Revolution: How the Bicycle Reinvented Modern Britain by William Manners

Review published on June 8, 2018.

Potholed roads, special kit, faster and lighter bikes ridden by ‘Hooligans’ and women eager to get in on the act, clubs and competitions – modern cycling, I hear you cry, but you would be wrong. These were the concerns in 1890 and they have not changed except in the details.

As the clever Victorians built better more affordable bikes, cycling became extremely popular with all classes and William Manners has lots of fun examining the rise of these machines. This was a healthy outdoor sport and it was perfect for town dwellers to show off in London parks and to travel from village to village in the countryside in search of pleasure, or love. The author even credits cycling with widening the gene pool in country areas!

I enjoyed reading about the pioneers like Jimmy Michael of Wales, Zimmy Zimmerman of the USA and the women who were keen to have a go, like Tessie Reynolds and Rose Blackburn.

The style of writing is very readable with well chosen quotes from contemporary sources which are very funny. It will be a niche read, but those who love cycling will enjoy it very much.

I had a Great Aunt, born in 1900, who acquired a bike (and all the clothing!) but never mastered riding it. How we laughed! I now have a son who is a Mamil (middle aged man in lycra) and who competes in road races with great enjoyment. He also competed on a mountain bike until he had a disastrous ‘header’ which broke both his wrists. I will be lending this book to him, but he might be too busy checking his stats to read it.

If there are reading groups who also cycle, or have family members who do, I would recommend this book as an entertaining look at social history in the last century.

Dorothy Anderson 3/3

Revolution: How the Bicycle Reinvented Modern Britain by William Manners
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 9780715652053 pbk Jun 2018

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