Bicycle: The History

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9780300104189: Bicycle: The History

During the nineteenth century, the bicycle evoked an exciting new world in which even a poor person could travel afar and at will. But was the “mechanical horse” truly destined to usher in a new era of road travel or would it remain merely a plaything for dandies and schoolboys? In Bicycle: The History (named by Outside magazine as the #1 book on bicycles), David Herlihy recounts the saga of this far-reaching invention and the passions it aroused. The pioneer racer James Moore insisted the bicycle would become “as common as umbrellas.” Mark Twain was more skeptical, enjoining his readers to “get a bicycle. You will not regret it—if you live.”

Because we live in an age of cross-country bicycle racing and high-tech mountain bikes, we may overlook the decades of development and ingenuity that transformed the basic concept of human-powered transportation into a marvel of engineering. This lively and engrossing history retraces the extraordinary story of the bicycle—a history of disputed patents, brilliant inventions, and missed opportunities. Herlihy shows us why the bicycle captured the public’s imagination and the myriad ways in which it reshaped our world.

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From the Author:

A Conversation With David Herlihy

Q: What was the impact of the invention of the bicycle?

A: The bicycle had a substantial technological impact. It is not an exaggeration to say that the bicycle business of the 1890s spawned the automotive industry. During the peak year of production in 1896 some three hundred firms in the United States alone produced nearly two million bicycles, and many of these companies went on to make automobiles using the same highly advanced production systems. Many automotive pioneers, including Henry Ford, started out working with bicycles. And bicycle technology also helped produce the first airplanes. The Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics; they used bicycles for wind tunnel experiments and built the Wright Flyer in their workshop.

Q: What about the social impact of the bicycle?

A: The bicycle changed social life in all sorts of ways—for women in particular it provided a justification to dress more sensibly and a means to travel without supervision. And in the early twentieth century, when cars were still prohibitively expensive, millions of working-class people relied on the bicycle for everyday transportation. This is still the case in the developing world. And of course the bicycle has long provided healthy and fun exercise to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Q: You’ve spent most of your life riding and writing about bicycles. What is it about the bicycle that has held your fascination for so long?

A: My passion for bicycles began when I was a teenager in the 1970s, when America discovered lightweight European ten-speeds. For several years I lived in Italy, where I experienced the excitement of owning and riding a high-quality racing bike. The thrill of moving and balancing on two wheels is nearly as old as the bicycle itself—even in its crudest forms in the nineteenth century, the bicycle stirred passion and fired the imagination. It represented the spirit of the age—a determination to use technology to improve the human condition.

From the Inside Flap:

"David Herlihy is a widely recognized expert on the history of the bicycle, and this book offers the most comprehensive account to date of the bicycle and its development from a novelty for the elite to transportation for the masses. Frequently wry and always intelligent, Herlihy takes us on a marvelous tour of the bicycle’s fascinating history."— Peter Joffre Nye, U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame and co-author of The Lance Armstrong Performance Program

"Bicycle is a fascinating book. David Herlihy is a true historian, and he has uncovered a stunning amount of new material about the history of the bicycle--at times it reads like a detective story."— David Gordon Wilson, professor, MIT and co-author, Bicycling Science, and Human-Powered Vehicles

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