Cyclepedia – A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs

New book by Michael Embacher with photos by Bernhard Angerer and foreword by Paul Smith

Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0-500-51558-7

In 2007, a book entitled ‘Smart Move’ was published in Austria, in a single German and English edition. It was written by Michael Embacher, an architect and designer based in Vienna, who has ‘an endless enthusiasm’ for bicycles. Michael has amassed an immense collection of beautifully conserved machines and ‘Smart Move’ showcased a selection of them. Two things made the book special: the quality of the photography and the wide variety of bicycles featured. Michael Embacher’s new book, ‘Cyclepedia – A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs’, takes the ‘Smart Move’ format a mighty step forward in an all-English edition published in London by Thames & Hudson.

Anyone who has ever worked on a book about bicycles will appreciate how hard it is to get really good (as distinct from merely adequate) photographs of bikes. By their nature, bicycles are skeletal, so the background and surroundings show through the frame and wheels, distracting the eye. Lighting is always difficult, as ambient light is often insipid or over bright, whereas flash creates confusing shadows. In an ideal world, all bicycles would be carefully cleaned and polished, then photographed in a specially erected studio set, with carefully arranged lighting, taking as much time as is necessary to create the optimal images. In the real world, this hardly ever happens but it’s exactly what photographer Bernhard Angerer did for ‘Cyclepedia’. The results are stunning – 457 superb photographs, complemented by colour printing that’s about as good as it gets. You may even find yourself lightly running your fingers over the front cover as you marvel at the slightly raised printing of the bicycle images on it.

The range of machines covered is the other area where, like its predecessor, this book excels. The 100 machines featured here (98 bicycles and two trikes) include many different classes of cycle. They come from France, Germany, Japan, Austria, Taiwan, the USA, Denmark, Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium. Some of the machines shown are very rare indeed. They weren’t all great successes but are featured because of their interesting design. Indeed, 35 pages are devoted to ‘curiosity’ designs. Folding bicycles are given 24 pages, racing bikes 38, touring bikes 19, mountain bikes 5, single-speeds get 10 and urban bikes have 26 pages. Cargo bikes, kids’ machines and tandems also receive some coverage. One thing all the featured bikes have in common is this: the author has tested each personally and they are all roadworthy.

The book has an excellent index, including small photos of all the bikes. There is a timeline chart showing the date and country of origin of each machine. There is also a list of all the machines in weight order, from the lightest to the heaviest. British fashion designer Paul Smith provides the book’s foreword. He concludes, ‘To be honest, it’s just better to look at the book because words alone cannot describe these terrific cycles’. Nonetheless, Michael Embacher’s comments on each machine are worth reading, as they provide background information and the insights of a professional designer who is also an avid bicycle enthusiast. The book also includes a very brief history of the bicycle, provided by Michael Zappe and Mertin Strubreiter.

This book has 224 pages. The hard cover is 11 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall and the spine is an inch thick. One might normally expect to pay about £40 for a book of this size and quality. At under £20 recommended retail price, it’s a bargain.

Tony Hadland