Since 10% of trips to work in Vancouver are by people riding a bike, its fun to see how the bicycle evolved into the elegant machine we use today.
Thanks to Chris Bruntlett at Momentum Magazine for this book review.

Click for a larger view.

“Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History” is available from DK Publishing. $30 USD, 256 pages. 2016.


  1. The greatest invention of the past hundred years was the computer/internet. Prior to that it is the bicycle.
    It is astounding that so many don’t bike. Shocking.
    There is much attention given, rightly, to the terrifying aspects of sharing the road with motorists that may maim or kill you – the road violence – not accidents.
    What is being done in the way of bike lanes is laudable. Vancouver, topographically, is not an easy city to cycle in – like Rupert St, which has never had a cyclist. Other routes are nirvana. Those bike routes make a huge difference – yet, often, there’s hardly anyone using them. That some choose to use cars when there is a bicycle option beggars belief. It’s like not using the library. Are you crazy?
    One significant reason why people don’t cycle is because – if they do have a bike – it’s crap for getting things done. There’s such a disconnect between what they’re willing to spend on a horrendously depreciating motor vehicle – and a truly useful bicycle. They’re not willing to spend the bucks.
    A genuinely useful bicycle should set you back 2-3 thousand. Ideally, it’s a touring bike which has a comfortable relaxed geometry. It should have nicely taped drop bars, and panniers. It should have a mirror. It must be the right size and set up properly. The seat alone, if you value your perineum and ischial tuberosities, should cost a couple of hundred bucks.
    How many bicycles have panniers? If you have a full set, you’d be astounded by what you can carry. It becomes an a to b to c to d door-to-door shopping experience – way better than a vehicle. And, it’s liberating to not carry a backpack.
    Your tires should be top-grade, Kevlar-belted and light. This is the most significant weight on a bicycle – the unsprung weight – much easier to pedal. And you must have a good pump and keep those tires inflated. That will reduce your odds of getting a flat. Getting flats is agony. If you can’t fix your own – learn. You should actually have two pumps – a floor model at home, and one on your bike. Yes, you must carry a patch kit – the new patches that don’t use glue are great.
    You must have fenders. Even if it’s not raining, the road is often wet. You don’t want water and debris thrown up on you and the drivetrain.
    Stick with a top-grade steel frame – as they say – steel is real. Carbon fibre is for racing. When it breaks – it’s garbage – and it will break. It’s silly to get excited about its lightness when you wind up loading it down with a lock and groceries. Speaking of locks, if you don’t have secure parking, you’ll need at least two. If you have an expensive seat, that makes three. Aluminum is better than carbon fibre, but it’s not steel.
    A bicycle that is not kitted out can be likened to a Van Spec house – the bare minimum.
    Any idiot can drive a car. That’s why so many do. Cycling is a whole other level of engagement and cognition – the ultimate freedom machine.

    1. I agree in general but have a different take on a few things. (I understand this is a matter of perspective and difference experiences of course. It’s all good.)
      I think a very high quality bike can be had for much less. More like $400 to get started and then up to $1000 will do fine. Getting the cheapest at the department store is a mistake. The bearings will wear out in a year and then it will be abandoned or more money put in to make it work again. Better to spend more at the start and have it last a long time and be reliable.
      I think that a touring bike is not “ideal” as an all-around bike though. (Still better than a mountain bike.) Something like a hybrid or roadster is better suited. I’m thinking of use as an urban “vehicle”. To go to places and to do errands. Touring bikes (which is French for racing) and mountain bikes are specialized styles designed for sporting activities.
      More upright handle bars are better than drop down ones for general use biking IMO.
      Panniers and folding side baskets are very useful.
      Agree fully with fenders, pump at home (one on the bike isn’t needed in a city so much).
      A steel alloy like Cromoloy has some advantages over pure steel but both are good and last forever.
      Anyway, we all have different experiences and priorities.
      I disagree that hardly anyone is using the bike routes in town. Some are less desirable than others of course but people are biking all over town and at all times of the year. Some of the bike routes have been chosen badly and people learn that it’s better to just use a different street if they can.

      1. By steel, of course I’m refering to CrMo and not high-tensile.
        I have four styles of bicycle: a touring, a racing, a mountain, and a cruiser. A touring bike is not a racing bike and it is absolutely the best – the ideal bike if you only have one. French for racing bike is velo de course, not touring. A touring bike is a randonnee.
        With drop bars, you ride upright most of time, just behind the hoods. They are curved to accommodate hands perfectly. Occassionaly, upwind, or coasting downhill, the drops are a huge advantage. Drop bars have five distinct hand positions. Straight bars, like on my mountain bike, have one. They are primitive.
        I cycle pretty much every day, and the routes I take, happily, are practically all to myself. That will change, no doubt, with the proliferation of pedalecs.

        1. Thanks for the clarification. I always figured that Touring and Racing were synonyms. (They look pretty similar to the untrained eye.) Hope I didn’t sound dismissal as I know that different things work for different people.
          I’ve never been able to sit upright with drop bars but maybe just haven’t had the right geometry of bike or something. There are many factors that go into having a bike be comfy and feel “right”.

    2. A lot of people in North Van would disagree that a mountain bike isn’t good for commuting. It’s easier to go up steep hills and if you are lucky with your route, ride a bit of single track downhill on your commute.
      I don’t use a mountain bike but changed the gearing to mountain bike. There’s no hill that’s too steep to bike, only inadequate gearing (doesn’t apply to the west side of West Van with its insanely steep hills).

  2. My first serious bicycle was a Shields Nishiki Landau with a Suntour Cyclone derailleur. Phenomenal. The guy who sold it didn’t suggest toe clips – he didn’t cycle – he was a fireman who worked in his dad’s shop for extra cash. After slipping off the pedals a few times I got clips with Christophe straps. The best.
    There’s actually a survivor of this great bike on Craigslist – tastefully equipped and expensive, but these bikes have two chain rings. In Vancouver, you want a triple crankset.
    After it was stolen, I bought another Nishiki from the same shop. This was called a Competition and had the full hallowed Shimano 600 gruppo with the arabesque detailing. A magnificent bike. Rather than keeping the factory wheels, I had the fireman build custom wheels. He did it at the fire station. Factory wheels are not often of the best quality.
    While owning this bike, I had the opportunity to get a new Nishiki International. They retailed for about $800.00 in ’92. This is as a bare bones bike – crap seat, crap post, no fenders, etc. To fully accessorize it, even without custom wheels, and doing the work yourself, adds $300-$400. Back then, two of the top touring bikes was this and the Miyata 1000.
    I drove the hell out of this beast – never had to have any work done to the bottom bracket or headset. Still have it, though it’s missing its back wheel and needs work.
    I bought my current Nishiki International used about 7 years ago. It came with bags and fenders. It’s of an earlier vintage than my ’92. It had a few niggling problems, but has since provided yeoman service. Putting a sprung Brooks saddle was a massive improvement. The ’92 Nishiki has allen key braze-ons on the forks for a front rack. That’s quality. Both bikes have chain hangers – a welcome detail.
    One questionable upgrade people do is a bike shoe and clip in system. This does improve your cycling, but when you’re off the bike you’re clickety clackety vulnerable. The old school toe clips are better in this regard, though you should remember to wear shoes with a rigid sole for the mechanical advantage.

    1. Lots of memories. My firsts good road bike was a Peugeot, with a Simplex derailleur. The next one was a Nishiki International, c/w Tange double butted tube set, Suntour, Dia Compe, Avocet saddle. Dark blue with gold lettering and pinstripe detailing on the lugs. Even had Cristophe toe clips as I recall. Never equipped it with bags. This was the early eighties.
      Pedal cleat systems depend on the use. The current carbon fibre sport/racing bike has Speedplay, great float and control but terrible to walk in. The distance bike has Shimano mountain bike cleats, and the shoes are OK to walk in. The city bike has flat pedals, for regular shoes. All have their place.
      I share your preference for drop bars, for the variety of hand positions they offer, but the city bike has a French style upright bar, suitable for sit up cycling, and offering good visibility in traffic.

  3. Riding a bike is like nothing else. Having driven cars and ridden motor bikes (which have a special place all of their own!), my principle means of travel is always by bicycle. Yes, I own a few and use them all, but my special bike is a 38 year old frame bought from a friend at school and still ridden daily as a fixed wheel bike. Nothing beats it! Yes, I have carbon, and gears and tandems and aluminium bits and pieces but the simple steel frame with two wheels is always first. Sunday saw a 120 miler from Bath to London alone with my thoughts and my fixed. One stop for coffee and two for ‘comfort’. It was cold but I was happy. Long live the bike!

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