First Look: Brooks England celebrates 150 years of cycling

The British saddle brand’s new book explores its roots and the bicycle’s cultural impact

In 1865, with £20 in his pocket, John Boultbee Brooks moved to Birmingham and set up his namesake brand, first selling general leather goods. After 10 years, the brand made little progress but had a fortuitous change in direction after Brooks’s horse, which he rode to work every day, died.

His friend lent him his bicycle as a replacement because Brooks had not earned enough to buy a new horse. This ‘boneshaker’ bicycle – as they were known in Britain – was so uncomfortable that it prompted Brooks to explore ways to make his seat more accommodating.

He accomplished this by using the materials he had at his disposal and today, 150 years later, Brooks England is known around the world for its quality leather seats, which have a devout following among bike enthusiasts.

With contributions from a variety of writers, artists, journalists, designers, photographers, and illustrators, The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture includes a history on the bicycle’s place in British manufacturing and a photoessay by Martin Parr on the Brooks factory in the West Midlands – not to mention a detailed account of the day in 1878 when brand founder replaced his dead horse for a bicycle.

It also profiles modern day creatives and how British design has influenced their work. Among those featured are Paul Smith, industrial artist Ron Arad, Brompton Bicycles' CEO Will Butler-Adams and tailor Timothy Everest.

In The Brooks Compendium, author Guy Andrews writes: “Cycle commutes do more than set you free of timetables and traffic jams; these trips allow your mind to wander, to solve and to create. That is true freedom.”

And, even if you are delayed one day, just think of Brooks and his horse. For if it wasn’t for that animals demise, your journey would be a lot more uncomfortable.