Book Review: “Cyclopedia” by William Fotheringham

A couple of months ago, the publicity manager for the Independent Publishers Group offered to send a review copy of William Fotheringham’s new book Cyclopedia: It’s All About the Bike (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011). Funny how that title keeps popping up..since Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike, a number of cycling authors have used a variation on that title. Why, it was only a few short weeks ago that I reviewed ANOTHER book with a similar title!

Author William Fotheringham gained wide acclaim for his biography of legendary British racer Tom Simpson in Put Me Back on My Bike, and has quite the list of cycle-related “palmares”: cycling correspondent at the Guardian, launch editor of Cycle Sport, founder of procycling magazine, writer at Rouler Magazine. The man lives and breathes cycling history…so I was eager to read Cyclopedia.


I was NOT disappointed…this book is a treasure trove of cycling/bicycle racing facts and anecdotes — including many things I had not heard of. From Uzbek sensation Djamolidin Abduzhaparov to “The Flying Yankee” Arthur Zimmerman, the book simply blew me away. As Fotheringham is a UK-based writer, the content leans a bit heavily toward British racing legends, but rest assured, there is something for everyone here. But, it’s not an exhaustive encyclopedia — it focuses on the highlights (and some lowlights), as a true encyclopedia of bike racing would take several volumes. Throughout the book, there are diagrams, maps, timelines and tables to help illustrate some of the subject matter. My favorite? French drug slang…a colorful glimpse into the sordid past of professional racing.

I consider myself a fairly well-read amateur bike historian, and I welcomed learning new tidbits along the way. Best of all, Cyclopedia got me interested in tracking down additional bike history books to read further on some of the subjects Fotheringham touched on. For anyone interested in learning more bicycle and racing history, this is a great jumping-off point. Cyclopedia deserves a place on any bike fan’s bookshelf.

I also got a copy of Fotheringham’s Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi for Christmas, and so far I am enthralled. Stay tuned for a review on that and some other bikey book goodness in the coming weeks.


  1. adventure!

    I have to say I was a bit disappointed with this book. Don’t get me wrong, the information in it was great, and written in an interesting and entertaining way. I felt like I learned more about bicycle racing through reading it. But that’s the key word, racing. Yes, there is some other stuff thrown in there, but the emphasis is on racing (and road racing at that, not much I remember about mountain biking.) I wouldn’t have been frustrated by that if it was marketed as a bicycle racing compendium. But it’s not. It’s marketed as “This essential book is an A to Z compendium of everything you could ever want to know about the bicycle…” (emphasis mine) And that’s what rubs me the wrong way. With all the strides we’ve made in recent years we still are sold the idea that “bicycling=bike racing”.

  2. Ghost Rider

    @adventure! — I agree about the marketing, but consider the author…the guy is steeped in road-racing lore.

    It’s an unfortunate commentary that racing still holds so much sway over the bike industry at large. Many of the most successful companies, blogs, publications and personalities come from a racing background — as if racing is the real key to unlocking some sort of bike success.


    When was the latest edition of William fotheringham’s book-Not about the bike- published? please

  4. Ghost Rider

    @Nora — Mr. Fotheringham did not write a book entitled “Not About the Bike”. Lance Armstrong did, however.


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