THE WON­DER­FUL WORLD OF BROOKS

Brooks sad­dles has al­ways seen the world through a highly in­di­vid­ual and creative lens, as you’ll dis­cover with this ex­clu­sive ex­tract…

Urban Cyclist - - The Wonderful World of Brooks - Il­lus­tra­tions by Joe McLaren

Brooks is ar­guably the most iconic Bri­tish brand in cy­cling, al­beit since 2002 they’ve op­er­ated be­neath the Selle Royal um­brella, who pur­chased Brooks from Pash­ley and saved them from bank­ruptcy. Thank­fully for tra­di­tion­al­ists and Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ing alike, the Ital­ian sad­dle be­he­moths recog­nised that what sep­a­rated Brooks from their com­peti­tors lay in their her­itage, the qual­ity of work­man­ship and, of course, those highly in­di­vid­u­alised spring sad­dles, so con­tin­ued the re­search, de­sign and pro­duc­tion of Brooks sad­dles in Birm­ing­ham – the place where they’ve grown, ex­panded, strug­gled and in­spired since 1866. To cel­e­brate their up­bring­ing, Brooks at­tracted the world’s finest writ­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers and il­lus­tra­tors to cre­ate The Brooks Com­pendium of Cy­cling Cul­ture. It’s a mag­nif­i­cent tome, filled with un­be­liev­able sto­ries of in­ven­tors, cy­cling and art. Here, Ur­ban Cy­clist serves up a trio of short sto­ries from a truly ex­tra­or­di­nary book…

FLOG­GING A DEAD HORSE

the fif­teen miles or so from his home in Fin­stall Park, Broms­grove, to his place of work in the City of Birm­ing­ham. That morn­ing, when he set out to his sta­bles and found his horse dead, would have been a sad day for Brooks, who had a pen­chant for rid­ing, bred Shire horses and en­joyed coun­try sports. Nev­er­the­less, he had to get to the fac­tory some­how, so he took off on his bor­rowed ve­loci­pede. A ‘bone­shaker’ bi­cy­cle (as it was known in Bri­tain) wasn’t ideal for a long jour­ney – or even a short one for that mat­ter – but he re­ally had to get to work. He had re­cently ac­quired the bike, which was state-of-the-art at the time; made from wrought iron with wooden cart­wheels shod with iron tyres, it must have weighed a ton; quite lit­er­ally, a ton. Ve­loci­pedes (as they were known in France) were cer­tainly a spread­ing craze, with their pro­po­nents pro­claim­ing, ‘ I shall have no horse to feed, though I ride a ve­loci­pede.’ And Brooks was liv­ing that dream com­pletely, al­beit in un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances. Our ‘dead horse’ was John Boult­bee Brooks’ reg­u­lar means of trans­port, a work-a-day steed that in 1878 took him

It pneu­mat­icwasn’t called tyres a (yet ‘bone­shaker’to be in­vented)for noth­ing.and with Withouta carved wooden sad­dle, it was an un­for­giv­ing cy­cling ex­pe­ri­ence, to say the least, and Brooks was un­com­fort­able. (And late for work too, no doubt.) But off he sped on what was pos­si­bly one of the first bi­cy­cle-to-work com­mutes in his­tory. It must have been quite an ad­ven­ture, be­cause in 1878 roads in Bri­tain were few and mostly dread­ful cart tracks, mak­ing trav­el­ling haz­ardous and un­com­fort­able. If you were lucky enough to have a horse you could ride above the ter­ri­ble mire, but this heavy bike must have been an aw­ful chore to pro­pel the few miles Brooks had ahead of him. Ne­ces­sity, they say, is the mother of in­ven­tion, and some­where along the way Brooks re­al­ized that the sad­dle was the miss­ing link in bi­cy­cle com­fort. Thus he be­gan to de­velop the idea for a more com­fort­able, leather-topped and met­al­framed sad­dle. As Al­bert Ein­stein once said about his great dis­cov­ery, ‘ I thought of that whilst rid­ing my bi­cy­cle.’ Brooks was free to think about the prob­lems his jour­ney was throw­ing at him, and the re­sult was a sim­ple yet in­ge­nious sad­dle de­sign that was about to make cy­cling a much more pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. Count­lessstroke Lon­don of have mis­for­tune. com­mut­ingcre­ated thou­sand­sFor trips ex­am­ple,have of start­ed­bik­erail strike­sout throughin a com­muters, and when cit­i­zens of busy metropoli­tan ar­eas re­alise the free­dom and con­ve­nience a bike al­lows, they rarely turn back; the idea of be­ing crushed into a train or stuck in a traf­fic jam on a bus is there­after un­bear­able. Peo­ple some­times­set out throughon a bike choice, jour­ney, some­times by ac­ci­dent and some­times be­cause it’s the only way to get where they’re go­ing. Fast, cheap travel in a busy city is a lit­tle like flog­ging a dead horse; and it’s be­come a joy­less part of mod­ern life, pre­cious time spent in limbo be­tween point A and point B. Cy­cling has changed that for mil­lion­scen­tury ha­sof peo­ple; be­come the the ‘iron ob­ject horse’for lib­er­a­tionof the 19th and change for 150 years and into the 21st. Cy­cle com­mutes do more than set you free of timeta­bles and traf­fic jams; these trips al­low your mind to wan­der, to solve and to cre­ate. That is true free­dom. So if you reach your bike one morn­ing and re­al­ize you have a punc­ture that will de­lay your com­mute, or per­haps force you off the bike al­to­gether, spare a thought for John Boult­bee Brooks and his horse. Without this loyal an­i­mal’s demise, your jour­ney would be a lot more un­com­fort­able.

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