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Bicycle History
A Chronological Cycling History of People, Races, and Technology

By James Witherell, M.S. Ed.

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ISBN: 978-0-9859636-5-1
Suggested Retail price: $16.95 US
6 x 9 paperback, 254 pages
Publisher: McGann Publishing

About the book
About the author | Bicycle History video
Sample text from Bicycle HistoryBicycle History book cover

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Advance word on James Witherell's Bicycle History:

"Were the television show Jeopardy to do a cycling-themed edition, Mr. Witherell's book could easily serve as the basis for each of the show's pieces of trivia. Bicycle History is a delightful volume that is as difficult to put down as a great glass of wine. The book is grab-bag of surprises, reminding us of forgotten riders, details lost to time and triumphs of both people and technology. It delivers to the reader fact upon fact that weave a tapestry of cycling history unlike any I've encountered. I can hear Trebek now: 'This American won the Grand Prix de la Côte d'Azur in 1940.' " —Patrick Brady, Editor Red Kite Prayer (Mr. Brady discontinued Red Kite Prayer and now edits The Cycling Independent)

About the book:

Bicycle History

James Witherell has been collecting information about cycling history for decades. File cards, each with it own vital, odd, interesting or strange tidbit of cycling lore, fill box after box in his home in Maine. Witherell arranged this trove of information chronologically and the result is a clear picture of cycling culture and the advance of bicycle technology. Reading Bicycle History is like eating peanuts. It's almost impossible to stop. Witherell has given particular attention to the Tour de France. Each year has a section devoted to the French national tour.

The book has been updated in 2016 to include material through 2015.

About the author:

James Witherell is a Maine native and avid cyclist with about 15 bicycles. He has won three state time trial titles in his age category and rode 200 miles in 11½ hours on his 52nd birthday. Jim served in the US Army during the Vietnam era (in Germany), and graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with degrees in English and psychology. He also has a master's degree in counselor education from the University of Southern Maine, and is a Registered Maine Guide. He lives in Lewiston, Maine, with his companion, Sue, and a slightly crazy Maine Coon Cat. He is currently working on books about the Tour de France and L. L. Bean.

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A sample year from Bicycle History


•Swiss rider Oscar Egg covers 44.247 kilometers (27.495 miles) to reclaim the hour record from France's Marcel Berthet. Egg's record would stand for 20 years. Berthet and Egg would be the only riders to hold the hour record three times until Britain's Chris Boardman reestablishes the "non-aero" mark 86 years later.

•The sixth Giro d'Italia, the first to be scored on the basis of overall time, is won by Alfonso Calzolari.

•Cycling great Gino Bartali is born on July 18.

•Velodrome riders who follow pacers begin riding a new type of bicycle which is much faster but also more dangerous. The new machine 'that looks like a freak" alongside the era's ordinary lightweight safety bicycles, "is constructed with a large rear wheel and a small front wheel, which throws the rider's weight forward and nearer to the pacing machine. The front forks of the bicycle are turned backward, and the rider is sitting nearly over the front wheel." The danger comes from the bike's design which has its front wheel revolving between the circling pedals, making accident-avoiding quick turns very difficult to execute.

•On September 2, Bobby Walthour sets a new record for the paced fifty miles, covering the distance in 1:02:49. Walthour's feat is witnessed by 6,000 spectators at the Brighton Beach Velodrome. Walthour laps the entire field, except for Clarence Carman, by the fifth mile.

•In the Six Days of New York, Australians Alf Goulet and Alfred Grenda ride 2,759 miles plus one lap, which is still a record.

In the Tour de France:

•Belgian rider Philippe Thys (Alcyon) leads the race start to finish, and becomes the first foreigner to win two Tours de France.

•The racers' numbers are affixed to the frames of their bicycles.

•L'Auto's average circulation jumps to 320,000 readers during the Tour de France.

•Nearly all the riders use the Eadie two-speed hub gear and freewheel.

•Thys' margin of victory (1:40) is the race's smallest prior to 1956.

•The riders climb the Ballon d'Alsace twice in 24 hours.

•Two Australian riders, Don Kirkham and Iddo "Snowy" Munro, complete the Tour in 17th and 20th places respectively.

•The Peugeot-Wolber team wins 12 of the race's 15 stages.

•All living Tour winners from 1905 through 1923 (Louis Trousselier, Lucien Petit-Breton, François Faber, Octave Lapize, Gustave Garrigou, Odile Defray, Philippe Thys, Firmin Lambot, Leon Scieur and Henri Pélissier) start the 1914 Tour de France as well as 1926 winner Lucien Buysse.

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During The Great War:

•On August 3, 1914, Germany declares war on France. Nothing if not patriotic, Tour boss Henri Desgrange prints an impassioned plea (in red ink) in L’Auto imploring the country's cyclists and other good Frenchmen to become Poilus (hairy, tough soldiers) in La Grande Guerre and go into battle for the defense of France. He wrote in part:

•For 14 years, L'Auto has appeared every day. It has never let you down. So listen up my dear fellows, my dear Frenchmen. There can be no question that a Frenchman succumbs to a German. Go! Go without pity!

And his patriotism doesn't stop at merely calling his countrymen to arms. Now nearly fifty years old, the feisty Desgrange shows up at the conscription station in Autan and offers himself for service. He's accepted as a foot soldier, and will win the Croix de Guerre, and be made an officer shortly before his discharge. All the while he continues to write for L'Auto under the pseudonym "Desgrenier."

•One of the first Tour riders to be lost in the war is France's Emile Engel (killed September 14 at Maurupt-le-Montois) who'd finished tenth in 1913 and won the third stage of the 1914 Tour.

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Bicycle History book trailer