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Bicycling Through Time – The Farren Collection [Book Review]

Buy this book. It doesn’t matter who you are, what sort of cycling you like to do, or even if you’re not into cycling. You are going to have to work hard to not find something in this book that you like. Bicycling Through Time is a wonderful look at bikes, and I use wonderful in its literal sense – you will be full of wonder as you leaf through the pages, ogle at the images, and engage with the text. Bicycling Through time is a book that transcends its genre.

To say that Paul Farren loves bikes is to understate a passion which words cannot do justice. His collection of bikes, lovingly restored and preserved, sits in its own warehouse (the ultimate man-cave?) and still there is not enough room for it all. Fortunately, Paul has opened up his private collection to the public in the form of this book, and what a lovely thing it is.

The publishers sent me a pre-publication low-res electronic copy of the book some time ago and, flicking through it, I thought it was an interesting treatment of the history of the bike told through an extensive collection, but it didn’t grab me. When the actual physical book arrived, I was well and truly grabbed. It’s a large-ish format “coffee-table” book, and it needs to be. The photography is spectacular, and anything less than the format it is in would not do these images any sort of justice.

Bicycling Through Time Farren Vintage Bicycle Collection

Each bike is given between 2 and 4 pages in the book, depending on its features. Each bike is photographed as a whole, usually from side on, and then important features are examined with either another whole bike shot from another angle, or, more commonly, with a closeup of an interesting feature. The bike images are complemented by historical images of the bike, as well as period advertisements and catalogue extracts.

The Farren Collection obviously isn’t a random group of old bikes, each bike in this book is there for a reason. Whether it’s an interesting pedal design, a wooden frame, or sprung rims, this collection showcases innovation as much as it does bikes for the sake of bikes. Some of these design features didn’t last more than year before dying off, while some of them became standard features of even modern bikes. Something that I saw many times through these pages were ideas that we think of as new, but which had been thought of, implemented, and passed over a hundred years ago. Sometimes good ideas need to find the right time to truly flourish.

Vintage Classic Retro Bicycles

Vintage Bicycle Collection Australia

Given that Bicycling Through Time is a coffee-table book, it’s not meant to be “read”, as such, and the text provided with the images is sensitive to this. The photos are explained with short personal captions which make it seem like Paul is standing next to you telling you about the bike, for example: “I got this machine when the Canberra Bicycle Museum closed in 2008 – it is one of my wife Charlie’s favourite bikes”. The main text on the page, however, is to-the-point narration which gives you a brief biography of the bike in its historical context. (If you read it with Sir David Attenborough’s voice in your head it makes it lots of fun. I tried it with Phil Ligget’s voice, but the text lacks the Liggetisms to make that work properly). The text is short and independent of other entries, which means you can flick through the book, find something that captures your eye, have a read, and keep flicking through. Actually, that’s probably the best way to read the book – at over 250 pages it will keep you entertained for a long time.

Most of these bikes were sourced from Australia, but the collection presents bikes made all over the world. It’s not a complete history of cycling, nor of bicycles, rather it’s a tour through a very focused “museum”. The photography is spectacular, the text is complementary, and the experience is worth the money. This is a book for everyone: designers, engineers, artists, historians, lovers of beautiful things, and cyclists of all types. As a present to yourself, or for the cyclist in your life, you won’t be disappointed with this book.

While there is a Google Play e-book version at half the price, it will only give you half the joy, so I recommend the hardcover book instead which is published by Images Publishing Group and retails in store for $59.99 RRP.

ISBN 13: 9781864705195
ISBN 10: 1864705191

David Halfpenny
David Halfpenny
rides whenever and wherever he can; in good weather and bad, in sickness and in health...and mostly off the back of the peloton.
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