A collection of memories, autobiography and lists by a talented writer who provides a treat for anyone who has been touched by cycling culture
HarperCollins 0 00 257194 3 £16.99 396 pp
Hilton – an art critic and journalist by trade – has assembled a glorious rattle bag of a book of memoires. He opens with his introduction to cycling as an escape from the communist household in which he grew up in the 1940s. So dedicated to the cause were his parents that they named Hilton, their only child, Timoshenko, after the Soviet war hero.
Little wonder then that ‘All Spare Parts’ bicycle that he found at the bottom of his grandparents’ garage provided a welcome relief from party meetings devoted to the desirability of scientific socialism.
This is a book of vignettes and digressions in bike culture. He ranges widely, from the rivalry between Coppi and Bartali, to the history of the socialist Clarion cycling clubs and way that cyclists choose their occupations. An unusually large number of artists, musicians and writers are cyclists, he claims. Many postal workers are cyclists too – it provides long afternoons for training. Also – he claims – cyclists are won’t to seek employment a decent training run distant from their homes.
Hilton is also keen on lists: classic steel frame builders of industrial England, the hills of The Tour of Flanders and successful women racing cyclists of the 1950s, to mention just three.
Even to those who have read dozens of books about cycling, Hilton has something fresh to reveal. He is a writer of such easy, professional competence that he is always a pleasure to read. Indeed, to anyone who has stumbled into cycling and is trying to make sense of why clubs style themselves ‘VC’ or why British cyclists are obsessed with time trialling, this is a great starting point.
PS July 2008