by Jan Heine
Reviewed by Ed Pavelka
Like Jan Heine’s previous coffee table centerpiece — “The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles” — this new book features exquisite photography and concise text. It’s interesting to read but it’s the photos (plus detail shots) of 34 “milestone” racing bikes that make this book a treasure.
Bicycle history is Heine’s niche and he’s really good at it. He’s the owner of Vintage Bicycle Press in Seattle and the editor/publisher of Bicycle Quarterly, perhaps the most distinctive magazine in cycling. He’s a talented long-distance rider — first American finisher in the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris — and works just as hard at his profession.
Among his attributes, Heine is a stickler for detail and accuracy. His objective for “The Competition Bicycle” was to show only the actual bikes ridden by the famous racers represented. The list includes Coppi, Bartali, Merckx, LeMond, Hampsten, Moser and Kelly.
The chronology begins in the 1880s with a Cycles Barret high wheeler and concludes in 1994 with the Colnago that Tony Rominger rode to the world hour record. That’s actually kind of a strange end point. A more powerful conclusion would have been the Trek ridden by Lance Armstrong for his record-setting 7th Tour de France victory, particularly since Heine gives so much attention to Tour bikes of bygone eras. Of course, Armstrong’s machine wasn’t custom, which may have been the decider.
One mountain bike is represented, the fat-tube aluminum model Charlie Cunningham built for his sweetie, Jacquie Phelan, in 1983 and on which she dominated women’s MTB racing. Otherwise, this book is about road and track bikes, and through them Heine traces the development of revolutionary technical developments such as multi-speed drivetrains and derailleurs. Most bikes and equipment shown are in their current state, not reconditioned, and many wear battle scars and the now-deteriorated tires of their era.
These machines are depicted in stunning studio photography by Jean-Pierre Praderes, also the shooter for “The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.” His precision work is displayed in color in each book’s oversize 9.5×12-inch (24×30.5 cm) pages on top-quality paper. Heine’s succinct words tell the history; Praderes’s high-res photography reveals the details.
For the technically oriented, Heine diagrams the frame specs of all 34 bikes. By tracing geometries through the years you can see how designers responded to changing events, road surfaces and speeds. The specs take up just 4 of the 176 pages and are an example of Heine’s zeal for detail. But mainly, this book is an overdose of eye candy for those who love bikes and especially racing machines.
The cover bike is the “Eddy Merckx” (built by De Rosa) on which The Cannibal won the 1974 road world championship in Montreal. Fitted with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record gruppo, it weighed a hefty 24.3 pounds (11 kg) even with its machined chainrings. Those missing grams didn’t make much difference in a bike that’s nearly 10 pounds (4.5 kg) heavier than those of world champions today.
You’ll see and read such details throughout “The Competition Bicycle — A Photographic History.” Its quality comes at a price, but, hey, Christmas is near and you do have friends who are crazy about bikes. They’ll thank you and mean it.