Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review - The Custom Road Bike

The Custom Road Bike is a very pretty book. It's by Guy Andrews who is the editor of Rouleur Magazine, so it's not surprising that it's very pretty because Rouleur Magazine is very pretty too.

As the title suggests, the book is pegged at those looking "to put together [their] dream road bike". While I think it is useful for that purpose, my feeling is that most people who buy this will already have a pretty good idea of what they consider ideal for them. If, like me, you're at that stage where you're willing to part with the best part of $100 to purchase a guide that discusses each aspect of a road bike in the finest detail, then you're probably pretty familiar with bikes and not in need of guidance.


That said, maybe I'm wrong. The road bike scene is booming and it is in many ways the new golf. These days, there are plenty of middle-aged fat cats pouring thousands of dollars into their invariably carbon or titanium dream bike. So, I guess it makes sense for these folks to buy an expensive guide on how they can spend their money wisely (that said, their first stop should probably be the purchase of a training guide, but hey, at least they're riding).


So I didn't buy this book as a guide. I bought it for a couple of other reasons. One, as I've mentioned, is that it's pretty. Apart from a guide, it's also a coffee table book. It has beautiful photos throughout and any bike junkie would be happy to flip through its pages for an hour or three. It's not going on my coffee table though because I don't want to get coffee on it.
It also has some very interesting interviews with a few of the greats of the bicycle industry. There's Ben Serotta; 'I am a modest person. Truthfully I am. But if I didn't truly believe that we build the best bikes in the world I would leave the business.' Then, Richard Sachs. If you want one of his frames, you can join the queue. That's the seven year queue. There is also wisdom from Bob Parlee, Independent Fabrications, Ernesto Colnago and Dario Pegoretti.

Each of these builders (except for Colnago) is asked how they size their customers. Pegoretti's response, while not necessarily eloquent, is intelligent and measured; 'With a measuring tape. Normally there is some customer that has an idea and the other point is that 90 per cent of riders don't need a custom frame. Because if you ask the rider, everyone has some problem with the back, with the shoulder, everybody in the world...and if you ask the customer everybody wants a 'comfortable' frame. So probably 10 per cent need a custom-built frame. But 100 per-cent need a good fit.' These are wise words. It's worth noting the responses of the other builders to the same question;

Serotta: 'We produced the first multi-adjustable 'Serotta Size-Cycle' in 1979...'
Sachs: 'Intuitively.'
Parlee: 'We have a pretty sophisticated CAD system that we built that can get a set-up dialled in within a millimetre or so.'
Independent Fabrications; 'We can work with any fit-system out there. Obviously raw body dimensions and position numbers are important but we also want to know as much as possible about riding style, health issues and rider goals and objectives.'

I'll leave the onus of comment with the reader.

The bottom bracket cluster of a Sachs

The main reason I bought the book though was because it's interesting both historically and from a technical perspective. There are eight sections pertinent to putting your dream bike together; Bikes (a general overview of choosing the right bike), The Frame, Steering, Wheels, Bike Fit, Controls, The Gears, and The Drive.

Each section is broken down further to discuss each element. So, in The Gears, for example, you have bottom brackets, cranks, rear derailleurs and front derailleurs.

While mostly a road bike book, it also dabbles in track, time-trial and cyclocross

Lugs and things

The technological progress of each component and part is explored, which means this book also appeals to those who have an interest in cycling history and particularly the history of the bicycle. Did you know that Colnago built a 5.6 kilogram bike for Eddy Merckx in 1972? Sure, it was a track bike, but we're talking 40 years ago in the deep dark ages of steel here (they weren't really dark, I just felt I should add that for emphasis).

Brake pads

And finally, of course, the book discusses the components and parts of today. It compares the major brands, goes over options at every level of the bike, and weighs in with some sage advice on what's good for what purpose. This is what the book claims to be all about. At the end of the day though, this is only part of it and it's really about many other things too.

If you like bicycles of today and yesteryear, history, gorgeous photography and nerdy bike geek chatter, then you will like this book.

The book is published by Laurence King and is available in good book shops and online.


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