Book Review: The History of Cycling in 50 Bikes

The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes
by Tom Ambrose

History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes cover shot

This is an enjoyable journey through a 220-year history of cycling, going from the hobby-horses of the late 18th century to the latest futuristic designs.

Two hundred years later, hobby-horses have now reappeared but modernised a little, as balance bikes for young children, but this book also describes the first machines to demonstrate many parts of a bicycle that cyclists now take for granted, such as pedals, pneumatic tyres, and gears.

Of course, any keen cyclist will probably be able to think of bikes that should have been included instead of some of the ones selected. My own bug-bears are that the book should have spent fewer chapters on tiny improvements to 20th-century road racing bikes; it should not have called the revolutionary Moulton a 'folding bike', but the Moulton should still have a section for its main pioneering feature, small wheels with high pressure tyres.

And they should have had a separate section for folding bikes, mentioning Bickerton, Dahon and the best pioneering folding bike of all, the Brompton.

This book will inevitably appeal most to (male) road-racing cyclists, but the introduction does say "the bicycle was seen by many women as the chariot of female emancipation", and there is a picture of a Victorian woman riding a penny farthing side-saddle.  

The book does not require to be read from cover to cover in one go, but is good to dip into repeatedly. Get hold of a copy and see what you think of its selection of the 50 bikes that show the history of cycling.  

Review: Jim Bush