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Book Review: Custom Bicycles, A Passionate Pursuit
By Giles Belbin
Date: 10/28/2009
Book Review: Custom Bicycles, A Passionate Pursuit

Book Review: Custom Bicycles  A Passionate Pursuit

A celebration of the hand-made bicycle builder
This hard-back coffee table book takes the reader into the world of the hand-made bike, taking 39 of the world's best specialist frame builders and celebrating them and their work, showing off the bicycle as a work of art.

"The transformation that takes place during the painting process is like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. It has metamorphosed from something dark and monochromatic into something rich and colourful." Keith Anderson, of Keith Anderson Cycles, Grants Pass, Oregon USA.

What is a bicycle? Just what do those two wheels, frame, handlebars and pedals add up to? Freedom? Friendship? Art? Hard work? Enjoyment? Pain? All of the above?

To each of us a bicycle means something different. It probably even means different things at different times, depending on how we are feeling and what the weather is doing. But for the 39 custom frame builders featured in Custom Bicycles the bicycle has one common meaning. For these men the bicycle is their craft. It's their lifetime's work, their lifetime's passion, to build the best bicycle that they can. For these guys a bicycle, their bicycle, means pride. Pure and simple.

Christine Elliott and David Jablonka have searched the globe to pull together this book of the world's best custom frame-builders and bike makers. Bike builders from the USA, Canada, Australia, Britain, Italy, France and Germany are featured and whilst dedication to their craft is common, there are many differences between them.

For instance Crisp Titanium, run by Darren Mark Crisp from Arezzo, Italy, as the name suggests, builds bikes solely from Titanium. Crisp chose to work with Titanium "because it is corrosion resistant, provides a supple ride, is lightweight and has the mechanical strength needed to build a frame for a lifetime." His bikes have a modern look, all brushed metal with elaborate touches and details. Contrast this with Vanilla Bicycles from Portland, Oregon in the USA, who work primarily in steel and whose featured bike is a distinctly retrospective affair, reminiscent of the great Bianchi steeds of Fausto Coppi.

Then there is the California based Calfee Design who build bikes with that well-known bike building material bamboo. In fact Calfee has been building bikes for many years, including bikes used by in the Tour by three-time winner Greg Lemond out of a more conventional material. What price Alberto riding to Tour glory on a bamboo bike any time soon?

The book is beautifully presented. Each bike builder is given an introduction, describing where their love of bikes has come from, how they came into the bike-building world, how they operate, what their ethos is and what makes them tick.

The introduction to the bike builder is then followed by a series of beautiful photographs, showing the product of the builder's labours and interspersed throughout the book are comments from happy customers, extolling the virtues of buying a custom built bicycle, like Mike Stevens talking about his GURU Bike:

" was, quite simply, the best bike that I have ridden in 30 years of riding...when I rode it, I found myself smiling and shaking my head - truly, I did, - on a back road of Austin, because I just didn't know a bike could feel like that."

There are common themes running through the book. The importance of understanding the customer, not just their height, weight and build, but how they ride, what their aims are and what they want from the bike. The satisfaction of creating a bespoke piece from scratch and the particular attraction lugs and dropouts seem to have for the bike-builder, whilst steel appears to be the most common material of choice.

This book is a celebration of the hand-made bicycle builder and strikes an agreeable balance between giving enough information to maintain the interest of the bike fan and being visually stimulating to attract the curious reader, content to spend an hour or so flicking through the pages, admiring artistic shots of the bikes in all their glory.


Of course this may not be quite enough though for the seriously bike obsessed, those who would probably want more information on bike specifications or on building processes employed. But numbers and specs and processes are just a bit too dry for a book of this nature. It should be remembered that this is a book about the bike-builders, about the artisans who have made bike-building their craft and their life. And frankly, it is all the better for it.

The book is out now and  through your local bookstore or on-line booksellers.

Custom Bicycles: A Passionate Pursuit
(ISBN 9781864703139)
by Christine Elliott and David Jablonka
Foreward by Phil Liggett
Published by: The Images Publishing Group.
Price: US$ 60.00
Size: 254mm x 254mm
Spine: 21mm
Binding: Casebound with jacket
Pages: 240
Illustrations: Full Colour
All photos courtesy of Images Publishing Group

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