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 authors 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 1860s 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.
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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