Gear Review: Bicycle Technology Book

The Bike Book in all its glory

Rob van der Plas’s and Stuart Baird’s publication Bicycle Technology landed on my desk as the first bit of swag to review in my early days as part of the singletracks team. Sitting there in plain view it instantly added credibility to my role as a Bike Dude in the industry. But the knowledge trapped within wouldn’t just ooze through the smart, stylish laminate of my desk and seep in through my fingers. I had to read the thing, and throughout the task I was consistently rewarded with learning, enlightening and being exposed to the authors’ obvious love for our mechanical friend. This book is a compendium of all things bike: history, physics, materials science, components, efficiency in use, developments on the horizon and a healthy dose of the authors’ subjective preferences.

Van der Plas and Baird take on the bike, where it came from and the best (in their view) way to choose, ride and maintain a bike. While books on bike tech are quickly being replaced by digital media as the clearinghouse for descriptions of innovations, this publication casts a wide net on the technology behind every type of bike since the velocipede. It is very thorough, attempting to bring out the science behind what we experience from the saddle.

The book opens with a spot of history redolent with Draisines, hobby horses, and high wheelers. It gives a good taste of where our modern machines came from and descriptions of some of the players that got all this madness started. It won’t surprise any of you that even back then the biggest boosters of the bike were speed demons and thrill seekers like you and me.

But enough about the handlebar mustaches behind the first handlebars, we’re here for Bicycle Technology, right? So off we go into a detailed look at materials science, frame design, rolling efficiency, failure modes, and so much more. Each chapter covers everything from the origins to cutting-edge developments in each component group, system and bike category.

The authors also talk about the innovators that brought us the crackpot widgets and the groundbreaking inventions that make the wheels go ’round. As the story unfolds we learn there are preferences on the part of the writers that may not be empirical, but hey, it’s their book after all. Read this one because you love the science and the engineering that gave us 10-speed drive trains, ultralight composites, and burly suspension systems. The information is presented in a linear fashion that takes you for a tour through everything on the bike from the rubber up through the controls.

Detailed diagrams throughout the book make understanding the bike and its components very straightforward

A word of note: if you’re a dyed-in-the-lycra weight weenie who wishes you could have carbon grafted to your bones like Wolverine, this may not be the book for you. The author lets it be known in no uncertain terms that carbon fails catastrophically and I got the feeling he and Jan Heine could stare longingly into each others eyes for miles and miles from perches atop Herses or Singers. If you’re the type who mixed the beetle excrement twice to get the color just right to lacquer your hemp twine-whipped cloth bar tape, you’ll be in retro-grouch heaven. Anyone who appreciates the glorious sweep of bicycle development, for that matter, will find this a prized coffee table topper.

I would recommend seeking out the second edition of this fine tome, as it addresses some typos, mismatched photos, and captions that muddy the waters in the first edition. But if you’re looking for an in-depth look at bicycle technology from yesterday and today I would say pick this one up and enjoy!

Bicycle Technology: Understanding the Modern Bike and its Components by Rob van der Plas & Stuart Baird

Cycle Publishing – 320 pages, 8 1/2 x 11 in. hardcover $39.99 available at bookstores nationwide, by calling (415) 665-8214 or at