Guest Article: So That’s Where Lance Got the Title …

Boffo’s Ride (nice bar tape)

 Rule #4 is clear but how do you explain to your five year old what a twatwaffle is? I was left trying to define twatwaffle to a room full of relatives, none five years old but a few close to ninety-five years old. Someone opened The Book of Rules and loudly read out Rule #4. Some hand waving and muttering about the Dutch deflected things, thankfully. Five year olds would not have let me off so easily, “but uncle Gianni, what is a twatwaffle?” @blackpooltower or @blacktoolpower introduces us to Boffo’s take on Rule #4.

VLVV, Gianni

If you’ve been Breeding and Blimping and are busy schooling your Velomini/Velonipper about The Rules … or even if not, there’s a legend you need to know about.

The Great Boffo is the eponymous hero of Frank Dickens’ outstanding 1973 book. To my knowledge the only children’s picture book depicting a professional stage race.

It’s the story of  a chubby lad who works as a delivery rider for a drinks company. He’s desperate to watch the race going through town, featuring The Great Boffo on his beautiful shiny red bike, but his hardass boss insists he does his rounds instead.

Later, the boy stumbles upon the race feed station where the official drinks have failed to turn up. When the peloton arrives, he passes out drinks from his basket to the riders “who took them without stopping, the way racing cyclists do”.

Unfortunately one of them drops a glass bottle and Boffo gets a double puncture. He’s just about to abandon when he clocks the kid’s boneshaker and asks if he can use it, dismissing protestations that it’s an unworthy bike on the grounds that the rider is what matters. He hops on and lays down some V, “the great muscles in his legs flexing and unflexing as they drove the bicycle forward”.

Boffo smokes the pack in a bunch sprint and wins the race. Next morning, our boy wakes to find at the foot of his bed “a gleaming new bicycle, with a note tied to the handlebars. “From Boffo in gratitude. But remember my words: the machine is not as important as the man.””

The Great Boffo was published in 1973. It’s Not About the Bike was published in 2001. Just saying.

Anyway, Boffo is clearly an iconic fictional cyclist you need in your life. Frank’s daughter keeps the book in print using Lulu (a print-on-demand service) but I reckon if enough Velominati say they like it, it might just be possible to find a way to get it properly reissued. So, what do you think?

(All drawings courtesy of Frank Dickens –


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24 Replies to “Guest Article: So That’s Where Lance Got the Title …”

  1. It is about the bike… and my daughter knows that too. She digs bikes a lot. And she knows a meticulously clean and maintained bike is a fast bike. I will say this, I am a lot more interested in discussions here about bikes than I am about philosophical meanderings on pain caves, and finding meaning within ourselves on rides and such. Maybe I’m just a shallow guy. But I like bikes. I also know there is someone on an old beater bike faster than me. That’s cool. We’re in for a beautiful weekend here in deep south to ride our bikes (and for some SEC football). Blue skies and sunshine. Cheers all, RC

  2. Good call, I buy enough bobbins books for my daughters so it would be great to buy them this instead. Keep us posted. It would be even better to buy it form a book shop instead of you know who!

  3. Nice one. I was reading it thinking “I know the name and the style but where?”
    Of course, the Bristow cartoon strip. I’d never come across the Great Boffo though. Great find.

  4. Interesting. When I first chanced upon this place, and upon the Rules, I did not read Rule #4 as literally, in a fundamentalist sense, referring to “the bike” per se. Of course, “the central tool” notion must obtain for anything in the Velomiverse to make any sense at all. But I’ve read “the bike” to be a broad and inclusive marker of all things V, and I assumed that Rule #4 was rhetorically similar to Exodus 34:14: “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…” 

  5. @PeakInTwoYears The thing I found while hanging out with the Velominati and learning The Rules is that it’s more like Exodus 20–the Ten Commandments–not in a proscriptive sense, but prescriptive or better yet, predictive i.e. making a claim or suggesting a way as it will likely happen. For example, I used to have a EPMS hanging under my seat and when I first read Rule #29 I didn’t think much of it. However, it didn’t take too long before the superfluous scrotum miraculously disappeared from under my saddle. And low and behold…I was unconsciously tending my tan lines, replacing my gaudy bar tape, riding in nasty weather, acquiring n+1’s, coordinating my kit, making my bike photogenic, shaving my legs, removing spacers from under the stem, ditching valve stem nuts/caps, matching my water bottles, ordering machiattos, keeping my mouth shut, speeding up on descents, staying in the big ring, etc, etc. The Rules were not dictating what to do, but rather predicting what I would likely do as I developed into a more serious cycling disciple.

  6. @blackpooltower and @PeakInTwoYears More on topic, Lance may have scammed his title from “The Great Boffo,” but he entirely missed the point of the book i.e. a man’s character should come from gratitude, generosity and the love of others and the sport (for which, as you say, “the bike” is a broad and inclusive marker of all things V). This is the summary of The Rules and the Prophets.

  7. I’ve been reading my little one this –

    Plenty of rule breaking but also lays some foundations.

  8. Thanks for this, I’m buying a copy from Lulu on the basis at some point in the future I’ll become a grandad.

  9. I’m sorry to say I missed this when my boys were growing up, and I didn’t know that FD was such a cycling fan. It would be great to get this book – and maybe others – back in print at a reasonable price. I’ll buy several.

  10. Ah, the great Frank Dickens, cyclist and club colleague of the great Alf Engers…

  11. I had a look on Amazon… £195 for  second hand copy.
    (I think the fact that I was tempted maybe say quite a lot about the relative pricing of all things bike!)
    I do need a copy for my 3 young sons though.

  12. Hmm, kids in the next few years, I shall have to pick up a copy.

    It’s all about The Man, for sure.

  13. Very nice story. Thanks for sharing. I think it’s one of the great conundrums of the V-life. It is all about the bike, of course, but more than anything else the rider makes the bike.

  14. I was raised on this book. Now, as a 38 years old I read my original copy to my 2 year old. It’s his favourite book. Remember son, the man is more important than the machine.

  15. Pleased to say that Boffo is back: Frank Dickens’ 1973 kid’s cycling classic will be available from the 29th. Only on UK Amazon for now, link here.

    The nice people at Cycling Weekly also covered it here.

    @Sanchez @RossT @ChrisO @Nate @MarkB @El tel @Scaler911 @Portemat @Ron @Olli @EBruner @Paul mcdowell @Jackseph I think you all expressed an interest …

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