04 June, 2006

The Dancing Chain

I recently finished reading Frank Berto’s The Dancing Chain. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Expecting a dry discourse on the development of the derailleur, I found instead a 384-page history of the last 100 years if bicycles and bicycling. This is a book that flows like a good novel, yet it contains more technical information than even the most devoted gear head could absorb in one reading.

There is a section on the efficiency of hub gears. The discourse on the effect the bike boom on various manufacturers is fascinating. I learned which of the Huret, Simplex, and Suntour derailleurs shift best and why. Then there is the never-ending drama of manufacturers hoping to design a better drive train, often copying, sometimes innovating. I learned which gear trains were popular with cyclo-tourists and when. And on and on.

The Dancing Chain is a profusely illustrated volume with photos and drawings not only of derailleurs but also of bikes and riders. Over 1000 illustration are contained within the covers. Many of the Daniel Rebour drawings have never been seen in print before.

This is not an inexpensive volume, but the amount of information it contains is monumental and it is a rather large hardcover book. I strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the technology or history of bicycles. It is, of course, available in the Velo Orange store .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough I just finished reading this book on Saturday evening and I enjoyed it a lot too. As you say, the historical information is as valuable as the technical stuff. The editing could be a bit sharper; with contributions from several authors and new material added for the second edition, the same thing sometimes gets said two or three times, and occasionally a chapter seems to start over in the middle. But clearly it's a labor of love much more than a major commercial project, and all the good stuff makes it easy to look past that.

I've read a few other good histories of cycling, such as Robert Smith's A Social History of the Bicycle and Jim McGurn's On Your Bicycle, so I had some idea of what went on in the early days. Chris, the recent brouhaha over your bag design doesn't seem like a biggie compared to some of the commercial wars that went on, or even compared to the feud that Berto recounts between Panel and Raimond over what would appear on the monument to Velocio!