The Industrial Revolution like all revolutions didn’t just break out over night; it began with water powered mechanisation of the textile manufacturing process, progressing to all out steam driven mass production techniques (in the 1790s and then a big spurt in the 1840s). In doing so it unsettled the stability of life across the country, casting aside individual skill in favour of mass production, higher productivity and lower manufacturing costs. Long-term this caused the ‘de-skilling’ of the manufacturing process; well almost, as even then some did manage to find a living creating bespoke products in a world turned upside down as is born out today in the ‘The Elite Bicycle: Portraits of Great Marques, Makers and Designers’ by Gerard Brown and Graeme Fife.
Authors Graeme Fife and Gerard Brown have undertaken the massive endeavour of catching the essence of a ‘cadre of builders’ who have ‘raged against the machine’ (a Luddite term rather than the RAP band) for generations putting ‘quality before cost’ and ‘people who understand the value and not simply the price’. It would be easy at this point to assume that the authors haven’t a good word to say for the modern, including the use of carbon, but you would be wrong as they maintain a good perspective, stating that cyclists today have a greater choice of products, at many price points. Rather the ‘The Elite Bicycle: Portraits of Great Marques, Makers and Designers’ is not an anti-modernist polemic but a celebration of a group of representative bike builders who combine craft with innovation. In the chapter about French company Cyfac the point is made that ‘there is art in carbon’.
Through the use of striking pictures and authoritative text the book takes a look at one-man bands and larger marques, some focus on steel and others venture into the realms of the aerospace industry. Fife knows his stuff and his explanation and understanding of the chemistry of steel means that he is able to get under the skin of the differing philosophies of production. The chapters concerning tube makers Reynolds and Columbus offers a dramatic comparison between Birmingham and Italian manufacturing flair.
Amongst the many companies featured include FMB handmade tyres, Selle Italia and their ‘cottage industry’ approach, Cinelli, Reynolds, Serotta, Columbus, Richard Sachs, Pegoretti. These ‘superstars’ are joined by lesser known builders such as Dinucci and Ira Ryan, and the book is all the better for their inclusion.
Summary: ‘The Elite Bicycle: Portraits of Great Marques, Makers and Designers’ by Gerard Brown and Graeme Fife is a celebration of a type of manufacturing that was never lost but which had to find its own niche in a world revolutionised in the race for industrialisation.
Imprint: Bloomsbury Sport
Illustrations: 250 colour photographs
Dimensions: 280 x 280 mm
Foreword by Sir Paul Smith
Online price: £31.50