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Bicycle: The History Hardcover – October 11, 2004

28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Each day, in cities from Bangkok to Baltimore, millions of people mount their bicycles, strap on a helmet and ride off to school, to work or just to get away, giving little thought to the hundreds of years of invention, evolution and development that afford them this simple pleasure. Herlihy has dedicated many years of research and study to uncovering this history, and the result is a comprehensive genealogy of the two-wheeled savior of mass transit. In the late 1700s, when transportation was ruled by the horse and buggy, inventors challenged one another to develop a human-powered vehicle to replace the inconvenience and expense of the horse-drawn carriage and make man, once and for all, self-sufficient. It took nearly 200 years for the four-wheeled, multi-person machines first thought to be the answer to this dilemma to evolve into the two-wheeled speedsters we know today. The author’s vivid account of this story could not be more detailed if Herlihy himself had personally lived through every experience he recounts. Each chapter is filled with eye-catching illustrations and photographs spanning nearly two centuries, and colorful sidebars like "The Velocipede in the Service of Love" and "Women and the Velocipede" add character to the often technical, textbook-style prose. In uncovering interesting characters like 1860’s racer James Moore, who predicted bicycles would soon be "as common in homes as umbrellas," and documenting hundreds of little known facts, Herlihy takes what could have been just another history book and makes it a story worth telling your friends about.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

The bicycle began life, in the nineteenth century, as a diversion for rich Europeans. Physicians, theologians, anti-feminists, and journalists condemned it as a hazardous fad—"Man is a locomotive machine of Nature's own making, not to be improved by the addition of any cranks or wheels of mortal invention," wrote one opponent—and cyclists were sometimes set upon by mobs. By the century's end, however, with a safe, efficient model available to the commuter and the Sunday pleasure seeker, the bicycle created thousands of jobs, spurred road construction, and transformed fashion, while daredevil, brandy-swilling racing cyclists acquired heroic status. Herlihy portrays the men who pioneered this gravity-defying wonder; they worked in near-obscurity, lit by the Industrial Age's spirit of invention, the capitalist impulse, and the utopian hope that the bicycle would "take men away from the gambling rooms and rum shops, out into God's light and sunshine."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1St Edition edition (October 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300104189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300104189
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 8.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Inquiring Mind on October 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is virtually an encyclopedia of bicycle history with an extraordinary collection of photographs, drawings, catalog covers, and lots more illustrative material from the early history of the bicycle forward to today. The visuals alone in this beautiful book are more than enough reason to buy it. The writing is also to savor time and time again with great sidebars on a variety of fascincating and amusing subjects and a very informative recounting of the 200-year history of self-propelled transporation. No bicyclist could possibly be disappointed in acquiring this marvelous volume.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This richly illustrated and carefully researched book belongs in the library of all serious cyclists.

David Herlihy deserves high praise for his definitive work which so well illuminates our magnificient bicycling heritage.

It reads easily. I had great difficulty putting it down even for a break.

WP Fleming

Santa Fe Bikes & Gallery

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bill McGann on January 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
In the second half of the 19th Century several machines engaged and excited the world's finest inventive minds. Among them were the sewing machine, the locomotive and the gun. But the machine that drew the most attention was the bicycle. In January and February of 1869, as the first craze for the early primitive bicycles hit the United States, the American patent office received about one hundred applications for improvements to the crank-driven two-wheeler. By March, over 100 more were either sent or announced.

Why? The bicycle was that deeply yearned-for device that would satisfy the centuries-old desire for cheap personal transportation.

David Herlihy's wonderful book tells the story of the invention and development of the bicycle from the first dreams set down on paper centuries ago to the present high-tech carbon fiber lightweight. While he covers the entire history of the bicycle, his main emphasis is on the nineteenth century, from 1817 when Karl von Drais made a two-wheeled hobby horse that would facilitate walking, to the bust of the great 1890's bicycle boom.

Along the way Herlihy ponders a couple of interesting questions. What, exactly is a bicycle and who invented it? That inquiry led him to conclude that Pierre Lallement, a Frenchman, is our hero. For the forty years after Drais built his "Draisine", the greatest mechanical minds searched for an efficient way propel the machine, but to no avail. It was Lallement who had the brilliant insight to attach pedaled cranks to the front wheel and turn them with his legs. And thus, the bicycle was born.

This early bicycle, or "Velocipede", was a far cry from the chain-driven modern bicycle that appeared in the late 1880's.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Galvanized Yankee on November 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A very interesting read, but not for those interested in the evolution of the mechanics. The book is mostly about how bicycles ("the poor man's horse") changed American and European society, to be later superseded by the internal combustion engine. What I found most interesting are the historic conflicts within the cycling community. Real men rode big wheels, free wheelers were lazy. Weirdly, these carry over to today's cyclists.

Major technological changes (such as penny racer, to safety bike, and fixed to free wheel) the book glosses over changes in brakes, gearing and such.

An excellent book, for social history, not much for hardware.

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Larry Cosentino on March 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
They're impractical toys of the rich. The technology is flawed. People will never put up with their limitations. It's too difficult and expensive to get them repaired. Young dandies and showoffs only want to be seen riding them. Ten years from now, people will wonder why we wasted our time on them.

Anyone who has been reading the Detroit newspapers for the last 10 years or so has seen all these arguments used repeatedly against hybrid cars, fuel cell technology and any number of non-fossil-fuel vehicle prototypes. (Only substitute "movie stars" for "dandies.")

Yet the arguments cited above come from the mid-19th century, and their target is a simple tool the whole world now takes for granted: the bicycle.

The peculiarly gleeful, small-minded scorn unique to Luddites of any era is vividly brought to life in "The Bicycle," David V. Herlihy's wonderful illustrated history.

In hindsight, it seems there could be no simpler or more obvious invention. Yet Herlihy demonstrates that the bicycle went through a very long and complicated struggle to get where it is today.

For decades, the velocipede was little more than a glorified scooter, an "aid to walking" powered by kicking the ground. Herlihy picks his way through the variants that come and go, including the 1814 "draisine" of German inventor Karl von Drais, and it's a maddening story indeed. One poor entrepreneur after another goes boom and bust as people latch on to the fad and then tire of it. "Chain the goddamn wheel to a crank!" you want to scream, but history is a cruel one-way mirror.
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