the surreal moments, as when Josie gets boxed in by a pair of 4x4s on a Devon lane:

“Her dirty glower said,‘Go on you pesty pedalist – get out of my way! For I am bigger and I am grander!’ But trying to get out of her way was pointless… I knew that any moment now, Mrs Discovery would come haring round the corner… Right on cue, loomed Mrs Discovery who, amidst much burning of rubber, just managed to slam on her brakes in time before I became entangled in her bull-bars. I was now pig in the middle of two very fat and shiny elevated bonnets, polished up like cut glass… behind which sat two irritated women staring down their noses at the low-life in their way… Such are the consequences when one chooses to drive tanks down narrow country lanes.

Finally, there was nothing for it other than for Mrs Cherokee to relent and reverse. Unfortunately, I don’t think Mrs Cherokee had ever relented in all her Cherokee-helmed life, for it became evident that she couldn’t find reverse. I watched her, and Mrs Discovery watched her, as she sat strapped in her all-terrain flight deck grappling unsuccessfully with her controls…

But oh! – what reversing! With diabolical technique, Mrs Cherokee edged her way in reverse down the hill by way of rear-view mirror navigation… She ground up the bank one side before mounting it on the other, removing whole clumpfulls of delicate wild flowers in the process… Eventually… having obliterated great chunks of rare bankside flora, Mrs Cherokee reached the mouth of a track… the dust settled and we each went our respective ways.”

What sort of pitiful world have we created? Travelling by bicycle, Josie is greeted like a creature from another planet (another thing A to B types might recognise), but as an alien, she’s well placed to convey just how odd our little planet has become. Even the familiar bits. After reading Slow Coast Home, you will never look at familiar places and familiar attitudes to transport in quite the same way again.

Everyone should read this book. If nothing else, the terminally lazy might grasp that if a diminutive woman of five foot nothing can haul 70kg right around the coast, they might just be up to cycling to the corner shop themselves once in a while. And despite all the unpleasantness, Josie usually manages to pull a silver lining from behind the clouds, which is fortunate, because there are plenty of them.

Three warnings should you happen to bump into the author: Don’t mention the weather, don’t comment on her youthful looks, and don’t shout; ‘You could do with a motor on that, love!’, or she may throttle you with her bottom bracket. Ooh, the unkindest cut of all!

Slow Coast Home Josie Dew . ISBN 0 316 85362 3 . Pages 457 . Illustrations 32 colour photos Publisher Time Warner Books . Price £20.00 (UK) $38.95 (Canada)


The Rough Guide to Cycling in London

From memory, the ‘Rough Guide’ travel-book series started life as a spin-off from a television programme of the same name a decade or so ago. Now some bright spark has hit on the idea of producing Rough Guides to cycling in capital cities, starting with London – the project getting off the ground with sponsorship from transport authority ‘Transport for London’. As with TfL’s award winning London Cycle Maps, the Guide is free, but on this occasion additional sponsorship has come from bicycle manufacturer Trek.

We’re not averse to sponsorship in principal, but we don’t think this formula works. It’s not that the Rough Guide dwells overly on Trek products and dealers, but there’s an insidious slant towards that sort of world.The result is a guide aimed at cycling newbies that puts loads of emphasis on MTBs, silly clothing, road bikes, and even cycle racing, but ignores hub gears, chain guards, and all the other essentials of urban commuting. How many new cycle commuters, for example, are interested in the pros and cons of leg-shaving in competition? Or Criterium Racing, whatever that might be? Under ‘Equipment’ we’re told to check reviews in Cycling Plus, What Mountain Bike? or Single Track. Are they serious? What about Velovision, or the CTC’s Cycle magazine, or even A to B? Magazines reviewing practical stuff for practical day-to-day commuters?

Strangely, for a book of this kind, electric bikes get half a page (with a few technical errors, unfortunately), but recumbents are dismissed, and folding bicycles – the key to city travel for a growing minority of cyclists – merit just a few lines. Similarly, cycling with children is virtually ignored, but in the Congestion Charge era, it’s a primary issue for parents looking for a non-motorised school-run alternative.

What we hoped for was the sort of insider information that have made previous Rough Guides such a success – where to find a bacon sarnie at 5am, or how best to navigate the capitals back streets.There is some route finding information in the Guide, but it’s a bit patchy – maps of key cycling cut-throughs would be better.

On the positive side, the first 20 pages on safety, the London Cycle Network and the financial advantages of cycling are useful stuff, as is the list of cycle shops in the capital, which alone make this a ‘must-carry’ guide. But much of the rest is either irrelevant or down-right off-putting to cycle returnees. Had we been asked (and we weren’t) we would have produced a very different Guide. Unfortunately, 200,000 have already been printed (although the cost is dwarfed by the £11 million being spent on cycling in the capital this year). Incidentally,TfL is asking for comments on its web site , so do make your views known.Yes, there are two gorgeous Treks to be won!

The Rough Guide to Cycling in London . Free from Trek dealers and HMV stores in the London area.


Down the Tube – Christian Wolmar

down-the-tubeDown the Tube is a thoroughly depressing book. That’s no fault of Christian Wolmar’s, we hasten to add, because the author of Broken Rails (the troubled tale of rail privatisation) has made an equally impressive job of piecing together the history of London’s Underground Railway.

For students of British transport history it’s all here – the unplanned chaos of Victorian days (‘A row over a siding led to a tug of war involving the Metropolitan trying to pull away a locomotive chained to the rails…’), through the glory days of the 1930s, when somehow the management came right; the funding came right (bonds – remember that); the architecture, the trains… even the graphics and maps. For a dozen wonderful years, London’s Tube was the biggest and most advanced metro system anywhere in the world.

After the War, the Tube became a political football – surplus to requirements, thought the Tories (who were trying to create a sort of Los Angeles-on-Thames), and an expensive nuisance to the Socialists, who had other things to spend money on.

There followed a nightmarish period of decay, populated by greasy I’m-all-right-Jack union job’s-worths (‘…more than my job’s worth to fit that hot tap washer, guv…’) and greedy, out of touch executives (at one stage there were 26 chauffeur-driven limousines at HQ, costing some half a million pounds a year). Between them, they tore the system apart.

It took the Tube a surprisingly long time to enter the intensive care ward, but it finally succumbed in 1987, when a small fire developed – through the usual mix of incompetence and poor training – into a fireball, killing 31 people.Thereafter, politicians sat up and took notice.They’ve been passing the buck ever since, but the Tube remains on the critical list…

And so, in 2002, the battle lines are drawn: In the left corner, we have London mayor Ken Livingstone, with dreams of funding a Tube renaissance through an issue of bonds. In the right corner, a group of Treasury zealots and assorted fruitcakes, with a Frankenstein’s monster of a scheme called the Public Private Partnership, the details of which are beyond mere mortals, but seem to involve tearing infrastructure from operations (see Railtrack), and paying private-sector companies a great deal of money to do a modest amount of work, at little risk to themselves.

For reasons that our cousins from overseas might find hard to understand, Britain’s well-entrenched and nominally left-wing government is whole-heartedly behind the right- wing zealots, rather than Ken – the people’s choice. Confused? It’s all horribly familiar, and we know what happened to the railways.Whether the absurd PPP wins through (how will anyone actually know?) or fails miserably, we can be sure that politicians will continue to blame each other for decades to come, and that a vast amount of public money will be thrown at the Tube. As we said at the start – depressing.

Down the Tube £9.99
Pages 246
ISBN 1-85410-872-7
Publisher Aurum Press


The ‘Classic’ Moulton – Paul Grogan

The Classic MoultonWhere do Moulton owners get their boundless enthusiasm? it takes a lot of nerve to self- publish anything, let alone a title as specialist as this.Where, one wonders, do they find the time? Do they do anything else?

The ‘Classic’ Moulton is an apparently exhaustive reprint of Moulton catalogue specifications from 1963 – 1974, which sounds like the biggest yawn in publishing history, but results in a sparkling little book – well, quite big actually, being a full A4 format. The real delight of The ‘Classic’ Moulton is the illustrations – each model painstakingly digitised and coloured in loving precise detail. The book is full of these charming little reliefs, and the result is not only useful for Moulton anoraks, but a book of unexpected beauty for ordinary mortals too.

The text is understandably on the dry side, but it’s not all listings and part numbers, and the final chapters include some useful reprints from the Moultoneer magazine, covering suspension overhaul and general trouble-shooting.

For anyone buying or restoring one of these 1960s Moultons, this book provides an invaluable guide. But even for those who don’t know one end of a classic Moulton from the other (and aren’t overly curious) it deserves to become a coffee table classic.

The ‘Classic’ Moultons Paul Grogan
ISBN 0-9543265-0-4
Pages 55
Softback UK price £16.50, Europe £18.00, Rest of World £21.00
Credit Card Sales Tel 0121 743 8646


Cycle Maintenance – By Richard Hallett

cycle-maintenance-bookAt last, a pocket-sized bicycle maintenance book! Strangely enough, if the Cycle Maintenance Introduction is to be believed, bicycles now come in three distinct styles – racer, tourer and, er, Brompton. Unfortunately, this radical start is tempered by a complete lack of information on said folding bike or any of it’s cousins. Hub gears get only the briefest of mentions, and although the book is copiously illustrated, the beautiful photographs involve the sort of brand names that you and I either dream about, or can’t pronounce, or both – Campagnolo, Colnago, Shimano Dura-Ace and so on.

Utility bits and bobs like mudguards, lights and fitted luggage do get mentioned once in a while, but you know the author’s heart isn’t really in it – he’s clearly itching to get back to the orgasmic boy’s-toy stuff. The result is a strange animal – a beginner’s guide apparently written, edited and photographed by the cycle racing fraternity. Under the heading ‘Toolkits’ we find £5,000 worth of Park Tools: just the thing for those fiddly roadside repairs.What this sort of book ought to be telling us is how to repair a broken frame with nothing more than a pair of silk stockings and a hair-grip. Or a hundred and one uses for a Mole wrench.You know: handy, practical stuff.

After a few chapters of carbon fibre forks, wheels strung with quivering quadruple- butted titanium spokes, and immaculately groomed fingers wielding immaculate Park Tools, you begin to suspect that bicycle maintenance might be closer to rocket science than you originally thought.

It’s difficult to recommend this book.Those who own the posh stuff probably don’t need a beginner’s guide, while those nervously destroying their first inner-tube in the garden shed, will find precious little guidance here.

Superficiality abounds – take the following advice on saddles: Symptom: Excessive pressure from saddle. Cause: Saddle not level/Saddle wrongly shaped. Remedy: Ensure saddle is level/Change saddle. Great, must remember that.Then there’s the section called ‘Identify your [clipless] pedals’. Surely, if you’re the sort of bod who buys clipless pedals, you have some idea what kind you’ve bought? And if you aren’t remotely interested, you’ll blow a great big raspberry at this page, like most of the others.

Cycle Maintenance is a sad by-product of Blair’s New Britain: A triumph of style over substance and a wasted opportunity. In years to come historians will nod wisely as they leaf through this sort of thing.

Cycle Maintenance Richard Hallett
ISBN 0-600 60676 7
Pages 112 Softback
Publisher Hamlyn
UK price £9.99
USA $16.95
Canada $25.95


Encycleopedia 2002-03 – Compiled by Alan Davidson

encycleopedia-bookEncycleopedia was one of the big success stories of the alternative transport world. It didn’t take advertising as such, but manufacturers were ‘invited’ to sponsor their own page.The disadvantage of this system is that very small, very poor concerns can get left out, while big manufacturers producing utter rubbish get in. So all credit to McGurn, Davidson et al, that this didn’t happen in practice, presumably because the small fry were subsidised and the big ‘uns turned away.

Running to six editions, more or less annually in the late 1990’s, Encycleopedia became an essential reference work for those purchasing or researching anything from a child’s tricycle to an electrically-assisted pantechni-quad.Then parent company Open Road crashed to the ground and Encycleopedia ceased to be.

But good ideas generally refuse to lie down. Jim McGurn, Peter Eland and Dan Joyce may have moved on, but Jim’s former business partner Alan Davidson has fought to bring Encycleopedia back from the grave – it’s late, it’s thinner than it used to be, but it’s back.

Sheer volume isn’t everything, but useful content is the bottom line when you’re shelling out twelve quid, so it’s instructive to look back at the Encycleopedia story by the number of bikes and trailers covered in each issue.The book closely mirrors the Open Road story, starting as a modest organ with around 30 product reviews, growing to a chunky 147 pages and no fewer than 91 products in 1997, but sliding back to 71 products in 2001 before falling over the abyss.

Effectively compiled by a husband and wife team, the new edition is obviously smaller, covering just 36 machines, but it’s the same old gold mine of information, at the same old £12 cover price. Beside the product entries, there’s a wealth of features from some familiar faces – cycle mapping by Cycle City Guides (hi, Martin), trailers from Two Plus Two (how are things, Stuart?), HPVs by Richard Ballantine, Karta Singh on whatever it is that Karta does best, and so on and so forth. Ever get the feeling that cycling is a small world? Well, yes, but there are some fresh products, ideas and services here too. And that’s why Encycleopedia is so important – if we all keep referring back to the 1997 edition, the alternative scene will eventually wither and die.

If you can bring yourself to forgive all that has gone before, forget the readies you lost when Open Road crashed and treat an Encycleopedia purchase as a patriotic duty.

Encycleopedia . Alan Davidson
ISBN 0-9542052-0-0
ISBN (USA) 0-9669795-6-7
Pages 90 Softback
Publisher Encycleopedia & Alpenbooks Press (USA)
UK £12
USA $24
Europe E19
tel 0161 484 0579


The World We’re In – Will Hutton

the-world-were-inWhat has the rise of American conservatism over the past few decades – seemingly reaching a crescendo in the Presidency of George W. Bush – got to do with how we get from A to B over here, on the other side of the pond? Will Hutton’s latest current affairs tour de force, following on from his analysis of UK politics in The State We’re In, shows in detail how Britain has drifted more towards this American mindset over this period whilst being decidedly diffident towards the European Union and its aims. Anyone who’s experienced the decline of our public services, transport included, since the early 80s and wondered how such a well-orchestrated campaign of confusion and farce has come to be can find the answer here.

As you might expect from a high-powered economist and former newspaper editor, the 350+ page tome has an academic slant, with many research references to clever-sounding people you’ve never heard of sprinkled liberally throughout. Many of the basic points are obvious, but eloquently made. At the heart of the process has been the unfettered expansion of the US and UK stock markets and the growth of an American corporate culture interested only in unsustainably fast money-making.

Most revealingly the author was clearly in the know about the recent Worldcom scandal way before it happened.That such a situation was apparently an open secret before the company itself owned up, is in itself an indictment of the cosy relationship between big business and government in the US.The book is packed with good insight into the surreal world of corporate America where membership fees at the ‘right’ golf club cost $30,000 a year and a $15,000 wristwatch is de rigeur. On a deeper psychological level this is a culture where any idea of direct support for the public realm is too often seen as socialism or communism in disguise – this is a country that wants knowledge of human genes to be privatised and sold to the highest bidder.

What does all this mean for us over here in little old Britain? The influence of right wing US-modelled think tanks has grown since Thatcher’s election in 1979 and the Blair government has done little to reverse a system ideologically bent over backwards in favour of free-market solutions to the provision of public services.The supposed efficiencies of the system are given the lie by the facts; Railtrack has collapsed with millions of debt and private finance is running scared of it, whilst it will be 2008 before the London Underground Public-Private partnership reckons it can deliver any new trains. This is also an excellent read should you be considering which way to vote in any European referendum: a vote to opt out, argues Hutton, is a step closer to the American way of life and whose transport system would you rather have – mainland Europe’s or America’s? Enough said.

The World We’re In – Will Hutton
ISBN 0-316-86081-6
Publisher Little, Brown
Pages 420
Hardback UK Price £17.99