Monday, December 22, 2014

Robert's Bike Book Review- Rebour: The Bicycle Illistrations of Daniel Rebour

By Rob Van der Plas and Frank Berto

Review by Robert Leone, Bike Coalition Board Member

The word “Illustrations” instead of “Art” is used quite deliberately in the title of this vast and wide ranging collection of drawings. Daniel Rebour was an illustrator, focused on depicting the reality of bikes, parts and accessories in understandable ways. He wasn't creating art to hang on the walls, but instead building pictures to inform his bike-riding, or bike-selling, audience. In his heyday, the mid-to-late 1940's and early 1950's, his illustrations from trade and manufacturing shows, from bike races and bike shops, documented and displayed the fascinating products of fertile imaginations increasingly freed from World War II's restrictions on trade and materials.

His five decades or so of productive work, first seen in now-old periodicals (whose widest distribution was in Europe), or out-of-date ephemera such as catalogs, is carefully collected (with captions, and in a few select cases careful endnote descriptions) and sorted into a boggling twenty-eight sections here. This is a good thing in many ways. As time passes, the original sources for this important documentation is increasingly fragmented or lost. Further, someone whose immediate interest is in a certain component or frame part can go directly to the section on “Suspension Systems” or “Drivetrain Components.”

On the other hand, the sheer size and breadth of the book, and of Rebour's lifetime of work, is daunting as a single read. Also daunting: The creativity of the bike trade. As early as the 1940's, there were CO2 inflators. Late 1940's rear derailleur drawings include exploded illustrations of mechanisms whose flat sides are seemingly punched or sawed out of sheet metal or bar stock, and appear one parts list and hardware store trip away from being a home project for the most ambition of home metal workers.

Some of the illustrations are mildly shocking: As late as the 1950's, decades after Tullio Campagnolo supposedly made the world safe for quick wheel changes, even top name competitors in the Tour de France rode on bikes with nutted axles instead of quick-release skewers (admittedly those nutted axles were secured with big wingnuts for ease of change without tools). In light of today's innovations in generator hubs and powerful LED systems, the many illustrations of sidewall generators powering incandescent (even if halogen-bulbed) lights seem quaint. In short, this is a massive collection and celebration of one man's work that documents an important and fruitful era in the technical development of the bicycle. Take a look – you might get an idea!

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