THE STORY OF A BIKE
Author: Paul Greasley
Publisher: Paul Greasley
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
‘The Story of a Bike’ is a brief but informative history of the Lotus 110 bike, and its predecessor the 108. Although both experienced fleeting success in competition, more interest is to be found behind the scenes in the commercial world. This book would make a good case study in a business class: you soon realise how different decisions or timing could so easily have changed the outcome for Lotus, and that any success was sometimes achieved despite themselves.
Rarely has a bike been more associated with one event and one person than the Lotus 108 track bike – at least for a British audience: the 4,000 metre individual pursuit at the Barcelona Olympics, with Chris Boardman. The 108 later begat the 110, and Greasley argues that without the Lotus bikes, “the course of British cycling, including the successes it has enjoyed since 1992, would have been very different.”
Lest you think that he is over-stating the case, bear in mind that in his recent book ‘The Medal Factory’, Kenny Pryde also concluded that “the birth of the golden age of British cycling can be pinned to 29 July 1992 in Barcelona”.
Not surprisingly, much has been written about that event, the bike, and the people behind it - including its origins in a machine designed by Mike Burrows. However, that was the pinnacle of a very short career for the 108, and “competitively, in the space of five months, it was all over.” Greasley gives a condensed history of the 108, but devotes most of his book to its successor, the 110 road bike: it has received a lot less coverage, but it’s an equally interesting story.
With the 110 the focus moves onto a Lotus employee Rudy Thomann, and later Richard Hill. It’s a story of money, ownership, incompetence, and power struggles in the corporate world – and a bit of sporting success as well. The latter peaked with a win in the 1994 Tour de France by Boardman, in which he “completed the Prologue’s 7.2km course in 7 minutes 49.77 seconds and averaged 55.2kph, (an achievement that would not be bettered for 21 years).”
As for the corporate shenanigans, right from the start Greasley reports on a “bitterly divided board. The fledgling secret project had already polarised opinion as influential voices within Lotus declared their opposition to it and that the funding required for the bike could be better invested elsewhere in the company.”
In his book ‘From Bicycle to Superbike’, Mike Burrows went further: “the members of the Lotus board planned to buy the company from GM, so they wanted a low company valuation. From their perspective, anything that raised the value of the firm was to be discouraged. So, the much publicised and highly successful LotusSport bike was the last thing they needed.”
Obviously this was in contrast to the General Motors view, “who could see the value of an asset they wished to dispose of increasing by the month”: it is a reminder that no matter how it looks from the outside, there are inevitably tensions behind the scenes in almost any business.
The minority on the board ultimately got what they wanted by dint of some questionable production, marketing, and distribution decisions – but it took the UCI to deliver the final blow. The 1996 Lugano Charter effectively “outlawed any frame that did not conform to a traditional ‘Double Diamond’ design” for road and track competition.
Whilst there are several bike brands that support an owner’s club, like Lotus bikes http://www.lotus110.com/ , I am not aware of any other bike that has had a complete book written about it: publications about Moulton and Brompton perhaps come close, but are more wide-ranging.
The biggest challenge that this book will have is to overcome is reaction to the price: £30 is quite a lot for any book, but with a mere 52 pages it does not represent good value by any conventional measure. Sure, it is beautifully presented, and there are copious colour illustrations, but the amount of text amounts to little more than a decent chapter or two in many books.
However, a self-published book such as this sits outside mainstream publishing standards and serves a niche audience, so the resulting small print runs will inevitably increase costs. Furthermore, the audience may be small, but they are committed, enthusiastic – and will surely welcome any opportunity to inform the world about this important part of our history.
As the historian of the Lotus 110 Club, Greasley is better placed than most to document the highs and lows of the bike’s history, writing articles in, for example, Cyclist magazine.
Another result of taking the self-publishing route is that the book won’t be available though any of the usual channels, but only through this specialist website https://buzzartcollection.com/ .
REVIEW PUBLISHED APRIL 2020