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Andy McGrath's Tom Simpson: Bird On The Wire is a beautifully written and designed book that brings a new dimension to a much covered cyclist thanks to some fantastic imagery and insightful writing.
Tom Simpson was one of the most widely respected cyclists in the professional peloton in the early 1960s and became the darling of British racing, arguably becoming the cyclist who paved the way for the likes of Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish to become world beaters. Fifty years after his famous death there has been a huge amount of commemoration, including this book.
The hard cover book is 224 pages of high quality printing, interesting commentary on the man himself, but most importantly a huge variety of amazing photos of Simpson.
I've read about Tom Simpson a lot in the past few years, having been given a bike originally put together by Harry Hall, the mechanic who famously 'put him back on his bike', and I am familiar with his story. Unlike most other books I've read on Simpson, McGrath's offering concentrates more on specific periods in a non-linear fashion. For instance, the first chapter discusses Simpson winning the Rainbow Jersey, before going on to discuss his early life and move over to Europe.
There are chapters discussing specific race types, such as Monument Man, which looks at his successes in the early season monuments, and Je T'aime, Moi Non Plus, which takes you through his various Tours. It's an engaging and in many ways logical way to look at Tom Simpson's life and achievements.
One thing that sets this book apart is the amazing imagery used throughout. It is easy to get an understanding of the kind of personality that Simpson had from other books about him, and of course his autobiography, but when these descriptions are next to a full page image of him, you get a real sense of the man himself; they really help to bring his personality alive, from the stupid hats and almost constant smile, through to the suffering on his face as he climbs. It also manages to be emotional while staying classy; I've seen far too many images of Simpson in his final moments and to be honest, I hate them, they seem morbid and do little to actually tell the story of who he was.
The writing is really interesting, with insightful quotes from Simpson's team mates, friends, and family members. There is also a foreword from Bradley Wiggins giving his thoughts on Simpson and how his story impacted him during his career.
It's also a really well-designed book, with high definition pictures and loads of white space, making it both easy to read and good looking.
Its RRP of £36 is about what I'd expect for a hard cover coffee table book – even one with a Rapha logo on the cover.
Overall, I was really impressed with this book. As somebody who has done a fair amount of reading on Tom Simpson I thought it would be a case of more or less checking that all the important facts were in there, but in reality I felt like I got to know Tom's personality better than I did before. McGrath can be proud of a book that looks great and reads well.
Excellent coffee table book that really manages to bring out Tom Simpson's personality
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Tom Simpson: Bird On The Wire
Size tested: Hardback
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Rapha says: 'A new biography of British cycling's greatest icon Tom Simpson, guided by rare photography and untold stories from those closest to him, with a foreword by Sir Bradley Wiggins.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
From the publisher:
New biography of Tom Simpson
Foreword by Sir Bradley Wiggins
Extent: 224 pages
Imprint: Bloomsbury Sport
Illustrations: Over 130 photographs, many never before seen
Dimensions: 280 x 245 mm
Really well-made hardback book, strong binding and thick pages.
Really well made, incredible photographs, worth the RRP.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well, McGrath has managed to source some amazing photos of the man while also writing passionately about his life.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The images sourced are amazing and really bring Simpson's personality through.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not a lot to not like, a thoroughly excellent book.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
A superbly written book, very well designed and with some rarely seen and fascinating photographs.
About the tester
I usually ride: Mercian King of Mercia or Cinelli Gazzetta My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
George is the host of the road.cc podcast and has been writing for road.cc since 2014. He has reviewed everything from a saddle with a shark fin through to a set of glasses with a HUD and everything in between.
Although, ironically, spending more time writing and talking about cycling than on the bike nowadays, he still manages to do a couple of decent rides every week on his ever changing number of bikes.