Thursday, July 7, 2016

Retrogrouch Reads: Paul Smith's Cycling Scrapbook

"Cycling has always been the sport for me," writes noted fashion designer Paul Smith in the Prologue of his new book Paul Smith's Cycling Scrapbook -- an aptly named exhibition of all things cycling from a lifetime of collecting. Jammed with hundreds of photos, artwork, and stories, Smith's book describes his love and fascination with the sport's legends, the bikes and equipment, its ephemera, and even its "look" -- all of which have influenced and inspired one of the world's most successful and celebrated designers.

Many people probably already know the backstory on Smith, who raced with the cycling club scene in England's midlands in the early '60s with ambitions of being a professional racer until a bad crash put an end to that dream. During his lengthy recuperation, he discovered the world of art and design, which opened up a new ambition, effectively changing the direction of his life -- but cycling always remained a special part of it.

The large format volume (approximately 10 x 14 in. and over 250 pages) is divided into a number of chapters, such as The Heroes, The Look, Great Races, The Jerseys, My Bikes, and more.
Smith as a teen with the Beeston Road Club near Nottingham (left) and the wrecked Mercian that marked the end of his racing ambitions (right).
Under Heroes, one will find features about some of cycling's legends from the '50s through the '70s, including such greats as Coppi, Bartali, Anquetil, Poulidor, Merckx, and others. Photos, paintings, and magazine covers and clippings help tell their stories.
Smith has an extensive collection of racing jerseys and promotional items from the classic era from which he draws inspiration. He also has a number of jerseys from today's stars, as well. 
"Sometimes a visitor will come to my office for the first time and mistake it for a bike shed," Smith writes in the chapter on his bike collection. He has quite a few bikes, some of which were built specially for him, while others have been gifts from racing sponsors (Pinarello and Sky) or racers themselves (such as Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins). Some, like these Mercians, were special collaborations with the companies that built them, designed with Smith's particular sense of style and color.
Though not included in Smith's Scrapbook, I was lucky enough to see his original design boards for the Paul Smith/Mercian collaboration shown above. And what a fantastic surprise to see one of my own bikes pictured among his sketches and color swatches.
Paul Smith's Cycling Scrapbook, (published by Thames & Hudson) is a "must have" for any vintage cycling geek, but the text is written in a way that would appeal to anybody interested in a behind-the-scenes look at a famous designer's motivation and inspiration. The book lists for $50, but can be found for less through online retailers.


  1. You think that wrecked Mercian just needed a fork? It doesn't actually look THAT bad in the photo. Maybe it's still up in his Mom's attic 50 years on, forgotten under a pile of croquet mallets and railroad-ties...

    If you ever bump into Mr. Smith, tell him I'll give him a $50 for it.


    1. It's unlikely I'll ever bump into Paul Smith - but if I do, I'll be sure to ask him about it. You could be right that it would only need a new fork, but it's hard to tell from that angle. Any crash that damages a fork like that could also put a little bit of a ripple in the top and down tubes just behind the head tube. Who knows?

    2. While you're at it, ask him why the bike he wrecked in the early 60s had late Campy brake levers with the fancy cut-outs from 10+ years in the future and what appears to be late Campy pedals without the toe-strap loop! The State would like to introduce the idea that the defendant is LYING! It's also interesting that it appears the steerer mounted front cable hanger was forced up over the headset locknut, past the stem and the handlebars were squeezed through the 1" hole in the hanger... Although I suppose anything can happen in a collision violent enough to flip the forks precisely 180 degrees and knock all the bearings out of the rear wheel he was using on the front of the bike.

      While I do love me a conspiracy, I think it's more likely a photo of another bike standing in for the long gone bike of his youth rather than a case of fibbing.

      On a barely related note, when did the Mercian on-line-framebuilder thing stop calculating cost? It takes some of the giddy excitement out of spending hours and hours designing bikes I can't afford when you have to keep a pad handy with a running total of all the braze-ons, Barbour Poles, etc.


    3. I can't believe I'm going to engage this "conspiracy" but I think the accident happened in the late 60s - he started racing in the earlier 60s. I think there are more likely explanations for the cable hanger observation - like maybe somebody did some things with the wrecked bike before photographing it (notice the front brake is gone, too). It's also possible that it isn't the same bike, but rather "stand in" to me illustrate the point. Hardly anything to get worked up about.

      As to the online frame builder, I think it is that way because prices and such need to be updated.