By David V. Herlihy
Yale University Press
Reviewed By Bill Bryant
If you are a randonneur or randonneuse, you obviously enjoy riding your bike a lot. Indeed, some non-randonneuring spouses might even say we love our bicycles a little too much. During those long hours in the saddle, have you ever considered the origins of our beloved machine? You've no doubt seen pictures of old high-wheelers, or crude "boneshakers" from the 19th century, but just exactly how did today's "safety" bicycle come to be? It is a fascinating story worth learning about.
Much has been written about the evolution of the bicycle, but now comes a masterful work that assembles, and in some cases, uncovers, the entire story in fine fashion. Bicycle is a terrific book-well written, carefully researched and wonderfully illustrated. From the very first attempts at creating "everyman's nag" in the horse and buggy era to today's modern machines, it is all here. Along with detailing the evolutionary steps from its earliest days to the present, Herlihy also puts the bicycle into the larger social perspective and shows the profound impact it has had upon the world. In many ways one of the most important inventions of the industrial age, the bicycle has had a surprising influence on such things as economic class and gender roles, health, manufacturing processes, development of road systems, the invention of the automobile and motorcycle, and the like. Of course bike races have provided popular sporting entertainment for well over a century too. Bicycle also shows how our automobile-centric culture came to be and how we American cyclists have always had to face up to discrimination and hostility from others not similarly enlightened. In particular, the role of the bicycle in the women's movement is fascinating. The bicycle's effect spread far beyond mere transportation and recreation, and its impact still lives with us today.
Such is the place of the bicycle in society that we now have an expression: It's something you never forget how to do, like riding a bicycle. Well, what was it like when that wasn't a common assumption? This book will tell you that, and how the change took place. Virtually nothing is left uncovered in Bicycle, from the development of the under-appreciated, but crucial ball bearing to the better-known shift away from solid rubber tires to pneumatic models, much less the familiar diamond-frame bike we now ride. In addition to the technological advances (and false starts), we learn about efforts to popularize and commercialize the revolutionary new invention (not the least of which was the first Paris-Brest-Paris in 1891.) It is all great stuff and Herlihy's book makes a splendid contribution to our collective knowledge of The Little Queen. Along with Hearts of Lions, King of the Road, The Dancing Chain, and Major Taylor, Bicycle deserves a place on your bookshelf. Highly recommended!