This book has at its core the story of one mans involvement in cycling, from being a callow youth in the 1950’s, to riding round Richmond park in the 1990’s. Interlaced is a social history of cycling in Britain and discussions about its place in the arts!
Charlie Woods was a club cyclist in the 1950’s who rode for London based club the Westwelve. Charlie recounts his rides with the club, the weekly club runs, the characters both in his club and other local clubs, as well as discussing those perennial cyclists pass times such as lusting over foreign exotica and beating your fellow riders in unofficial races on rides. Like many young riders, Charlie moves away from bicycles when he discovers women and motor vehicles, only coming back into the fold during the 70’s and 80’s from meeting old friends and watching too much cycling on television. In these more recent sections he discusses how riding has changed from his youth, more traffic, less cyclists, fewer club runs. Those few races Charlie does enter are mentioned almost as afterthoughts rather than as a litany of races entered, position gained, which fill some sporting books.
The book, as its subtitle may suggest is biased towards racing cycles, rather than cycling as a whole. Charlie refers to mountain bikes as grotesques with fat tyres on more than one occasion. This stems from his falling in love with skinny tubed road cycles from the 1950’s and how to his eye, this is a “proper” bicycle with the correct form and function. Although, he acknowledges that people on bicycles, even ones he dislike on aesthetic grounds, is a good thing. What his views are on modern aluminium framed road bikes aren’t stated.
The social history aspects of the book are fascinating, as Charlie discuss falling in love with racing on the continent through the pages of foreign magazines in the fifties, which can only be purchased from a select few shops in London. How the clothing has evolved from open necked shirts and plus fours in the fifties to modern lycra, how going to the continent opens his eyes from the monochrome pictures to the technicolor of the peloton in full flight.
The most unusual aspects of the book are the discussions about cycling and its place in the arts. Cycling films are covered, as is some literature, including both books and magazines. A large aspect revolves around cycling on the television, how Eurosport has revolutionised the public’s view of the sport, bringing a wider audience and fan base for the sport. The section on television includes how watching the sport on television helps get Charlie back into the cycling, as well as a slightly unusual discourse on the eroticism of cycling on television. Finally there is even a chapter on cycling in painting, focussing particularly on the artist Anthony Green.
Overall the book is fascinating, not as much for Charlie’s cycling career, as he was never a professional nor does he dwell on his achievements. But its strength is really as a eulogy to a bygone world of cycling and a discourse on how cycling itself has evolved in Britain over the last 50 years and its social impact.