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Publisher's Summary

Robert Penn has saddled up nearly every day of his adult life. In his late 20s, he pedaled 25,000 miles around the world. Today he rides to get to work, sometimes for work, to bathe in air and sunshine, to travel, to go shopping, to stay sane, and to skip bath time with his kids. He's no Sunday pedal pusher. So when the time came for a new bike, he decided to pull out all the stops. He would build his dream bike, the bike he would ride for the rest of his life; a customized machine that reflects the joy of cycling.

It's All About the Bike follows Penn's journey, but this book is more than the story of his hunt for two-wheel perfection. En route, Penn brilliantly explores the culture, science, and history of the bicycle. From artisanal frame shops in the United Kingdom to California, where he finds the perfect wheels, via Portland, Milan, and points in between, his trek follows the serpentine path of our love affair with cycling. It explains why we ride.

It's All About the Bike is, like Penn's dream bike, a tale greater than the sum of its parts. An enthusiastic and charming tour guide, Penn uses each component of the bike as a starting point for illuminating excursions into the rich history of cycling. Just like a long ride on a lovely day, It's All About the Bike is pure joy - enriching, exhilarating, and unforgettable.

©2011 Robert Penn (P)2012 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"If you don't long for your own bike at the end of this book, you will at least never look at one the same way again." (Kirkus)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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terrific book about bikes & history

Robert Penn does a terrific job weaving together the history of bicycling, and specifically, the history of the bike components, with his own extensive biking experience and his own passion to supervise the building of a new bike. Anyone who has a passion for bicycling, even of the spinning variety, will enjoy, and be enlightened, by this book.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Sparkly
  • SF, CA, United States
  • 08-16-13

File Enthusiastically under 'History'

An orgy of minutiae about cycling and the history of manufactury! I heard Robert Penn interviewed by Jack Thurston on The Bike Show, and I was excited to see the book listed here. History buffs of any stripe will enjoy it - Penn takes us from present to past, and across the globe, expertly weaving together technology, social movements, and vivid characters. For example, a visit to Chris King Headsets diverges seamlessly into a reverie about the nature of the child hood experience of learning to ride; Mark Twain's essay Taming the Bicycle; and 20 years of urban planning and tattoos in Portland, Oregon. I enjoyed hearing about the "glory days" of cycling, when cheap fast transportation changed lives in unpredictable ways. I loved Penn's take on the title - which he doesn't acknowledge until late in the book - as a reclamation of the elegance of the bicycle, a most enduring invention. This is one of the few books I have listened to twice. I recommend it heartily.

(The narrator is affable, but may make a listener cringe with his unfortunate mispronunciations of European names - the great cyclist Hinault does not rhyme with "salt," for example.)

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Consider yourself a cyclist? Required reading

The complaints about this book are that it spends too much time on tangents, minutea, and history. THAT'S arguably the entire point of this book. A good education in cycling history and some of the iconic characters who helped shape it into what it is today.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A delightful story and history of cycling

Would you listen to It's All About the Bike again? Why?

Yes, there is so much information in this book

Who was your favorite character and why?

The writer's experience finding the best parts was fantastic

What???s an idea from the book that you will remember?

So much history I never knew

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jason D
  • San Francisco, CA
  • 08-31-17

I like the format of the book.

The writer takes you through his journey of building his dream bike part by part. He give a brief history of each part and who invented it as he buys it. I.e. Frame, wheels, seat,etc. he then talks about the company that he selected to buy the part from because he actually visited each parts factory and conveys what the company and people of like there. What a great idea. My only complaint is that he did not choose a titanium frame. I personally just build my own dream bike and made a lot of the same part choices. My frame was a titanium moots though. Otherwise it's a fun book. If you are about to build a dream bike or want to one day. It's worth listening to this book.

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A Book For The Bike-Obsessed

How much you will enjoy this book will likely depend on the depth of your knowledge and love for bikes. Personally, my love for cycling far outpaces my knowledge about bikes, and therefore much of this book was either over my head or not interesting to me. Having said that, its a very well researched and written book, and contains some interesting history of bikes. If you are as bike obsessed as the author you will probably enjoy it. Clearly I'm not.

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Entertaining and educational

The author details the building of his dream bike and with this is a bit about bicycle history and trips to the most respected bicycle component builders in the world. I thought it would be boring yet it entertained me start to finish

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Loved everything about this book and performance!

I loved this book and the narration by Jonathan Cowley was excellent. This book gives a sound historical background of the bicycle which is interwoven with the story of the author's entertaining and enlightening quest to build the perfect bespoke bicycle. I listened to this all winter, over and over, whenever I wanted to be out on my bike but the weather kept me in. Educational, entertaining and extremely pleasant. Cannot recommend this audiobook enough!

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  • KB
  • 08-16-16

Bike History and Personal Journey

Would you listen to It's All About the Bike again? Why?

I'm a bit fuzzy on some of the components' histories afterwards, so I plan to give this story a listen again so I can more accurately remember. I believe the author has favorites for certain kinds and brands of components, which is why those are featured in the story, but I won't hold that against him. After decades in the saddle, I expected him to develop preferences.

What did you like best about this story?

I really loved the author's inclusion of the history of the bicycle, it's components, the artisans, and the great riders and their cycling accomplishments in his story of building his ultimate bike.

Which scene was your favorite?

I liked when the author shared the story of the guy in the pub who thought he'd committed some sort of automotive crime that relegated him to riding a bike everywhere.

What did you learn from It's All About the Bike that you would use in your daily life?

I've learned you can build a bespoke bike from scratch. I'm looking forward to buying mine someday.

Any additional comments?

I'd definitely recommend this to listeners who enjoy leisurely, social, or competitive bike riding. It's a good "history of bike craft" book wrapped in one person's bespoke bike journey.

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Nice story but long

The book is not just about the bike. A lot more stuff on bicycle history however interesting in small amounts but this was too much. I was expecting the author to build the bike or at least the wheels, but he didn't he agonized over the paint color. End selection of parts was no surprise either.