Review "Made in England" (book)

microcord

Maximum Pace
Aug 28, 2012
914
294
83
Tokyo
#1
Yes, it's that very special time of the year -- when, despite my principled respect for Buy Nothing Day, I tend to buy stuff for myself. Latest acquisitions include three large photobooks; two are utterly irrelevant here but the third is Made in England: The Artisans behind the Handbuilt Bicycle. I must have read a mention of this in some blog or similar; since I'm a sucker for (good) photobooks and bikes too, I had to order it.

The book came a week or so ago. It's substantial: 28×28×3 cm. (And it's a hardback, properly held together in signatures, or maybe I should say gatherings.) The book's written by Matthew Sowter, previously of Enigma (here he is with one of his Enigma frames) and now running Saffron, and Ricky Feather of Feather. Photography is by Kayti Peschke (who I believe is also Mrs Kayti Feather) and design is by Samuel Moore (who I think is at Grid Creative and anyway doesn't seem to be any of the several Samuel Moore designers who have their own websites).

The book has sections reproducing interviews with:


Among these, Aston is described as having made only a dozen or so frames so far. But he sounds very serious about his work -- in a container, surrounded by chickens, whence the brand name. Yes, there are indeed some "characters" in this book. And they have stories to tell, too: of an inquiry about a pedal-powered ambulance (politely declined), of a back-to-back recumbent tandem (alas no photo), and more.

I never was any kind of expert on British (or other) frame makers, but I was aware of the names Claud Butler, Holdsworth, Raleigh, F. W. Evans, Jack Taylor, and a few more. Some have disappeared but others live on -- but seemingly only as brand names, attached to unrelated bicycles from elsewhere. (I suppose that the "Fuji" brand is a [no longer] Japanese version of this.) Though three or four are working for long-established family businesses, almost all the people covered in this book are young. (The 81-year-old Ron Cooper, who started his apprenticeship in 1947 -- and builds freehand, with no jig -- is the obvious exception.) And while the builders look back at the past with some respect and admiration, there's no desire to return to it. The English frame-maker may marvel at how Reynold 531 sold all over the world, but he -- yes, they're all male; perhaps Japan is ahead here -- doesn't miss the stuff. For steel, Reynolds 953 gets the most praise. But there's praise for titanium too. (Not for aluminium, but there are appreciative mentions of carbon forks.) And there's little or no talk of rediscovery of this or that; instead, it's a matter of doing things right and innovating.

As I've mentioned, the book is written by two frame builders, who of course know what questions to ask. Some of the interviews jump around a little, but they're fine all the same and the writing is excellent. A minority of the photos are "bikeporn" of impeccably finished frames and bikes, photos that could appear in the respective builder's website, but there are no more of these than are appropriate. By contrast, most of the photos show work being done: the unfinished gradually moving toward perfection. Kayti Peschke may primarily be a fashion photographer but she does a good job with products (particularly an intelligent use, and not overuse, of shallow focus), with work, and with craftsmen.

The design of the book is good too, though I do have a slight beef with it. Many of the large photos are interrupted by substantial white circles containing catchy snippets of text -- "pull-quotes", I think they're called. I've bought the book, which I'm anyway going to read, so these circles just seem to degrade the photos: they may be suitable in magazines, whose editors may need to show potential advertisers how short is the attention-span needed to turn the pages and thus see the ads, but I don't like them in books. Still, I suppose that the book has to grab people's attention in bookshops too. And the white circles are positioned intelligently.

The book is published by Push Projects (and indeed seems to be this company's first and so far only book). Here's a "preview", and, for you eager consumers, here's an "unboxing".

You can buy the book directly from Push Projects, but (if you're in Japan) the airmail will cost you. The ISBN of the book is the googlable 9780957366800, and here the book is at Blackwell's, a fine dealer of books that amazingly has not (yet) been either gobbled up or destroyed by Amazon. Buy yourself some copies.

I wonder if there's a Japanese equivalent of this book. There certainly are enough makers of custom frames to justify a book. I don't have a jones for a new bike -- the two I already possess should have tens of thousands of kilometres ahead of them -- but if I did think I needed one then something made to measure by Kalavinka, Amuna, Ravanello, or wherever would indeed tempt me.
 

FarEast

Maximum Pace
May 25, 2009
5,528
538
193
Yokohama
#2
I've been to the Chas Roberts shop as one of my team mates back in the days rode the DOGSBOLX frame set and he bent the frame in a crash and needed it sorted.

Looking over his site now its sad to see he no longer makes XC Mtb frames.

I have the Italian version of this book, it was given to me and signed by Fusto Pinarello and signed. It was also signed by Ernesto Colnago and its currently in Italy being signed by some of the other families that feature in the book. :D
 

microcord

Maximum Pace
Aug 28, 2012
914
294
83
Tokyo
#4
Ricky Feather!

LOL. I used to ride BMX with him.
Well, heh heh, the least you can do is buy a bike from him. Or at least a book. Or two.

Come to think of it, this book would be an ideal Christmas present for anyone living in Britain. Postage wouldn't be high and (in contrast to stuff I've sent there from Japan) I can't see any way the customs office or post office could charge the recipient.

And it certainly is a presentable book.
 
Sep 2, 2009
5
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0
#5
Hang on a minute.

You have been going on about how evil having Amazon and other links are on the site, yet here you are spamming a book to us all, in a massive post absolutely splattered in links itself. What gives?

Not fussed either way, but I do wonder if this is all coming from boredom or somewhere else?
 

theDude

Maximum Pace
Oct 7, 2011
773
111
63
Tokyo
app.strava.com
#6
You have been going on about how evil having Amazon and other links are on the site, yet here you are spamming a book to us all, in a massive post absolutely splattered in links itself. What gives?
I like seeing all the links. They were all purposely put into the post to allow further detail a click away. I appreciate the effort going into putting them in.

I feel that is a bit different from automatically generated links based on another agenda.

IMO.

:bike: :bike: :bike:
 
Sep 2, 2009
5
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#7
Fair enough. I am only ever interested in links to Grindr and Chatroulette though, as you all know, so anything else is weird to me.
 

microcord

Maximum Pace
Aug 28, 2012
914
294
83
Tokyo
#8
You have been going on about how evil having Amazon and other links are on the site, yet here you are spamming a book to us all, in a massive post absolutely splattered in links itself. What gives?

Not fussed either way, but I do wonder if this is all coming from boredom or somewhere else?
As I see it, it's a longish message containing a favourable review of a book that I think is worth a favourable review and that I think might interest a few people here. I wasn't bored either by the book or by writing the post. I'm sorry if the post is boring.

I paid for the book and its postage with my own money and I'm not getting any freebie, discount, etc. I've never met any of the people involved (either those profiled or those who created the book) and have had no contact with any of them, aside from the short and businesslike email correspondence with Matthew Sowter (as (co)publisher) that was necessary to work out the amount of money to send, etc.

"Spamming" is a charge that surprises me. (When I wrote the least you can do is buy a bike from him. Or at least a book. Or two. surely I didn't need to add a little grinning face?) Still, Thomas is welcome to delete my messages if he thinks they're spammy.