Cyclopedia, William Fotheringham (2010)

From Abdu to Zimmerman and everything between

Random House 9780224083101 21cm x 16 cm 442pp illustrated £16.99

From where does one acquire that basic bedrock of knowledge about bicycling matters that allows one to opine in the company of other cyclists?

You need an overview of the European cycling calendar, and sufficient familiarity with today’s peloton to be able to dismiss the chances of one or two Tour favourites.

You should know why so many British towns have two cycling clubs – one of which has a vaguely foreign sounding name. You should be able to clearly distinguish between the Eagle, the Badger and Elefantino. And you should be able to cast any new fangled bicycle equipment in the context of some century-old invention which did pretty much the same thing.

But how to come by such a treasury of trivia? You could spend half a lifetime poring over cycling magazines and chatting with others of a pedalling persuasion. Or you could secrete William Fotheringham’s latest offering in a place convenient for occasional browsing and while away idle moments in the company of his cornucopia.

The idea is simple enough. It is a one-volume digest of all things cycling, arranged as an encyclopaedia. Such a book could be a crushing bore, but Fotheringham avoids this by two means.

His choice of material is catholic. Although steeped in racing himself, he devotes generous space to those forms of cycling that are not organised by the UCI, including audax, commuting, cyclosportifs and much more beside. There are potted company histories, brief biographies and essays on everything from the role of television in cycling to the family history of the most famous racing teams.

He also has a wry, deft writing style and peppers entries with amusing factoids.
He relates that, nineteenth century army cycling unit manual, for example, suggested that, when fighting the cavalry, its members should turn their bikes upside down and spin the wheels to spook the horses.

Also, the late 1970s Team Raleigh produced a record in which members sang in Dutch ‘We just want the yellow, and Holland will sing along’ (a Youtube link is a sorry oversight, here).

And, of Derny riders he says: ‘contrary to popular belief, there is no contractual obligation for (them) to be overweight, to have bizarre facial hair and to wear obscure Belgian cycle club jerseys. It’s just coincidence’.

There are also strong sections on topics that don’t usually receive much attention – cycling in Ireland, and behind the Iron Curtain, amongst them.
It is a hard book to put down – indeed, you could well find yourself spending a good deal longer on the throne that is strictly necessary.

PS Oct 10

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