Rizzoli USA recently re-released The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles as part of their “Classics” series. This series offers their most popular books in a slightly smaller, handy format at a very attractive price.
Of course, I am excited that this book is considered a bestseller (at least among art and architecture books) and a classic. When I decided to write a book about what were then obscure French bikes and their riders, I never dreamed that names like “René Herse” and “Alex Singer” would become recognized by many cyclists, and that “decaleur” and “constructeur” would enter the lexicon of cycling terminology in the U.S.
The story of the constructeurs is truly fascinating, and once we had found the 50 bikes that are featured in the book and photographed them, the book almost wrote itself. During the research, I met many amazing people and forged lasting friendships with cyclists for whom cycling was not just a pastime, but a way of life. They have inspired me, and I was honored to be accepted as one of them. Sadly, some of them no longer are with us – we just published Gilbert Bulté’s obituary. (He is on the back of the tandem in the photo above.)
Making the book was a formidable adventure. First I traveled to France to scout the bicycles we were going to include. A few months later, photographer Jean-Pierre Pradères, his assistant Eric and I spent a month touring around France with a portable photo studio.
In one location, we photographed the bikes in the chapel of a medieval grange. In Avignon, we worked in a carport. There, we could only shoot at night, since strong sunlight of Provence would have messed up the white balance of the photos. I still wonder what the neighbors thought when ultra-bright flashbulbs were going off all night.
For me, the best part was to prepare each bike for photography. For an hour or two, I cleaned each of them, fixed minor problems, sometimes even replaced incorrect components that had been added or were missing. Getting so closely involved with the bikes made it easy to decide which details we were going to photograph. And one generous family of collectors even let me ride all the ones that were rideable, including the 1920s Retrodirecte (below). I learned a lot about these bikes during this process.
When Rizzoli came to us last year with the idea of a new edition, we used the opportunity to update the text based on information that has come to light in recent years. We’ve also re-edited the images, often starting with the original medium-format positives, to make these wonderful bikes even more brilliant and seductive.
The new book is a little smaller than the other editions. Above is my own well-used first edition underneath the new book. The significantly better image quality makes up for the slightly smaller page size. I think the latest edition is the best one yet!
The new edition is now in stock, for $ 35.