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A social history of the bicycle, its early life and times in America, Hardcover – 1972


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 269 pages
  • Publisher: American Heritage Press (1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0070584575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0070584570
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,745,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The bicycle is now thought of as a toy by most people but in the late 19th century they were the impetus for social change. Robert Smith takes us to a world very few know existed; the world of 19th century high technology and social upheaval due to a seemingly inoccuous machine: The bicycle. At a time when the horse was the fastest thing on the road, a man (or woman, heaven forbid) on a bicyle was like today's high-end sportscar. Business people from piano-makers to bar owners villified the bicycle for taking away their business (piano-makers because the bicyles were bought in place of pianos, bar owners because cyclists in training would not drink alcohol!). Women found new freedom on the bicycle, in both athleticism and in fashion: Bloomers were invented to allow women to ride bicycles with modesty intact. A typical spring day would find thousands of cyclists riding the roads around the major cities. Roads were graded for this purpose, road signs were put up to guide them, maps were made to help them on their way, and restaraunts established to feed them. Does this sound familiar today? Robert Smith has opened a door to a fascinating past that everyone should know about.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cranky Reviewer on March 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've read several books on the history of bicycles, and I would recommend this as the best. This book contains an incredible amount of detailed information on the development and social/historical impact of bicycling, while being very entertaining to read. It's a shame that it's been allowed to go out of print.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By LioNiNoiL on August 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I met Professor Smith at California State College (now "University") in the Seventies after reading a review of his book in American Wheelman (now "Bicyclist") magazine. A very sincere scholar, he said he was not a bicyclist himself, but had been fascinated by the influence of the bicycle on our society. His long years of research into the subject are obvious in the book, which traces that influence from its obscure beginnings in the seventeenth century to its popularity in the twentieth century (1970). I am ashamed that I did not purchase his book until January 2012 (forty years after publication) but I'm glad that I did so, as it is an excellent resource for any historian, sociologist, engineer, or (as in my own case) bicycle enthusiast interested in the social (or technological) history of the bicycle.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Betsy Mendelsohn on March 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Was this book reprinted in 1995 as ISBN: 0809511045?

I think the great achievement of Smith is to shift our attention away from the artifact of bicycles as they changed over time, and to the use of bicycles. He really hit the upswing in interest in cycling at a sweet time, with bicycle sales in the US doubling from 7 million to 14 million between 1970 and the year of publication, 1972, and purchases of adult bicycles shifting from 1/5 of all bikes sold to most of all bikes sold.

Perhaps because Smith draws mostly on newspaper and popular magazine articles, the stories about bicycling are juicy, funny, frequently wrapped around a kernel of conflict. He has a bold interpretion for everything, but none of it is documented with footnotes for particular facts. The list of sources (pp. 257-259) features many key publications. However, I've read a couple hundred newspaper articles from the NY Times and Washington Post and Scientific American about the velocipede mania (1868-1869) and 1890s bicycle era, and find it impossible to trust them as a basis for generalizing about the experience of cyclists generally.

For an entertaining and thought-provoking trip through the era, Smith provides a great read. I believe he sifted through hundreds, if not thousands, of popular articles. I don't, however, believe that newspapers are good sources of information about legal developments concerning the infamous anti-bicycle ordinances (Sunday-riding laws, for example), and that it's not helpful to generalize from a sensational "big town" newspaper story about small town America to the experience of cycling into rural places.
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By Bikinchris on July 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book details the changes made to society by the bicycle. A great historical reference book that will open the eyes of anyone who is interested in history.
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