The Big Store Of Bike Books
Cyclist? Big reader? This way to heaven.
If you like to read as much as you like to ride, this may be the best bookshop in the world.
IIf you have a thing for bicycles – and if you’re reading this, clearly you do – you could spend a lot of money in a particular bookshop in London. Not just any bookshop. Foyle’s at 107 Charing Cross Road is, as they like telling you, world famous. It’s four spacious floors of books, books and more books, with a larney café perched on the fifth. And so to the third floor; where if you turn left at the landing, you will find – according to a sign – works on ‘business, computing, law, mind, body and spirit, psychology and technical’. What if you turn left? ‘Gardening, medical, natural history, popular science, sport, transport’. Sport? Does that include cycling? Hell yes. Pages and pages and yet more pages on pedalling fill two just about floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I counted 259 different titles. They were divided into sections labelled ‘design’, ‘maintenance’, ‘technique’, ‘biographies’, ‘the Tour de France’… and ‘writing’. In other, lesser bookshops, this last is code for ‘Rubbish we dunno what to do with and which should never have been published’. But not at Foyles, where the cycling writing section features real writing; gems such as Jon Day’s Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier, which is billed as “an essay about the bicycle in the cultural imagination, and a portrait of London seen from the saddle”. It’s about how “the bicycle enables us to feel a landscape, rather than just see it, and in the great tradition of the psychogeographers, Day attempts to depart from the map and reclaim the streets of the city. “Following in the footsteps of the literary walkers, Day explores the connection between cycling and writing, and in the history of the bicycle he reveals also the history of the landscape. The great bicycle road races – the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta a España – are exercises in applied topography.” Psychogeographer? What the hell is a psychogeographer? Never mind. Just know that whichever road your cycling reading rolls down, an entrance to it can be found at No. 107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT, from 9.30am to 9pm Monday to Saturday, and 11.30am to 6pm on Sundays. Curiously, 11.30am to noon on Sundays is reserved for ‘browsing only’. Why? “I can’t talk about that. Phone Ted. He’s in tomorrow.” Even by the standards of the miserable
“Pages and pages and yet more pages on pedalling fill two just about floorto-ceiling bookshelves. I counted 259 different titles.”
Poms, this bloke was exceptional. The way he waved away a request for what was obviously going to be a warm and fuzzy interview – hey, I’m a fan – made me wonder if he thought Britannia still rules the waves they stole from the rest of us. Stuff you, china. Who needs you and your weedy, pallid, chinless, combedover, slope-shouldered, beige-cardiganed excuse for existence? Probably never even been on a tricycle, much less a bike. So here’s what I found out on my own. Including the volumes on the shelves, Foyles can sell you 842 different books on bikes and biking, priced from a pound (R18.65 – today, anyway) to £169 (R3 150). They include the kind of thing the cycling uncle in your life gets for Christmas from nephews and nieces who cannot fathom why some people prefer not to be in cars – books like Chris Hoy’s How to Ride a Bike. Next year, stick to socks. There’s also hackneyed hipster hyperbole: My Cool Bike: An Inspirational Guide to Bikes and Bike Culture. It’a a bike, you idiot. It’s cool by definition. And if you need to be inspired to ride it, you should sell it. Scholarly stuff like Bicycle Urbanism: Reimagining Bicycle-Friendly Cities sounds like bedtime reading for the strictly tragic. By which I mean me. Not that even I would attempt Helmet Use of Adolescents at Independent Schools. But clearly some people do, even at £71.99 (R1 343) a pop. But there are exponentially more where those came from that are well up to the standards of readability set by Day between the superbly pink covers of his Cyclogeography. And some are even better. Books like The Rider, for example, Tim Krabbé’s 1978 Dutch masterpiece that went unpublished in English until 2002, and which was described last year by Tom Vanderbilt in the very magazine you’re holding as a “cycling memoir masquerading as a novel”. What Vanderbilt calls “almost certainly the most famous words ever written in any book about cycling” hit you on page one like an eyelid-curling headwind: “Meyrueis, Lozère, June 26, 1977. Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafés. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.” How do cycling’s two bookshelves compare with the allocation for other sports? There are four for football, but only one each for rugby and cricket. But before you celebrate, know that six shelves are devoted to all things car. Six! For people who probably don’t read! Oh well. Velo aluta continua…
EVERY CONCEIVABLE CYCLING TITLE, FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS.
PAGES AND PAGES OF RIDING AND RIDING.