The Golden Age Classic Edition

The Golden Age Classic Edition

Rizzoli USA recently re-released The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles as part of their “Classics” series. This series offers their most popular books in a slightly smaller, handy format at a very attractive price.
Of course, I am excited that this book is considered a bestseller (at least among art and architecture books) and a classic. When I decided to write a book about what were then obscure French bikes and their riders, I never dreamed that names like “René Herse” and “Alex Singer” would become recognized by many cyclists, and that “decaleur” and “constructeur” would enter the lexicon of cycling terminology in the U.S.
The story of the constructeurs is truly fascinating, and once we had found the 50 bikes that are featured in the book and photographed them, the book almost wrote itself. During the research, I met many amazing people and forged lasting friendships with cyclists for whom cycling was not just a pastime, but a way of life. They have inspired me, and I was honored to be accepted as one of them. Sadly, some of them no longer are with us – we just published Gilbert Bulté’s obituary. (He is on the back of the tandem in the photo above.)
Making the book was a formidable adventure. First I traveled to France to scout the bicycles we were going to include. A few months later, photographer Jean-Pierre Pradères, his assistant Eric and I spent a month touring around France with a portable photo studio.
In one location, we photographed the bikes in the chapel of a medieval grange. In Avignon, we worked in a carport. There, we could only shoot at night, since strong sunlight of Provence would have messed up the white balance of the photos. I still wonder what the neighbors thought when ultra-bright flashbulbs were going off all night.
For me, the best part was to prepare each bike for photography. For an hour or two, I cleaned each of them, fixed minor problems, sometimes even replaced incorrect components that had been added or were missing. Getting so closely involved with the bikes made it easy to  decide which details we were going to photograph. And one generous family of collectors even let me ride all the ones that were rideable, including the 1920s Retrodirecte (below). I learned a lot about these bikes during this process.
When Rizzoli came to us last year with the idea of a new edition, we used the opportunity to update the text based on information that has come to light in recent years. We’ve also re-edited the images, often starting with the original medium-format positives, to make these wonderful bikes even more brilliant and seductive.
The new book is a little smaller than the other editions. Above is my own well-used first edition underneath the new book. The significantly better image quality makes up for the slightly smaller page size. I think the latest edition is the best one yet!
The new edition is now in stock, for $ 35.

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Comments (16)

  • Gerard

    Nice format/size!
    Can I ask what methods are most commonly used to keep bikes upright for photography without visible support? Are things usually just fixed in post-production?

    March 20, 2015 at 5:52 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The bike is kept upright by an invisible support… I don’t want to divulge the photographer’s trade secrets here, so that is all I can say.

      March 20, 2015 at 7:23 am
    • marmotte27

      I think the support may -just- be visible on page 35. The general invisibility in the pictures is a result of lighting and exposure. Any traces of the support that might still be left could then be photoshopped out, which may have been omitted at this particular image. I could of course be completely wrong.

      March 20, 2015 at 8:04 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        You are right, any remains of the supports are removed with Photoshop. Our photographer is old-school, from the days when retouching was laborious hand-work, so he is keen to get the initial photo right without the need for much retouching.

        March 20, 2015 at 8:36 am
  • Hywel

    Hi Jan,
    I have the first edition and it inspired me to learn about and make my own French style randonneur bicycle, in my shed out back, I have taken it on tours in France and Spain and have now just finished a second bike for my wife. So thanks for a truly inspirational and beautifully produced book which has had a big effect.
    Plymouth, England

    March 20, 2015 at 5:53 am
  • Cory

    I already own the first edition which happens to be boxed away in Toronto. I could definitely use a version to keep with me while living in Scotland! Between this book and the Toei book I think I’ll be in book heaven.

    March 20, 2015 at 6:16 am
  • Paul Richard

    Nothing helps me get through the long NH winters like flipping through the pages of “The Golden Age Of Handbuilt Bicycles”. Over the years of reading BQ, I have also been fascinated by pictures and stories of the shops where these bikes and components were made. I’d love to see a sort of photo collection of Singer’s shop in Paris, Weigle’s shop in CT, etc. I love seeing the hand tools and lathes, custom jigs, and the ancient workbenches stained with decades of crafsmanship. Some of them are neat and tidy, while some are chaotic, but they make for interesting photos and reading.

    March 20, 2015 at 9:03 am
  • aztris

    For $35 it’s too good to pass up. Just ordered my copy. However, $7.49 for media mail delivery service is a bit disappointing.

    March 20, 2015 at 10:27 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Even though the price is affordable, it’s still a big book, 168 pages thick, printed on heavy, coated stock. We ship them in a special box with custom-made corners made from recycled foam, so it doesn’t get damaged in the mail. I think it’s better to pay an extra dollar for shipping than to receive a book with bumped corners.
      We’ll look at the shipping weight and make sure the shopping cart doesn’t overcharge, though. And with all orders, if the shipping charges come out to significantly less than what you pay, we refund your credit card/Paypal account.

      March 20, 2015 at 10:31 am
      • aztris

        Good to know! Looking forward to receiving my copy (and my SON Delux hopefully arriving today).

        March 20, 2015 at 10:56 am
  • David Feldman

    As a working bike mechanic and someone who started cycling when many of the features of these bikes were more commonplace, the book in addition to being a study of beautiful mechanical objects is a catalog of examples of “nothing new under the sun.” Those things just happen to look better in French steel than Chinese plastic! Everybody who loves bikes needs this book as well as the companion “The Competition Bicycle.” No, I’m NOT a Compass employee.

    March 20, 2015 at 11:56 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      No, I’m NOT a Compass employee.

      If we ever start to offer handbuilt wheels, we’ll have to hire you first! (David runs a bike shop in Vancouver, WA, and builds excellent wheels that have equipped several of our test bikes from various Oregon builders.)

      March 20, 2015 at 12:25 pm
  • Jim

    The shipping care is superb. Just got my Rene Herse book a couple of weeks ago. It was boxed in heavy cardboard, the foam isolation corners preserved everything square and the air space around the edges and covers preserved them from a cut that had penetrated the box. I think Canada Post had drop kicked the thing around the sorting facility before delivery but it came out of the box in perfect condition. And I did get a refund on the initial shipping charge as well. Great service, Jan.

    March 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm
  • -tom

    Let me be another to commend you on your care in shipping your items. I’ve made several recent orders of your books and printed materials, and each has arrived carefully and thoughtfully packaged to avoid damage in transit. I, for one, am perfectly happy to pay a bit extra for this added insurance against damage. Keep up the fabulous work!

    March 20, 2015 at 9:48 pm
  • Peter

    Does the new edition include the images of bike-dimensions and geometry as an appendix?

    March 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm

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