Ian Hibell, cyclist.
September 17, 2008 10:33 AM   Subscribe

R.I.P. Ian Hibell. Bikes rarely let him down. Escaping once from spear-throwing Turkana in northern Kenya, he felt the chain come off, but managed to coast downhill to safety. He crossed China from north to south—in 2006, at 72—with just three brake-block changes, one jammed rear-brake cable and a change of tape on the handlebars. In his book, “Into the Remote Places” (1984), he described his bike as a companion, a crutch and a friend. Setting off in the morning light with “the quiet hum of the wheels, the creak of strap against load, the clink of something in the pannier”, was “delicious”.

A page on Ian Hibell, set up by a friend, is here, with pages on Hibell's bikes and earlier trips to Indonesia and Peru, and his companion, Laura. Another fine example of the English art of the obituary is here. Hibell's memoir, Into the Remote, is out of print, at least in the United States.
posted by chinston (22 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This makes me so very sad. But, as trite as it sounds, at least he was doing what he loved. May he have an eternal tailwind. (Wonderful post, chinston)

posted by Heretic at 10:53 AM on September 17, 2008

posted by ardgedee at 10:54 AM on September 17, 2008

Great post. I only recently heard of this guy, via some mailing lists.
posted by everichon at 10:59 AM on September 17, 2008


Great post, thanks.

Amazing what this guy did. Looking at some of his equipment, it's pretty cool that he didn't necessarily go for the newest and "best" gear. Makes me feel like a poseur for dropping so much money on my touring rig.

Those frames are awesome.
posted by Telf at 11:07 AM on September 17, 2008

Upon further research, I guess I really shouldn't make the above statement about his gear. I'm not sure what he was riding nowadays. You have to hand to the brits though, Carradice panniers and Brooks leather saddles are about as classy as you can get. Certainly more aesthetically pleasing than those Teutonic Ortlieb eyesores.

One article from another source says this was a hit and run. That's a real shame. It's very depressing in a lot of ways that the last generation of great English explorers has all but disappeared. It's an era that can never be relived.
posted by Telf at 11:19 AM on September 17, 2008

Interesting. Just read about him on Wikipedia today after reading about the Darien Gap, the "missing" part of the pan-American highway between South and Central America, basically a giant swamp, that he forded on his way from the tip of South America to Alaska. I was saddened to see that he had recently died in such a senseless way. Thanks for posting!
posted by melissam at 11:42 AM on September 17, 2008

Awesome. What an incredible guy. Good post.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on September 17, 2008

Great post, thanks.
posted by fixedgear at 12:26 PM on September 17, 2008

Certainly more aesthetically pleasing than those Teutonic Ortlieb eyesores

Uh, yeah, you can keep the 'aesthetically pleasing' panniers, I'll take the ones that will keep my gear dry and last a long time.

Oh, and:

posted by $0up at 12:33 PM on September 17, 2008

Hibell was cycling from Britain to Athens — what he called a “training trip” for a journey to Tibet — when he was killed, only ten miles from the capital, by a hit-and-run motorist.

He must have had thousands of near misses with cars during his travels and I can imagine this was pretty much the last way on Earth he wanted to buy it.
posted by three blind mice at 1:13 PM on September 17, 2008

Great post. What an amazing fellow, and what a senseless end to a life well lived.
posted by mosk at 4:41 PM on September 17, 2008

This paragraph made me sad:
In a career of hazards, from soldier ants to real soldiers to sleet that cut his face like steel, only motorists did him real damage. The drivers came too close, and passengers sometimes pelted him with bottles (in Nigeria), or with shovelfuls of gravel (in Brazil). In China in 2006 a van drove over his arm and hand. He recovered, but wondered whether his luck would last. It ran out on the road between Salonika and Athens this August, where he was knocked out of the way by a car that appeared to be chasing another.
What an awesome guy. I love the Economist obituaries (I even posted them to MetaFilter once).
posted by Kattullus at 5:00 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

That Economist obituary is truly wonderful. Hibell's nephew (or niece?) left a touching comment for that obit.
posted by needled at 5:26 PM on September 17, 2008

I remember being a young teenager and reading the monthly installments in Bicycling magazine of his Cape Horn to Alaska trip, circa 1974. It elevates my heart rate right now just to recall how excited I would be to dive into his writings and imagine myself riding next to him through those far off lands. I studied every inch of his bike on the huge two page spread, wondering if my own Reynolds 531 tubed Raleigh Competition would be up to the task. Good times, good times.

Thanks Ian
posted by Rafaelloello at 7:15 PM on September 17, 2008

Yeah, I read this in the Economist yesterday. These stories always make me sad. Reminds me all too much of Ken Kifer. I'd never heard of Hibell before reading his obit, but what an inspiring guy.

I was just riding thru town today and got a loud and [I swear] completely unprovoked "Hey f**k you biker!" from a 20-something driver who was apparently in some very big hurry.

"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." -H.G. Wells
posted by bilgepump at 7:56 PM on September 17, 2008


It's ok. I ride with Ortliebs too. It doesn't mean that they're not ugly as sin. I was just complementing the way older British people execute their badassery with such panache. Downtube friction shifting, leather straps, and no clipless peddles? It's like that scene in Chariots of Fire where the British lord is practicing hurdles while drinking a martini and smoking a cigarette. I bet Ian Hibell kept one of his water bottles filled with Brandy just like the old school cyclists did.
posted by Telf at 10:00 PM on September 17, 2008

I bet Ian Hibell kept one of his water bottles filled with Brandy just like the old school cyclists did.

If he did it would have to be kept in a metal bottle with a cork stopper in a cage mounted on his handlebars.
posted by fixedgear at 4:49 AM on September 18, 2008

posted by Halloween Jack at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2008

He seemed like a really neat guy.

posted by schyler523 at 7:38 AM on September 18, 2008

> the way older British people execute their badassery with such panache. Downtube friction shifting, leather straps, and no clipless peddles?

It's practicality for badasses, is what it is. It means shorter cable runs and shifting that will continue working flawlessly no matter how much the cable stretches, or even if the cable is severed and has to be spliced together trailside. It's a system which can be run through brake housing if necessary, reducing your need for specialty parts when you're thousands of miles away from a parts supplier. It means all-steel mechanisms that are literally bulletproof for a rider for whom literal bulletproofness is not overbuilding.

A spring-steel toeclip has no moving parts to wear out or fail and does not require specialty shoes. Toeclip straps can double as cinches or tourniquets. Classic Campy pedals are as light or lighter than modern top-end pedals, can be serviced with an adjustable wrench and axle grease, and can be used whether you've got exotic cycling shoes or flip-flops.

I'm an occasional participant on a mailing list where people discuss old steel bikes. Every so often somebody will post a request shifters, derailleurs, and other moving parts from decades ago, because they're about to ship off to Africa or the Mongolian steppes and any weakness in their bike is a liability. Some of them will spend thousands of dollars on bespoke bikes optimized for the back-back-backcountry. I almost sold off a pair of old friction MTB shifters to one member until he was informed it was the version with solid, hard plastic lever arms; they risk eventual loosening and sliding off their metal stems, a problem the version with steel arms will never have.
posted by ardgedee at 8:33 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Word to Telf.
@ ardgedee: As of the most recent Dura-Ace 10sp group, you can still buy new bar-mount or downtube shifters, and IIRC they can still be flipped into friction mode. God help us when they go all-electronic. To forestall the march of dubious progress, Paul Thumbies (link to Rivendell) allow you to set up Shimano and maybe other types of downtube shifters on MTB-style flat bar mounts.
posted by $0up at 2:22 PM on September 18, 2008

> ...you can still buy new bar-mount or downtube shifters, and IIRC they can still be flipped into friction mode.

Yup, and that's good, but every metal-plastic juncture (such as in the photo in your link) is a point for potential failure. Old-school shifters are (give or take a seal or bushing) all-metal with a very low parts count.

All-metal shifters are still manufactured, but without with the precision tolerance of (for example) late-70s Campy NR the potential for wear and need for maintenance will be higher.

These are details important to almost nobody from a first-world country with ready access to parts and the tools to keep them maintained. I have no problem with brifters aside from the expense, think carbon fiber bikes look really cool, and ride with clipless pedals and a foam-cushioned saddle. Amenities become liabilities when they need to be replaced, though. So folks like Hibell design their bikes around equipment that's least likely to wear or break, at the cost of having the fastest, cushiest, or lightest.
posted by ardgedee at 7:33 AM on September 20, 2008

« Older Drugged up on drugs   |   palin's yahoo mail hacked ... oh anonymous, what... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments