Richard Ballantine, the world’s most famous cycling writer, died on May 29 in London. He had been ill for some time.
Ballantine’s most celebrated work – Richard’s Bicycle Book – has been inspiring people to take to the saddle since its publication in 1972, and for 40 years Ballantine was one of the greatest champions of pedal power, in all its shapes.
Although from a famous American publishing dynasty, Ballantine moved to live in Britain from the early 1970s. “Richard Grant – his partner on some of the books – always told me that Richard moved to Britain because America wasn’t big enough for him and his father,” his long-time friend and collaborator, legendary bicycle designer Mike Burrows, said.
“They were both strong characters. But the funny things was, at the reception after Richard’s funeral we all realised none of us chatted to Richard about those things because we had always been too busy talking about bicycles.
“I bought my copy of his book in about 1976 and I thought it was wonderful – it inspired me to become a cyclist. Then we knew of each other through our mutual interest in human power vehicles in the early 1980s, and in 1983 Derek Henden brought us all together to join in with the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival – that was the first HPV racing outside of pure record breaking.
“I helped Richard produce his Ultimate Bike Book. And if you look at Richard’s last book – City Cycling – in that he credits me with being the inspiration for the book, which is quite a nice virtuous circle,” Burrows added.
“The energy and dynamism that Richard put into everything was incredible, and everything got the same treatment – road, mountain bike, shopping, recumbent, they were all the same, there was no bias. He was just a wonderfully broad brush who felt all cycling was great and everyone should have lots of bicycles.
“Richard was a great writer but also one of those people who was just nice, that was his overriding characteristic. Obviously what he did was the important thing, and he managed to get people on bicycles. Whoever you bump into, they’ve got a copy of Richard’s Bicycle Book.”
“He once told me that on one occasion, when he was at the height of his fame and doing big German bike shows, he was told he would being meeting the guy from DuPont who designed the Specialized tri-spoke, the first genuinely aerodynamic tri-spoke.
Richard was never an ‘expert’ as such, and he told me he was pretty worried this guy was going to start grilling him. So he walked into the room and this guy grabs Richard by the hand and says: ‘Ah, you’re Richard Ballantine! You’re the guy that put me on a bicycle!'”
This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!