Start at the End: Dan Bigham – review

I really enjoyed this book. I think it’s worth saying this, being up front about it. This is because sometimes you can read a review by someone and not even know whether they liked the book or not. So let’s start at the end with this – I LIKE THIS BOOK.

It’s part-memoir and part engineering/popular science guide to how to achieve your dreams and not let the bastards get you down. I’m fascinated by Dan Bigham and what he has done in terms of track cycling, from the Derbados days to the crazy stuff he now does with Denmark and even his tiny sculpted handlebars. He is a great guy. I have met him a couple of times, although ‘met’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. I forced him into a selfie at the CTT dinner once and made a reference to Derbados in a speech which I think he appreciated.

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He is one of those annoyingly handsome and athletic people. I have neither of these gifts.

The memoir bits are a lot fun to read and have a refreshing degree of honesty, especially in the way he deals with the other people involved, Jacob Tipper, Jonny Wale, the Tanfield brothers. This gives the narrative an emotional depth that it might have lacked; there is a vulnerability and you root for each of them. Can I add that I have seen Harry Tanfield turn up late to a time trial and get a puncture and fix it and then get to the start with about 8 seconds to go and then ride like the wind and it is a spectacular sight. All the protagonists come out of it as honest, complex, ordinary people, doing the thing they love and feel like they have to do, and struggling to do this within a system that isn’t working for them. There is a determination to prove people wrong which I identify with, to be honest, it’s a the drive to find another way when everything feels like a closed shop, if necessary, open your own shop, on a credit card.

Watch the trailer for the Team KGF documentary
pic Simon Wilkinson/Cycling Weekly

In many ways I think the book is much about tackling complacency as it is engineering. Dan Bigham and his band feel like misfits, but they are driven by a desire to do things better, and if it goes wrong, to reset and do it better again. I think this is best summarised by great section where they write out a 43 point list of improvements on the way back from a disappointing race. The engineering bits come to the fore in an interleaved structure, and it is fascinating – the depth of ideas, again, the constant reaction against the perils of complacency, the fixation on the end point (hence the title) and the desire to do things differently – but also not as fascinating as the simple fact that he is sticking it to the man, which I think is why the story really lifts off.

The writing is simple and effective, not without flair but mostly focused on the job in hand. It conveys the requisite excitement, anxiety and tension. It isn’t lyrical and it doesn’t need to be, but again, that doesn’t mean it’s not effective and it is the right fit for the content. It handles some difficult moments with close friends with a ring of truth and emotional intensity. I’m not going to lie though, at one point there is a concept brought in called “ideas sex” and as a name it horrifies me. It is, however, a great band name. And even in the bits where it can read a bit like a business seminar – all the Kaizen and Elon Musk stuff – it does do that thing where you think ‘ooh yes that actually makes a lot of sense’ and then think about applying it, which both is the point of this sort of book, and also seems to be what Dan Bigham does. He applies the science to the situation until it seems like it was common sense all along. Ergo, everytime you see a super fast tester wearing a Poc Tempor – that’s cos of Dan.

So, buy this book, start at the beginning, and revel in a great story.


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