Brooks England is a cycling institution. For 150 years, its storied leather saddles have bumped bums with the best of them, earning cult status. Now, to celebrate Brooks' 150th birthday, designer Ron Arad, fashion's Sir Paul Smith and photographer Martin Parr (along with a veritable peloton of others) have contributed to a new tome celebrating cycling culture. If you're quick off the mark, 50 limited edition versions come with a signed Parr print taken in the Brooks factory.
Filled with stories, anecdotes, photography, design and historical ephemera, the book reflects Brooks England's position as much more than a saddle manufacturer. After being bought by the Italian company Selle Royal in 2002, Brooks had an opportunity to push forward with new ideas, cleaving a foothold in the wider 'lifestyle brand' arena. Today, Brooks is known for its beautifully crafted leather bags, jackets and cycling accessories as much as its saddles.
Paul Smith contributed to the 'Made in Britain' chapter
The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture, with its broad range of collaborators, reflects this widening ethos. 'We wanted to show how we have injected new life into the brand,' explains global communications director, Michela Raoss, who was pivotal in bringing the book to life. 'We are becoming more modern. We have more interaction with art, design and fashion.' Because of this rejuvenated attitude, Brooks chose contributors who didn't necessarily have a longstanding relationship with the brand – or even a particularly strong affinity with cycling. 'We just wanted people who could tell the story of cycling in the best possible way.'
Take Martin Parr for instance, who isn't known for his cycling spirit. Instead, he's known for his unique ability to capture the 'British-ness' of a place in his photography. In 2015, he travelled to the Brooks factory near Birmingham to photograph its craftspeople and atmosphere. The resulting image series, seen here in full, is understated, nostalgic and unmistakably 'Brummie'.
Ron Arad's contribution to the 'Made in Britain' chapter
Other contributors have more of a vested interest in bikes. 'Until the age of 17 I only thought about being a bike rider,' Sir Paul Smith writes. 'Then I crashed badly, and the injury stopped me racing. I met these art students in the pub who taught me about strange things called "Bauhaus" and "Kandinsky"... I soon realised I could use inventiveness to make a living.'
The idea of inventiveness crops up continually. Ron Arad prizes it highly in his essay on British design education, in which bikes aren't mentioned at all. In this way, the Compendium is as much about forward-thinking creativity and ingenuity as it is about cycling. It's a clever idea from the Italian management, who continue to pitch Brooks England as a 'wide-ranging' brand, where a contemporary design ethos is just as important as a longstanding cycling history.