Last month’s newsletter saw us launch a competition to get your hands on a signed copy of Robert Penn’s best-selling book, It’s All About The Bike. The premise was simple: tell us how cycling has changed your life. Whilst we hoped it would be an interesting and rewarding competition, the result we had was truly remarkable, and took us quite by surprise. To celebrate the fantastic response we had, we invited Robert Penn to come along to Cyclescheme HQ to pick the winners, and personally sign copies of the book.
We received detailed accounts of people who have recently taken up cycling to find a new sense of freedom, to people who have been cycling for years and have experienced a new lease of life to those battling serious illnesses who have found refuge in getting out and about on two-wheels. All in all it was truly inspiring stuff.
The stories ranged from the tangible, financial benefits of cycling as Stuart from Cheshire commented, ”I’m [also] fuelling my car every 6 weeks - not every 3 weeks, as was the case before,” to the emotional impact of getting out on your bike, eloquently summed up by Clair (also from Cheshire), “in March 2009 I was diagnosed with Startgarts disease which is a form of macular degeneration, I was stopped from driving my car and my world fell apart, I couldn’t get to work easily, to see my family and also get about with my young daughter. Slowly but surely I got on my bike and realised I can still do all of those things.”
Linda (from London) delved even deeper into her financial savings, "by the end of the year, I expect to have saved more than £700 by cycling to work." Proof, if it was needed, that cycling really does make a difference to your wallet! Interestingly too, the social aspect of cycling came to the fore through the accounts we read with Louisa (from Penzance) telling of the freedom that cycling bestows her, “I cycle to work, I cycle to do my shopping, I cycle to visit friends.” Racking up some impressive journeys too, she went on to explain the sometimes unrecognised capabilities of a bicycle, “my basket has carried three loads of washing at once, a 4m long world map, 1 weeks shopping, a cuddly pig and my A Level textiles project (not all at the same time)!”
As Rob sat, having just arrived at our office, busily going through books, signing them like a pro, he paused between each one.
“It was very, very difficult to choose a winner,” he remarked, “they were all such great stories.”
He continued to thumb through more copies, pausing after every name.
“I found myself having to take a very pragmatic approach to judging them. I couldn’t just pick a selection of winners from random. I had to reread them several times.”
Rob seemed immediately at ease, very open and eager to talk everything bike related. He immediately began telling the story of his journey from his home in Abergavenny, North Wales, to Cyclescheme HQ in Bath. The trains, as he put it, are “at least 25 years behind the times”. He went into depth about the lack of bike facilities on the rail network and how, much to the amusement of the conductors, he would get up from his seat at every stop and stand guarding his bike.
“I’ve never seen it happen, but it would be so easy to steal a bike from a train,” he explained, “you can’t stand with them the whole journey, and you can’t lock them to anything.” Considering he was transporting his pride and joy, the bike that his book tells the story of - the bike of his dreams - it’s hardly surprising.
Then the moment we had all been waiting for came - the chance to see the bike in the flesh. As it majestically wheeled its way in it, at first, appeared understated, yet exuded an air of quality you don’t often see. A Steel Brian Rourke frame (made to measure, of course) boasted an exquisite finish and joints so fine you’d think they’d been sewn together, not welded. The Brooks leather saddle added quality, but also comfort to the bike.
“When you’re riding a bike for long periods of time, comfort is important. A lightweight carbon saddle would be more efficient, but try sitting on one for long periods of time and you’ll know what I mean!” Rob explained.
We could go on, taking in every detail of the bike from the bespoke Chris King headset to the Cinelli handlebars, but we would not do it justice. Reading Rob’s book really shows the care, precision and love that goes into making each individual component and shows just why this bike is so special. So short of reproducing his entire book, we’ll rest assured that if you pick up a copy of It’s All About The Bike, you’ll know what we mean.
As Rob continued to give us a guided tour around the bike, he waxed lyrical about the various workshops he’d visited, the characters he’d met and the journey he himself went on whilst writing the book. He praised the cycling infrastructure of Portland in the US (the home of Chris King) explaining how, even with major freeways feeding into the city from all sides, the bicycle had been carefully considered and integrated into the transport system. He explained how bikes are allowed on buses and trains and that the cycle network was a great example of how cycling can happily live alongside busy roads in busy cities – a comment on cycling infrastructure in the UK perhaps?
The motivation behind his project was to not only build the bike of his dreams, but to experience first-hand the work that goes into producing the finest components in the world.
As the accounts we received from the competition will testify, when you get a good bike, a bike that just seems to work for you, there really is nothing else like it. David (from Tayside) summed it up in his winning entry when he said, “I’m all about the bike and the bike is all about me.”
In It’s All About The Bike, Rob deftly tells the story of the bicycle not just as a means of transport, but also as a living, breathing testament to human evolution. A machine that has drastically changed the landscape of our society by making transport affordable for everyone, available to the masses and, even in today’s modern world, a viable alternative to fossil fuelled transport.
Rob put it best when he said of his bike, “it’s alive with the skill of the people who made it.” We couldn’t agree more.
Thanks to everyone who entered the competition, and for the fantastic entries we received. We wanted to share the experiences people have had with their bikes, so to read the winning entries in full, click here.
To see Rob's recent visit to the Hay-on Wye literary festival, check out the video below.
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