Author Rob Penn travels around the world collecting hand-built parts for his dream bicycle and charts the social history of one of mankind's greatest inventions.
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The bicycle - one of mankind's greatest inventions,
and the most popular form of transport in history.
I'm Rob Penn, writer and bicycle obsessive.
I've ridden a bike most days of my adult life, and watched it evolve over the years.
They really are just about the most modern-designed bikes that I've seen for ages...
Now I'm setting up to build my dream bicycle, and to tell the story
of this remarkable invention and its impact on society. Look at that.
I'm going to travel the globe collecting
hand-built parts from some of the industry's finest craftsmen.
Some Italians, they like to go...
Where am I going to draw this?
I'll be meeting some fellow bike fanatics.
That would rub against the wheel.
And some of the people who revolutionised the way we ride.
That was scary, but that was why you did it, right?
I'm going to explore how the bicycle has shaped the way we live, and how it continues to do so.
We need to go back to the future, we need to rediscover the joys of this brilliantly simple machine.
This is the story of the bicycle's evolution, from engineering marvel to modern transport icon.
I've always been fascinated by the bicycle, because for me, it offers so much.
I ride a bike to get to work. I ride a bike for work.
I ride a bike to keep fit. I ride a bike to go shopping.
I ride a bike to stay sane.
I ride a bike to see my boys smile.
I've owned 18 different bikes.
My first proper bike was a Raleigh Tomahawk, the diminutive version of the infamous Chopper.
Then I graduated to a purple Raleigh Hustler, my pride
and joy for the summer of '76, and the first in a succession of racers.
This is my slightly strange bike collection.
The old mountain bike, a bit of a restoration project going on here.
The new mountain bike, which is a rather lovely bike, perfect for the trails around here.
The old racer, road racer, again, a bit of a work in progress, I'll have it fit for next winter.
And the new racer, which is a rather lovely Italian frame.
And that's rather nice... Dogs! Out!
Go on, out!
The bicycle has transformed my life as much as it's transformed society.
In my late 20s, I abandoned a career as a solicitor, swapped my
pin-striped suit for lycra shorts and spent three years pedalling 40,000 kilometres around the planet.
My old round-the-world bike.
which I cycled 24,500 miles on over three years...
You know, this bike's got memories, I can't really bring myself to throw it away, so it sits in the corner.
None of these bikes reflect my lifelong passion for cycling.
I want a new bike, a bike that I'll ride every day for the rest of my life.
Now obviously, you can go down the bike shop or go on the Internet and buy a new bicycle, and I could be
riding, you know, over the hill there tomorrow on a fantastic new carbon frame race bike.
But that's not right, I don't want that.
So I want a special bike, and I want a bike which I'm going to design and commission myself,
and then I'm going to go round the world looking for the perfect parts.
The perfect parts for that bicycle - not the most expensive,
not the lightest, but the parts which match my bicycle.
And that will be a bike which I ride off to the sunset in.
It will see me out of cycling.
I'm only going to spend this kind of money on a bicycle once, so I want
to do it and get the best, I want to get my dream bike, basically.
My journey begins in Stoke-on-Trent. I've come to Rourke Cycles,
where I'll be having my steel frame hand-built.
Jason Rourke is one of the UK's top frame builders,
making five bespoke bikes a week. It's like watching an alchemist at
work, using gas and liquid metal to bring the bicycle to life.
The earliest ancestor of the bicycle was invented by German aristocrat Baron Karl von Drais, in 1817.
He realised a dream as old as mankind - a mechanical horse with wheels.
Known as the Running Machine, it became the fashionable plaything
of the rich in Regency England, hence its nickname, the dandy horse.
The world had to wait 50 years for the next evolutionary leap.
Around 1865, in Paris, the Michaux brothers put pedals and cranks on
a dandy horse, and the velocipede was born.
With wooden wheels, it was still heinously uncomfortable,
and deserved its new nickname, the bone shaker.
Things then gathered pace, quite literally, with the development of the high wheeler, or penny farthing.
The large front wheel increased speed and
comfort, and it was more affordable to the burgeoning middle classes.
The height of the bicycle of course had one major disadvantage - when you fell off, it hurt.
Finally, in 1885, a young engineer called John Kemp Starley from Coventry came up
with the safety bicycle - so-called because you could touch the ground with both feet.
Starley is the greatest British inventor you've never heard of, and he gave us the first modern bicycle.
All previous incarnations of the machine were obsolete in months.
Almost every bicycle made since has conformed to Starley's diamond frame.
The great thing about this is, you're plunging back through history here, because this is
effectively the shape of the bicycle that Starley came up with in 1885,
the first safety bicycle - two triangles.
And like I say, a set of simple steel tubes has been turned into this extraordinary weight-bearing
machine, which will take you wherever you want to pedal.
-I just want to get a rough idea of what you look like on it.
Just to start off...
Jason's dad, Brian, is fitting me for my frame.
Brian Rourke is a cycling legend, winner of numerous national championships and Milk Race veteran,
he's been fitting people to bespoke bicycles for 30 years.
Like a tailor on Savile Row, Brian is meticulous in his measurements,
and makes the frame to fit the customer.
I would suggest we went to somewhere round about there...
The frame is the heart and soul of the bicycle.
All the components will wear out eventually and be replaced.
The frame will only be made once.
It's all ultimately about making you, the rider, as efficient as possible, isn't it?
That's right, yeah.
That car just came past us like the Flying Scotsman at full steam!
Goodness knows how fast he was going, but we're doing a ton,
so he must have been going about 130.
That's miles per hour, not kilometres per hour.
I'm on the autobahn in Germany, two hours north of Frankfurt, en route to buy the tyres for my bike.
Continental tyres have an unrivalled reputation for
reliability and quality, hand-built quality, in the bicycle world.
They mean more than that to me, because I had Continental tyres
on the bicycle that I rode round the world, and they were fantastic.
The next evolutionary leap in the story of the bicycle was the invention of the pneumatic tyre.
In 1888, a Scottish veterinary surgeon called John Boyd Dunlop
stitched a rubber tube inside a canvas sleeve,
filled it with air, and founded a global business that's still trading today.
When Dunlop's tyres met Starley's frame in 1888, it was a catalyst for
the first golden age of cycling, and a turning point for human society.
The bicycle went into mass production.
In 1895, 800,000 bikes were built in Britain alone.
The humble bicycle played a critical role in both the emancipation
of women and the subsequent expansion of the national gene pool.
Young women could now travel to neighbouring villages and meet a wider circle of young men.
Suburbs sprang up around cities, as people could now commute.
More than anything, the bicycle ushered in a new era of freedom and social mobility,
as working men and women enjoyed the first-ever affordable form of personal transport.
Continental is a global giant in tyre manufacturing.
Though their main business is now automobiles, they've been making bicycle tyres since 1892.
I've only been here for about 15 minutes, and the noise and the heat and the smell, it's very intense.
You really get a sense of heavy manufacturing going on here. It's like being
in the bowels of a Victorian steamship or something.
The raw rubber is mixed with a cocktail of chemicals, heated up
and melded with vast rolls of nylon to form the basic casing material.
It's threaded with cotton to allow air bubbles to escape,
and then wound onto giant rolls and carried upstairs.
Brilliant, OK, here we go.
The rolls are then cut into thin strips and checked for flaws.
Each strip will shortly be turned into a tyre.
The constituent parts of the tyre are then folded together by hand.
Think of something like a Cuban cigar being rolled here.
It's the hands which keep the quality so incredibly high.
Now, it's ready for the final part of the process.
The last stage is called vulcanisation -
a chemical process using sulphur that's changed little since Charles Goodyear invented it in 1839.
This is still flat, you could pull it apart with your own hands if you really wanted to.
By the time it's been vulcanised in one of these extraordinary machines, while still hot, it looks like that.
It has form and shape.
Vulcanisation takes three minutes per tyre.
The end result is checked, and ready to ride. Right, here it comes.
-So I can take that out now?
-Just take it out.
There it is. There's the tyre.
Here comes the next one. Take it?
Look at them smoking, they're so hot off the press!
Brilliant, thanks, Will.
-I'm very, very excited to have these tyres.
These would cost you 80 Euros.
-That's our dinner - for the two of us!
At the outbreak of the First World War, Britain led the world in bike manufacturing,
and the bicycle led the world in technological advancement.
Many components that were essential to the development of the motor car were first invented for the
bicycle - ball-bearings, tyres, chain-driven sprockets and spoke-tensioned wheels.
Birmingham was the bike manufacturing centre of the UK,
and home to more bicycle factories than anywhere else in the world.
But in the second half of the 20th century, those
factories closed down, as production relocated to Asia.
Today, almost all evidence of the industry has gone.
This is the Birmingham navigation canals.
This place would have been alive with small workshops making bicycle components and bicycles.
There would have been hundreds of them.
And now, they've all gone - with the exception of one.
I've come to Brooks to buy my saddle.
Brooks have been in business in Birmingham since 1866.
They've been present throughout the entire history of the modern bicycle.
-Looking for Mr Green.
-You've found him!
How do you do, Rob Penn.
-Lovely to meet you.
Following the death of his horse in 1878, the company's founder,
John Brooks, borrowed a bicycle to commute to work.
He found the wooden saddle so uncomfortable, he decided to make one for himself, in leather.
The manufacturing process has changed little in over a century.
Today, the company makes 150,000 saddles a year.
Some of the models are identical to those of the 1890s.
One of the fantastic things about the products that they make here
is that they don't deteriorate with age, they get better with age.
So you buy a Brooks saddle, and you take it away and you ride it,
and every year you own it, it improves.
Demand for Brooks saddles has soared 300% in six years.
Clearly, people want parts that are made to last.
The leather comes from British cows, and it is processed in Belgium to meet Brooks' exacting standards.
The first step, much like cutting pastry, is to cut out the basic leather shape.
These are immersed in tepid water for an hour to soften them up.
Now that they're wet and pliable, we can start to make the correct shape.
Pure pressure, bring down the press, one flat piece into a first shape like that.
That's the start, is it?
That's the start.
-It looks like a machine where you might lose a finger quite quickly, Diane. Is that right?
-You've got all 10, have you? All 10 still going?
Look at that. Quality.
So what he's doing here is a chamfering the sides,
which is literally just shaving a piece of the leather off.
By doing this, it would stop them cutting the inside of the legs.
It's all done in one continuous motion.
You could make quite a mess of a nice saddle there, couldn't you?
Yes, it could go horribly wrong. If you slip or make a mistake, you've ruined the leather top.
Do you get paid double what everyone else gets paid?
After knocking in the copper rivets, a feat of hand-eye co-ordination,
the last step is to connect the metal structure to the leather top.
One final buff and polish and hey, presto!
Well, it's doubly exciting having seen how it's made
and to know that, you know, it's all made by these.
£90 later I'm the very proud owner of a Brooks team professional.
Ha-ha, look at that!
Brooks. You beauty! Look at that.
The golden age of the bicycle ended abruptly in America
when the Model T Ford went into mass production in 1908.
The love affair with the car had begun and
the bicycle was left out to rust until its revival in the Seventies.
But it seems that, whenever it dies in one place, the bike comes back stronger somewhere else.
In Europe, bicycle racing took off, becoming a hugely popular and glamorous sport.
The Tour de France was first staged in 1903, followed by the Giro d'Italia in 1909.
Like today's footballers, cyclists were the celebrities of the day,
and their private lives no less scrutinised.
Speed was the currency and a new generation of racing bikes
evolved that took men faster and further than ever before.
One of the greatest innovators of the time was Italian, Tullio Campagnolo.
More than anyone, he's responsible for the make-up of the modern racing bike.
He introduced the quick-release wheel, the modern derailer and the first group sets.
I've come to Vicenza in northern Italy to visit Campag's HQ.
Buon giorno. We've come to meet Levi Piazza.
He knows we're coming. Thank you.
I've got my saddle and tyres, now I need some gears, brakes, cranks and sprockets known as the group set.
Campagnolo are world renowned for their high quality precision componentry.
With global bike sales rocketing, the industry is more cut-throat than ever.
Campag are keen to protect the secrets of their success
and won't let us film the manufacturing process.
You can sort of understand why, you know. It's an incredibly competitive business,
a business which is dominated by one large Japanese company.
And they're probably constantly under threat from them and constantly paranoid.
So you can sort of understand why they're not going to let us in.
As we've come all this way to buy my group set,
I pleaded to be allowed in and I was granted a brief interview with their head of marketing. Shall I sit here?
-Will you come next to me here?
Great. God, I feel like
I'm the MD at the end of the table.
One of the questions I'm behest to ask is: We've been to quite a lot of
factories and some of them have been reluctant to let us in, but most of them have, in the end, let us in.
But here, you know, you're not going to let us in.
So I have to ask why.
-We own many patents.
important to understand that the bicycling business owns
a lot of technology.
There's a certain jealousy in keeping this know-how a bit secret.
-Within these walls?
-Yes, within these walls.
Finally, it's time to collect a record group set - the top of the range.
Lovely looking things, aren't they?
It's not cheap - 1,800 Euros - but these exquisitely crafted components are like the jewellery for my bike.
-It's like Christmas, isn't it?
Great! Levi, thank you, thank you.
Fantastic. It's been a great pleasure.
It's been lovely to meet you.
I leave Campag a lot poorer, but happy.
WOMAN SPEAKS ITALIAN ON RADIO
RADIO CHANNEL CHANGES
RADIO CHANNEL CHANGES TO ITALIAN OPERA MUSIC
I'm on my way to the Cinelli factory in Milan,
another name synonymous with excellence in Italian cycling.
And I'm going there to buy my handlebars.
Just the name Cinelli, I couldn't really put a bike together
without something with the Cinelli name on it. It's a mark of flair,
rather than the precision engineering that we've seen at Continental.
OPERA SINGING CONTINUES
Mi scusi, mi no parlo Italiano. Parlo inglese.
I'm here to meet Antonio Colombo, a bike builder, art dealer and one of Italy's cycling philosophers.
Cinelli dominated the pro-racing world for half a century.
Their hand-built bikes have won 28 Olympic gold medals.
Like Campagnolo, they've stayed ahead of the pack through constant innovation,
while Antonio manages to bring his own style to the manufacturing process.
We have a nice, round bottom bracket, which is unusual.
And one day I said, "Well, there could be a nice face here."
So I think it is something which is new on a bicycle.
I think it is something that's new on a bicycle.
-This is the essence of cycling.
The handlebars are now made in Asia, but they are developed and tested here in Italy.
I had wanted an aluminium bar, but Antonio is keen for me to go graphite.
-Well, I think I may have changed my mind.
Everybody is here to change minds.
You've convinced me that...
I rather like the idea of this,
so it combines the classic "D" of the loop,
which is something I wanted.
And I like the way a bike looks from the side with the classic handlebars.
The bicycle I'm having made is going to be...
You know, it's going to look better than I ride.
-You know what I mean?
-OK. Everybody wants something better than what...
Unless you think you're perfect.
No, well I certainly don't think I'm perfect. Look, brilliant.
This is what I'm going to take away.
Can I come and pay for this?
-OK, let's go to the cash.
-Let's go to the cash shop. Brilliant.
-Thank you. That's fantastic.
It's been a fascinating morning.
I have one of your beautiful handlebars to take away with me, which I am very pleased about.
I want to see the bicycle completed.
-I promise you I'll send you a photograph.
-Fantastic. Thank you.
I felt I couldn't leave Italy without going for a ride,
so I've joined Antonio and two friends
for a Saturday-morning jaunt.
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
Marco is a lawyer from Milan and a fellow bike obsessive.
Lodovico works for Cinelli and is a typically well-turned-out Italian cyclist.
We're 50 kilometres north of Milan, pedalling along the shores of the majestic Lake Como.
We're on a famous signature ride of the Giro di Lombardia, one of Italy's of most prestigious races.
Italian cyclists are hyper-style-conscious.
Their passion for the perfect look is embodied in the expression
"bella in sella", which means "looking good in the saddle".
What you see is all the Italian cyclists out in the team strip of their heroes.
It's quite difficult for British people to sort of interpret it,
but it's like my son who gets up on every single Saturday morning
and puts a Liverpool shirt on with "Gerrard" on the back.
It's the same for these guys - they get out of bed on Saturday morning
and the first thing they do is they put on the team strip of their cycling heroes,
whether it's Columbia or Lampre or one of the other great road teams.
There are employees
who earn, I don't know, 1,500 bucks a month.
And they ride bikes of 5,000 Euros.
And they change it every two years.
We're climbing 554 metres above the lake,
on a pilgrimage to one of the spiritual homes of the bicycle.
We're halfway up. I haven't puked!
And I'm really enjoying it. It feels good.
I'm on a very beautiful bike. I'm slightly nervous that people think I might be part of team Cinelli.
Our destination is the beautiful chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of cycling.
In 1949, Pope Pius XII declared Madonna del Ghisallo as the patroness of cyclists.
Since then, this small chapel has become a shrine to cycling legends, living and deceased.
It's also a memorial to those who have fallen by the roadside.
Cyclists come from all over the world to pay homage here, to the bicycle and the Madonna.
Very evocative, looking at all the little photographs.
There are various plaques with it the names of Italian cyclists on the walls.
It's very lovely, very lovely.
It's a fantastic opportunity to come up here, so it's a bit of a pilgrimage,
in the middle of our journey to put my perfect bike together.
I feel we ought to come here and pay respect to Madonna del Ghisallo.
And maybe the patron saint of cyclists will look out for me in future.
May I raise a glass to you, gentleman?
-Thank you very much for a fantastic morning's cycling.
-Thank you to you.
-Thank you for coming.
-Thank you to you.
A second golden age of bicycle production followed the Second World War.
VOICEOVER: Bells on bikes ring in duel fashions,
which enable you to dive out of the saddle and into the sea.
In fact, a costume for the bike or the beach.
And this is the modern girl's answer to an old problem, a bicycle dress made in two.
No more flapping shirt tails.
When times are hard, people turn to the bicycle.
Petrol rationing and post-war poverty led to a boom in leisure bike sales.
On the Continent, they were still obsessed with racing, and its glamorous icons.
In the UK, the fashion was for cycle touring.
Britain's roads were cluttered with people clutching maps and Thermoses,
as a hostelling craze swept the nation.
In the 1970s, the bicycle evolved again, for a new market, as a child's plaything.
Most famously, Raleigh came up with the Chopper.
They really are very modern bikes indeed.
I think they're just about the most modern designed bikes that I've seen for ages.
They remind me of American dragster racing bikes because the front wheel is much smaller than the back wheel,
and the rider sits right at the back end here,
with these high roll bars behind them. It looks extremely sporty.
Fun and fashionable as it was, the Chopper sounded the death-knell for the bicycle in the UK.
Some say it put a generation off cycling.
The small front wheel and the tall handlebars made it almost unrideable.
Raleigh tinkered with Starley's frame, and it didn't work.
The bicycle was on its knees.
Everyone now wanted a car.
But what happened next was truly remarkable.
It was saved by a bunch of hippies having fun.
I'm heading north out of San Francisco
to get myself a pair of wheels, and to visit a very special place in the evolution of the bicycle.
We're heading across the bridge, out to Marin County, which is where mountain biking began
in the mid-1970s.
These crazy guys riding up and down Mount Tamalpais invented the mountain bike.
And everybody wanted one.
The mountain bike was born out of the counter-culture of the 70s in northern California.
It was an era of change and freedom.
And, as it turned out, of innovation.
An adventurous band of young, hippy cycle nuts began staging informal
downhill races in the hills, pushing the bicycle to its limits.
They took old cruiser bikes, known as "clunkers,"
and adapted them to the off-road trails, with knobbly tyres, better brakes and gears,
and other parts salvaged from old bicycles and even motorbikes.
It was always scary,
but that was why you did it, right?
I mean, if it was safe, it wouldn't be fun.
Amazingly enough, heck, we didn't even have helmets.
All things considered we came out of it pretty unscathed.
I actually never broke anything in my life.
I don't know how I've been so lucky.
The original downhill race course is known as "repack."
So-called, because by the time the riders got to the bottom, the bearings in their brake hubs
were so hot the grease literally boiled away, and they had to be repacked.
The first repack race in 1976 was won by the only rider who did not crash.
I've come for a ride with Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze.
If repack was the birthplace of the mountain bike, Charlie and Joe were the midwives.
This turn here is rudely off-camber, and very slippery. You're coming into this turn,
your foot's down over here, and your other foot's on the pedal.
And if you're really good, no hands on the brakes.
Charlie and Joe are on a trip up memory lane, and still proudly bear the scars 30 years on.
Right hand, left-hand?
Notice the large deformity?
-Happened up there.
-What, hand on the ground?
That was everything on the ground. That was hitting very, hard and laying there for a while,
because I didn't want to discover what was broken right away.
And then realising, if I don't move, somebody's going to ride right over me.
So I'd better. And it turned out that not too much was broken. At least no more than that.
This would be my tree right here.
I can demonstrate, perhaps.
If I can get the right aspect here.
-But here's the thing.
When Joe Breeze hits something, or goes down really hard, he'll say, "Oh dear."
Here's a man that's never used profanity.
Not in my presence, anyway.
And if he says, "Oh dear,"
it means it hurts.
Oh my goodness.
# Early in the evenin' Just about supper time
# Over by the courthouse They're starting to unwind
# Four kids on the corner
# Trying to bring you up
# Willy picks a tune out And he blows it on the harp
# Down on the corner Out in the street
# Willy and the Poor Boys are playin' Bring a nickel, tap your feet. #
The trail record is 4 minutes 22 seconds, held by Gary Fisher.
Thankfully today, no one's trying to beat it.
It may not look that fast, but it's lethal.
Dressed in old-school 70s denims, Joe and Charlie show me how to perfect the skid,
using boots rather than brakes to corner at full tilt.
# People come from all around To watch the magic boy. #
Joe goes in for a big slide at the end, but doesn't quite pull it off.
I can do that!
I'm sorry, I explained that earlier, didn't I?
I did explain that to you, didn't I?
Great, thank you so much. I mean really, what a great, great pleasure to ride the repack with you guys.
Thank you very much indeed. That was fantastic.
If you hadn't come out here, I'd probably have to work anyway.
I wouldn't have been here without you, so thank you.
As one American cycle historian put it, "The mountain bike saved the bicycle industry's butt."
In 1983, 1 in 20 bicycles sold in the US were mountain bikes.
A decade later it was 19 out of 20.
The mountain bike was comfortable and easy to ride.
Like Starley's safety bicycle, it was a true people's nag.
They couldn't be made fast enough.
Factories sprang up in Japan, Korea and China to meet spiralling demand.
Even today, it's very hard to wrap around emotionally
that something that my friends and I, and there were only half a dozen of us, really, the key people.
That we could influence anything so huge.
It wasn't about the technology so much.
We were pushing the bike, there's no question about it, but that social side, the camaraderie,
getting together for that sunset ride, the, "Hey, let's stick around and catch the sunrise," ride!
It was a great time.
We had a whole lot of fun, and I've got lifelong friends from it.
The town of Fairfax in Marin County is now world famous as the birthplace of the mountain bike.
It's also home to another bike legend
called Steve 'Gravy' Gravenites, who's going to make my hoops.
-Hi, Rob, thanks for making the trip.
Very good to be here. Very good to be in Fairfax.
-I'm doing awesome. Welcome to the shop.
Gravy has been making wheels for 30 years.
He earned his spurs on the pro circuit,
travelling the globe as a wrench, or mechanic, for the world's top mountain bike teams.
After calculating the exact specifications for my wheels, Steve gets to work.
The first part of the process is called lacing.
Steve literally weaves the spokes on to the hubs, and the wheel slowly starts to take shape.
One of the reasons I make my wheels so good is my patience, really.
And ability to just take my time and really fine tune it.
I really do equate it to a musical instrument.
You're going to tune and tune until it's perfect.
you don't want it any other way.
You don't want to have it out of tune, don't even listen.
The strength of the wheel, actually, is the way it's dispersed along its width.
And the weight of the wheel, it pushes down on the hub, your weight is pushing down on this hub.
But it's all these spokes pulling down on the rim that are holding you up.
But it's rim strength itself that is actually riding you on the ground.
The spokes don't work at all in compression, they only work in tension.
There you go, the wheel is on its way. It's laced.
And now Gravy is going to do the truing process, which is...
the artistry, I suppose you might say?
Yeah. You're trying to make it perfectly straight, side to side and up and down.
So, by tightening or loosening spokes, I'm able to move the rim around side to side.
Or if I tighten a big group of spokes, it will actually pull the rim towards the centre of the hub.
Or if I loosen a group of spokes, it will allow the rim to move away.
And the objective of all this is to make it perfectly round?
Perfectly round, equal tension so each of these spokes will be the same tension with each other.
And over the years, I've got it to the state where it just almost happens by itself.
You know, a fine result is a nice wheel,
really as fine as you can build it.
It just comes together perfect at the right time. Like Michelangelo mixing paint!
If it's not mixed right the first time, start over.
I like to see it come through the first time.
Every subtle adjustment of the truing process is done by hand and eye, but Steve insists on scientific
levels of precision, checking the tension on every spoke with minute accuracy.
Some Italians, they like to go...
..right? They're like, "Oh, that one's tighter, this one's looser. "
But you cannot really ever measure nearly as fine as you can here.
-Of course not.
-Just make sure it's true.
Well, it's an absolute joy to see this coming together beautifully.
-It sure is.
-You can't quite imagine,
when you've just got the hub in your hand and the spokes in the other,
and a rim hanging from a hook on the ceiling,
you can't quite imagine there ever being one, being a wheel that's going to go on your bicycle.
That really comes true, watching Gravy work.
You can see the fineness, the adeptness of his hand movements.
The way that he handles the tools, like they're appendages to his body.
It's a lovely process to watch.
A wheel that's taken care of properly, overhauled, and not left out to rust,
can last decades.
And give you all sorts of fun rides.
It's super straight, you really can't see, because of all the stickers moving.
But it's super straight.
It's way in the middle.
I leave Steve to start work on the other wheel, and head out for a random encounter
with one of Fairfax's home-grown cycling characters.
Last night we're in a bar in Fairfax, and we get talking to the landlord.
And he says, "If you're writing a book about bicycles, there's one person you have to see in Fairfax.
"He's called Rudy." He says, "He down this alley, turn left and you can't miss him."
His picket fence is made of skis, and he's got a 15 ft blue marlin on the wall.
And inside he's got a fantastic collection of beautifully restored, ancient American bicycles.
So we're going to have a look.
-I had no problem finding Rudy's house, and he's more than happy to show me his bikes.
-Come on in.
Come on back, I'll show you the fleet.
Rudy has an extraordinary collection of beautifully restored American Art Deco bicycles,
from the 1930s to the 1950s.
These were the precursors to the clunkers that Charlie and Joe were trashing on repack.
I suspect they don't repay in miles the care Rudy puts into them,
but you cannot fault a man who loves his wheels like this.
This is a 1939 Shelby Traveller.
And this is a 1940 Hiawatha.
This is the men's bike,
with the tube here.
And a girl's bike, back then, she would step through.
Because, back in the day, they would wear skirts and whatnot.
-Wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of cocking a leg over a bicycle?
And this is a 1948 Schwinn DX.
I transformed it into what I call a fireman's bike.
You would pull this, that would rub against the wheel, and it creates the...
HE IMITATES A SIREN
So you'd pull that, it would rub, then release.
They have a tremendous feel.
They make you feel like a kid when you get on the end of the handlebars.
Isn't that lovely?
What I it really like about bicycles is the way the rack is designed, the way the lines flow.
The colour patterns, the horns.
I'm just intrigued.
Once I'm done with this particular bike, it goes back with the rest, and I'll start yet another one.
It's my quiet time. It's just a pleasure, you know,
when I snap the tank together, and you just get that feeling.
And then, "OK, I want to do another section,"
but then it's back to the patience part of it, when you're building.
I'm popping back to Gravy's to pick up my brand new, hand-built wheels.
There's the rear one.
-And here's the front one.
I gave you one of my old postcards.
-That's actually my hair, believe it or not.
-Is it really?
-Back in the day.
Just a little something to stick on your wall.
-Great. That's tremendous.
-Isn't that awesome?
-Yeah, it really is. My hoops!
-I'm so chuffed.
-You're so happy.
Gravy, thank you.
I can't wait to get these on my bike.
-I can't wait to see it, so you've got my e-mail address?
-I'll send you a photo.
I fully expect a photo, maybe a little blurb, a little video blurb of you riding it down the road.
Have fun with those wheels.
Look at those wheels! Yay!
# Somewhere out on that horizon
# Out beyond the neon lights... #
I think there is definitely a return to craftsmanship.
People are looking for engineering excellence.
They're looking for components which have longevity and durability.
I can see that in all the component manufacturers that I'm talking to, they're incredibly busy.
Their order books are full.
You can probably relate that to a renaissance in quality bicycles.
People are looking for hard-wearing, beautifully-made components.
Which will last.
I've travelled 600 miles north of San Francisco, to the city of Portland, Oregon.
Straight away I feel at home here.
It's the most bike friendly city in America.
The city authority has invested over 100 million in bike infrastructure
over 10 years, adding 200 miles of cycle lanes.
The people of Portland now make more bike journeys per capita than any major city in the US.
A cycling revolution is quietly taking place here, and it's cause for optimism.
I've come for a coffee with Slate Olson, who works for a bike clothing company, and is heavily involved
in the Portland cycling scene.
He believes, whenever the world is in crisis, the bicycle shows its face.
What we've seen is, especially with gas prices last year really
raising the idea of a different mode of transportation.
Average people, normal people, they've left the car and started to get around by bike,
because they realise how simple it is.
They say that recession or rationing are the two sure-fire ways to get the bicycle industry moving.
We've really seen it.
A lot of people have lost their jobs, or are just looking to be smarter
about how they're spending their money. Among the easy ways to do that are car,
car insurance, gas and all of that.
As Portland's such an easy town to get around, there's such a culture, and bike corrals and all of this,
it's really a simple way for people to be smarter about where they're spending.
So you're seeing that right, left and centre.
That's interesting, back there, by the way. Sorry, I'm a bit distracted.
She just jumped on top of a lamp post there to have her photograph taken. Hello!
I don't think that's a tattoo, I think that's actually... it might be tattoo. I think it's pen.
It's all going on in Mississippi, that's all I know.
It turns out our tattooed lady is an art student, asking members of the public to draw on her body
as part of a living art project.
My hand was a bit shaky, but I couldn't resist the offer.
-Where am I going to draw this?
-I have a leg.
-Is my leg OK?
-That's absolutely grand.
You'll have to hold still.
It's perfect for Portland, yeah?
Well, there you go.
God knows where we are now.
The main reason I've come to Portland it is to buy a headset for
my bike from a company called Chris King.
Well, we're truly lost.
Do you know where Nela Street is?
-I don't know, you might ask them.
-Thanks very much.
Go down to 29th, take a left.
I finally found a man who knows,
or at least has heard of, Nela Street.
He said "It ain't much of a street."
But he knows where it is.
I can see it written on a truck. Hallelujah!
When I arrive, I'm told that the company owner, Chris King himself,
doesn't give interviews, and doesn't normally allow cameras in.
But the head of marketing, Chris DiStefano, kindly allows us
through the door for a quick but controlled glimpse of the factory.
This would be the culmination of almost everyone else's tour.
-In fact, everyone else's tour ends right here.
But, because it's you and your dream bicycle...
-You're very kind.
-We'd like to take you past the red door.
Past the red door!
Like Campagnolo, Chris King is trying to compete in an aggressive marketplace,
and guards its patents carefully.
The headset joins the handlebars and stem to the frame of the bike,
and Chris King's are world famous for their craftsmanship and longevity.
We finish our whistle-stop factory tour just in time for lunch.
-Come on in to the cafe.
-Thank you very much.
There's a very strong bike ethic at this company. Employees are actively encouraged
to commute to work on two wheels, rather than four.
One of the main ways that we promote cycling for our employees
is, when they ride to work, they get credit.
-And that credit can be used in the cafe.
Also, two months out of the year, we have a bike commute challenge.
Where, if you ride your bike to work and home every day, you get two extra days of paid time off.
After lunch, it's time for me to collect my headset.
Despite all the dazzling colours available, I plump for plain old silver.
Going for a touch of class.
Your headset's lined up, ready for your dream bike.
along with all these other headsets, they're going to go on somebody's dream bicycle as well.
-That for me?
Thank you very much indeed.
-Thank you for putting that together.
-Very kind. Chris...
-I really am very, very excited to have this in my hand.
Now, pack that up, fly over, and we'll do a ride here.
-Great, that would be lovely. I'll be back.
The city of Portland celebrates the bicycle with an annual event called the Bridge Pedal.
The major bridges and the city centre are closed to cars.
18,000 people turn out on bikes in an emphatic statement of the city's commitment to two wheels.
It makes a powerful impression upon me.
# When I'm out on my bike It's a different mood
# I leave my brain at home Get up in the saddle
# No hanging around I don't diddle-daddle
# I work my legs, I pump my thighs
# Take in the scenery passing me by
# So come on Get up on your bike... #
You really have got the full spectrum of the cycling world out today, which is wonderful.
Guys on their hand-built recumbents, and people on some pretty obscure tandems, right the way through to
kids on their bike, and people who get their bike out of the garage once a year for this.
And it's really, really lovely to see.
The full spread of humanity on bicycles.
Riding around Portland.
American cities are still enslaved to the automobile,
but Portland is proof that, if you create the right environment, people will ride bicycles.
Health concerns, climate change, oil prices,
these things are driving the bicycle back into public consciousness.
I've got my wheels and my headset, it's time for me to leave America and head for home.
Portland's not the only city enjoying a renaissance in cycling.
In London a new era of the bicycle is dawning, heralded by its own celebrity mayor.
# London calling to the faraway towns
# Now war is declared And battle come down... #
Around 50,000 Londoners have hit the streets for the mayor of London's Sky Ride.
The bicycle is right up there with the printing press and the
internet as one of the great liberating forces of humanity.
With the automobile itself.
It's clean, it's green, you can look up at the trees, you can absorb the beauty of the city,
and you feel good.
You get to your meeting or whatever you've got to do,
with your endorphins coursing through your bloodstream, in a good frame of mind.
Ideas popping out of every orifice. You're there to work.
It's a fantastic way of commuting, and obviously we hope very much to increase it.
We might, perhaps, be at the dawn of a new golden age of the bicycle. Do you get that sense?
-Don't forget, that in about 1904, 20% of all journeys in London were made by bicycle.
-Is that right?
But we're now back down to 1 or 2%.
We need to go back to the future.
We need to rediscover the joys of this brilliantly simple machine.
The number of cyclists in London almost doubled between 2000 and 2007.
Once famous for its congestion and smog, London is slowly earning a reputation as a cycle friendly city.
What do you think about when you're riding your bicycle?
I think about absolutely everything.
I compose poems in my head, I think about the next meeting, I have ideas.
What I really feel is a sense of sympathy and sorrow for those
-who are stuck, pointlessly, on their own, in motor vehicles. In traffic jams.
-Aye to that.
Bending their steering wheels like pretzels in frustration,
-and I really urge them to get out and get on their bikes.
OK, love, you ready? Follow me.
I've come back to Rourke's Cycles, where Brian's son, Jason, is going to paint my frame.
It's the moment I've been dreading most of all, as I finally have to decide on the colour.
That's been popular over the last few years, that sort of dark grey.
-Has it? Really?
-That's the colour we've just done Muhammad Ali's bike.
-The colour of blood.
-If it's good enough for Muhammad Ali, it's good enough for you!
Pink, no! Purple?
20 years ago, I'd let you have that colour.
That Bianchi blue, is it? It is quite nice, that, isn't it?
-You talked about a dark blue, didn't you?
There's a dark blue.
-How would that go with the orange, do you think?
-I wouldn't go that way.
-We're never going to agree on this, are we?
-No. It's my idea of hell.
I'm great at procrastinating about which socks to put on in the morning,
now I've got to choose what colour my bike's going to be. Oh, no!
-Here we go!
-There's a few more.
Where's an orange? Give me an orange!
-Electric orange, come on!
That's actually, as Jeremy Clarkson calls it, ASBO orange.
I have got a slightly brighter orange.
-So that would come out brighter, would it?
After an hour of agonising deliberation, I finally make up my mind.
OK. Blue and orange.
-I'm going for it.
-Let's do it before you change your mind.
I really like it, I just hope it goes with the blue.
Look at that!
With its final coat of lacquer, my bike is hung up to dry.
At last, it's time to assemble all the parts I've collected from around the world.
Brian's lead mechanic, Matt, works his magic on building the bicycle.
My dream bike is finally coming to life.
It's cost me just over four grand, and a journey of 11,000 miles.
It might just have the largest carbon footprint in the history of cycling, but I'm not that worried.
I'll be offsetting it daily for the rest of my life.
There's an element of sadness, of course,
because it's been a great journey we've been on,
and this really is the culmination of it, the bike being put together.
But, with that, there is also a silver lining to that cloud.
And the silver lining is, this millimetre-perfect
incarnation of one of mankind's greatest inventions.
I'm about to go on my new bike for the very, very first time.
Again, enjoy the ride!
This bike reflects my lifelong love affair with the bicycle.
It also carries my future hopes.
You make a covenant with a machine like this, to look after it for as long as it spirits you away.
We're equal partners, then, in a relationship that will last decades.
It's very alive.
Alive with the...
skill of the people who made it.
It feels very tight, obviously, because it's brand new.
I want to ride around the world!
Everything I've seen on this journey suggests the bicycle is in good hands.
Our ancestors thought it one of their greatest achievements.
This idea is coming back into fashion.
Guided by craftsmen, expert engineers and innovators.
And by the strong communities that exist wherever the bicycle thrives.
We are at the dawn of a new golden age of the bicycle.
Long may you ride!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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