Bicycle Quarterly back issues always are popular, and a number of magazines have run out in recent months. Recently, we found a box of magazines that we had put aside in case we needed to replace copies that were lost in shipping. This means that all but two Bicycle Quarterlies (BQ 15 and BQ 18) are available again, but some editions are limited to a handful of magazines.
As you can imagine, 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly have produced some fascinating content. Below are some of my favorites:
BQ 27 has my favorite cover: It shows the winning team in the 1943 tandem taxi race: During the World War II, there was no gasoline in France (except for ‘important’ functions like the press motorcycle in the background that is covering the race), so bike racers earned a living pulling trailers as taxis.
Tandem taxis were faster, but also cost twice as much. Once a year, there was a race of the tandem taxis, where the teams used lightweight cargo trailers instead of their usual ‘taxicabs.’ When I found this photo in the René Herse archives, I knew it would make a great cover: The two racers are going all-out across the cobbles of Paris’ boulevards, while the ‘passenger’ crouches as aero as possible in the trailer, the brevet card between his teeth as he holds on during the wild ride.
The rest of the issue is just as fascinating, as it explores the roots of long-distance cycling through period documents and reports.
Another favorite is BQ 28, dedicated to the Taylor brothers (of Jack Taylor fame). Mark Lawrence spent months talking to them. He discovered a fascinating story of three ‘lads’ (and a woman) who started making bikes, went to the Paris Salon du Cycle to discover the best bike parts, raced in ‘outlaw’ races that culminated in the Tour of Britain, and saw their bikes being ridden all over the world. It’s the definitive history of this famous maker, and it shows that true stories can be as gripping as the best novels.
BQ 26 is dedicated entirely to bicycle brakes. I find brakes even more fascinating than derailleurs, and in this Bicycle Quarterly, we explore how bicycles have stopped and slowed down over time, with photos and drawings from the pen of Daniel Rebour (below). You’ll see early hydraulic brakes and disc brakes from the 1970s, which already grappled with the challenge of translating the linear pull of a brake cable into a clamping force on a disc rotor.
The sheer variety of brakes boggles the mind: Above are eight different cantilever brakes, all completely different from each other and from the standard models we know today. To date, we haven’t been able to figure out how No. 7 actually works! If you are at all interested in bicycle technology, this issue is an absolute must-read.
There have been too many fascinating stories to list more than a fraction. I enjoyed meeting the porteurs de presse, the newspaper couriers of Paris, whose annual race had them carry heavy bundles of newspapers around Paris at incredible speeds (above, from BQ 19). Or the story of Cycles Alex Singer in our very first issue. Each of these histories provide insight into an incredibly rich cycling culture, where the boundaries between racing, touring and working by bike were much more fluid than they are today.
My all-time favorite is BQ 9 with the story of ‘the Aunt,’ Paulette Porthault – nick-named, because she was the aunt of one of the young riders on the Herse team. I met her when she was in her 90s, but her memory was as sharp as ever. She told of touring all across Europe in the 1930s (above), when currency restrictions required hiding your cash in your bike’s tires before crossing from one country to another. She was an incredibly strong rider, setting times in brevets that are unbelievable today: Riding a hilly 200 km (125 miles) on a tandem in 5 1/2 hours seems almost incomprehensible.
‘The Aunt’ won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race during the war. She rode in the famous post-war Concours de Machines for René Herse, where she kept an eye on young Lyli Herse, who was just a teenager, and who told me how her incredible cycling exploits were inspired by ‘the Aunt.’ Madame Porthault recounted all these adventures with incredible wit and humor. I’ll never forget my encounters with her, and I am glad that Bicycle Quarterly readers can share them. (And I am glad to report that she is still doing well, now aged almost 105.)
Paging through Bicycle Quaterly‘s back issues makes me a bit melancholic, because we’ve seen a changing of the guard over the last 15 years. Many of these inspirational people (above, Ernest Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer) no longer are with us. I am glad we’ve documented their stories so they can inspire future generations, but once these magazines are sold out, you’ll have to hunt for them in used bookstores (or online). Fortunately, Bicycle Quarterly back issues are treasured (and printed on durable, archival-quality paper), so these stories won’t be lost.
In recent years, we’ve taken this inspiration to plot our own adventures, like a trip to Japan with renowned constructeur J. P. Weigle. Seeing the experience of riding the incredible roads of the Japanese Alps through his eyes was a special treat, as was his report from last year’s Concours de Machines in France.
We now take our test bikes on real adventures, because our technical research has brought us bikes that can cover distance and terrain in a way that would have seemed impossible in the past. If you’ve missed our ride across Odarumi Pass in Japan or the search for an elusive passage across the Sawtooth Range in the Cascades (above), you’ll enjoy reading BQ‘s more recent back issues.
Most of all, the amazing stories we’ve documented will inspire your own cycling adventures. Browse the illustrated table of contents of all Bicycle Quarterlies online, or simply buy the full collection of the ‘First 50 Bicycle Quarterlies‘ at our special price – I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Building on this great content, we can promise you many more exciting Bicycle Quarterlies in the future: We’ve unearthed some great stories that will surprise and amaze you. Subscribe today and be among the first to get the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly that includes the story of Lyli Herse, a gravel adventure across the Alps from Torino to Nice, and a bike test over a snow-covered pass in Japan. Our journey continues, and we look forward to every discovery along the way!