I was recently working on a piece for Cycling Weekly on Imposter Syndrome and realised one of the reasons cycling can seem such a mysterious world (even to really competent riders) is the history and the language. We may know that simply grabbing our bike and going for a ride is enough to make us a cyclist – even if the ride is just commuting to work or to the café to meet friends – but deep down when we know there are hundreds of years of stories of races, riders and roads we feel we can’t be a ‘real’ cyclist until we have learnt a lot more.
That is where Tom Bromley’s book Bespoke comes in. It is a beautifully illustrated, highly knowledgeable encyclopaedia of cycling. Everything you might need to know to feel like a ‘real’ cyclist and feel less of a wally in group rides or on the club WhatsApp groups when secret squirrels, badgers or herons come into discussion. It covers the big races, the key riders, prizes, interesting stages, nicknames, tactics, cheating and a who is who in any race. It is super easy to read, great to pick up and put down when time is short and breathtakingly illustrated. So many cycling books are full of photos of people cycling which is fine – but this is full of fabulous illustrations I would willingly frame and have on my wall. Helpfully it was being published just as my piece was coming out so he was happy to send me a review copy and chat about the book.
Tom told me he had edited a number of cycling books over the years and it was the history that he found triggered his interest. “Historically, before cycling was on TV, if you were interested in racing you had to dig the stuff out so it became very exclusive and a few people built their knowledge so had more control and power of other people.”
He was keen to break open this secrecy and give more people the power. “Cycling has always been a slightly secretive clubby thing. When the British started time trialling they had to be done secretly by yourself in the morning. Even positive elements like the secret squirrel club looking at ways to tweak and improve where hidden away. This cultural element means cycling sometimes doesn’t feel as welcoming as it should be.”
The lack of cultural accessibility to cycling is odd he says as in many ways cycling is more accessible than any other sports. He points out the Tour de France is on open roads and anyone can go along to watch for free but the cultural secrecy makes it feel less welcoming to ‘outsiders.’ This is before we even touch on the fact it is still predominately white at pro level and female riders are treated as second class in terms of pay, days of racing and equipment. His book opens up the options to feel like less of an outsider.
Tom says his book should give you a little bit of grounding in the knowledge and history of the sport so when watching a race or talking when riding you’ll have more knowledge of where it comes from so it feels easier to fit in. In doing so you suss out the rules and etiquette of cycling and can appreciate cycling as a fan much more. So, if you feel you need to learn your Lantern Rouge from your Poursuivant or your Commissionere from your Soigneur, Bespoke is a really lovely book to do it with.