Bicycle: The History


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David V. Herlihy

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In this, the definitive history of the bicycle, 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.”

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 form of recreation for dandies and schoolboys? 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.

David V. Herlihy is a historian and freelance writer. He has been interested in bicycle technology since his days as a member of the Harvard Cycling Club, and for the past decade he has researched extensively the invention and early development of the bicycle. His work has been featured on National Public Radio and Voice of America and in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Historic Preservation. In 1999 Herlihy received the McNair History Award from the Wheelmen, the preeminent American association of antique bicycle collectors. He lives in Hull, Massachusetts.

A selection of the History Book Club and the Discovery Channel Book Club 

"If you could only own one book on bicycle history, Bicycle is it. David's account is not only thorough and accurate, but offers a great read to both the aficionado and those new to the bicycle world. A great addition to anyone's library."—Jill DiMauro, Owner Proteus Bicycles, "Bicycles through the Ages" hands on mobile bicycle exhibit

"The bicycle's history is rife with confusion and myth, so it's wonderful to have David Herlihy's thoroughly researched and delightfully written account to set the record of this remarkable and important invention straight."—Jim Langley, Cycling Writer

"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

"Herlihy’s book exhibits the rare combination of absolute scholarly rigor with an easily readable style, and it will appeal to anyone interested in the history of bicycling."—American Heritage of Invention & Technology

"Herlihy’s book exhibits the rare combination of absolute scholarly rigor with an easily readable style, and it will appeal to anyone interested in the history of bicycling."—American Heritage of Invention & Technology

"[A] lovingly written and beautifully illustrated volume. . . . There’s no need to be a cyclist to enjoy this ride."—David Schoonmaker, American Scientist

"Herlihy’s weave of anecdotes and analysis adds up to a fascinating social history. . . . To Herlihy’s and our good fortune, the rise of the bicycle also coincided with the golden age of illustration. Herlihy and Yale University Press have taken full advantage of this fact. The author’s prose is brought to life by the extraordinary and plentiful period photographs and illustrations. Bicycle is a handsome and visually pleasing volume."—Alden Mudge,

"Profusely and charmingly illustrated."—Richard Eder, Boston Sunday Globe

"The author loves his subject. And who can blame him? My middling Rockhopper is a fantastic machine, and so is your bike. If you have any doubt, read David Herlihy’s fine book."—Tod Neff, Canon City Daily Camera

"A fascinating historical tale of the two-wheeler. . . . Visually stimulating. . . . Great for the bicycle aficionado or anyone who loves a highly detailed read."—Carla Resnick, Chicago News and Review

"An authoritative and graceful tale of the first 200-odd years of two-wheeled transportation. . . . Mr. Herlihy has traced the bicycle’s family tree with a thoroughness reminiscent of Laura Hillenbrand and her thoroughbred, Seabiscuit. . . . Bicycle is a good read for all and a must for the cyclist’s home library."—Joe Simnacher, Dallas Morning News

"This is a book that should fascinate any reader who cares about well-researched, well-written, beautifully illustrated history, especially the history of human transportation. . . . Bicycle . . . is compulsively readable."—Steve Weinberg, Denver Post

"Well-written, lavishly illustrated."—Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News

"[A] definitive colorful history. . . . It’s a richly told and deeply human story, abundantly illustrated with fascinating photos and engravings."—E-The Environmental Magazine

"Get inspired about biking with the recently published, Bicycle. This beautiful book is a lively, historical account of the bicycle, richly illustrated to provide interest in the topic for all ages in the family. You’ll want to keep it off the shelf and on your coffee table for easy reference and enjoyment."—Donna Erickson, King Features Syndicate

"This extraordinarily researched work is not just for those interested in the history of the bicycle but for anyone who wants to follow the international history of an idea or invention. . . . Dozens of attractive images enrich the story and could be issued as a worthwhile book of their own. Highly recommended for all academic collections."—Library Journal

"[An] elegant book. . . . The book is a kind of tour de bicycle and takes the reader along for a great ride, from the early years to the successes of Lance Armstrong. . . . One can enjoy the book as social history or as a history of our mechanical advances. Or one can just enjoy the hundreds of colorful prints and photos. . . . We’ve come a long way in a couple of centuries, and this fine book tells all."—Charles Stephen, Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal-Star

"Accessible, thorough, and genuinely enjoyable. . . . Nothing less than superb."—Evan P. Schneider, Matter

"Far from a dry tome, Bicycle is an intriguing story complemented with hundreds of photos and illustrations."—Bruce Buckley, MetroSports New York

"A book that wonderfully articulates the bicycle's role in the development of Western culture. . . . If you have an appreciation for history, for the way one series of events spills into others, then this is a book for you. . . . What impresses the reader most are the lavish illustrations. . . . Bicycle . . . makes me look down at the machine beneath me and appreciate its story."—David Howell, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"[One of] the best cyclying-related books I've seen in the past decade."—Joe Lindsey, Mountain Bike

"For those who love not just bicycling, but bicycles themselves, there is now a book to luxuriate in.  Bicycle: The History is notable not just for the fascinating story it tells, but most particularly for the illustrations."—Dick Aronson, New Jersey Committee for the East Coast Greenway Newsletter

"[A] wonderful new book. . . . Herlihy combines the thoroughness of a scholar with the dogged investigative skills of a newspaper reporter and presents his finding with a literary flair not normally found in authors who possess thoroughness or doggedness. The result is a fine read sure to be of great interest, if not to 87 million once-a-year riders, then certainly to the 8 million core cyclists."—Stephen Madden, New York Post

"A fascinating historical account of the bicycle, from its conception in the 19th century to the present day, lavishly illustrated, too."—Sara Nelson, New York Post (Required Reading)

"There are many, many illustrations in this book—on average one per page, it seems—and almost all of them engaging in themselves. Mr. Herlihy’s prose style is pleasant and easy to read. . . . An immensely interesting book."—Henry Petroski, New York Sun

"A prodigious researcher vividly recounts the development of a great machine that wasn’t fully practical till the 1870’s."—The New York Times Book Review

"Immensely absorbing. . . . Herlihy’s prodigious research is always entertaining, as are the period illustrations that copiously grace the volume. . . . While reading Bicycle, I was all too often overcome with the desire to jump on my own machine. I would relish having David V. Herlihy as my cycling companion any day."—Edward Koren, New York Times Book Review

"A comprehensive genealogy of the two-wheeled savior of mass transit. . . . The author’s vivid account of this story could not be more detailed if Herlihy himself had personally lived through every experience he recounts. . . . Herlihy takes what could have been just another history book and makes it a story worth telling your friends about."—Publishers Weekly

"Bicycle is a book for cycling enthusiasts, serious history buffs, and anyone with a fascination for mechanical tinkering. . . . Filled with beautiful illustrations, reproductions of pop art, handy boxed anecdotes and historical factoids, this cultural history celebrates our love affair with 'the mechanical horse,' from its inception in the Victorian era as a novelty for the wealthy to its ubiquity today. . . . Bicycle provides a birds-eye view of the transition from a horse-and-buggy culture to one of mechanical ingenuity."—Ruminator Magazine

"This is a book that ought to fascinate any reader who cares about well-researched, well-written, beautifully illustrated history. . . . Yet to call the book a traditional history is misleading. Herlihy uses brief boxed asides, artwork, photographs, cartoons, technical drawings and other tools to dazzle. . . . Bicycle . . . is compulsively readable."—Steve Weinberg, San Francisco Chronicle

"A copiously illustrated history of one of the most efficient and utilitarian machines of all time—perfect for any serious cyclist."—Seattle Times

"Handsomely presented, comprehensively researched, and well illustrated. . . . Herlihy has done an impressive job of tracing the bicycle’s evolution. . . . He’s an enthusiast but not an editorialist, and his history is never hectoring."—Brian Miller, Seattle Weekly

"Abundant primary and secondary materials . . . lavish use of illustrations.  The visuals are reason enough to spend hours with this book. . . . The book more than lives up to its billing as ‘definitive.’"—Joseph Bednarik, Sunday Oregonian

"Fun and informative."—Baltimore Sun

"A work of real scholarly integrity, towering above most alternatives of the genre. . . . [This] exhaustive book puts the entire range of this tool’s birth and fruition, both international and domestic, utilitarian and sporting, into focus. . . . Herlihy’s style and presentation make sagas of legal struggles and technical design fascinating to any reader. Peppered throughout with lovely illustrations and boasting an impressive index, Bicycle should serve as the standard in years to come."—The Ride Magazine

"Herlihy’s book gives a history of the bicycle from its painful beginnings right through to the amazingly technical machines available now."—Toby Clements, The Telegraph

"Herlihy has delivered a comprehensive book on the genesis of the bike."—The Western Daily Press

"A definitive look at the bicycle."—Craig Wilson, USA Today

"Mr. Herlihy concentrates on [the bicycle’s] social history, especially its manufacturers and riders. Culling from the popular press, he builds a very readable account of the public perception of the bicycle as it moved from one stage to another. The book is also one of the best-illustrated histories I have ever seen. It is a delight to leaf through."—Robert Messenger, Wall Street Journal

"The reader is taken on a joy ride of stories, fact and anecdotes. . . . Herlihy deserves praise for his exhaustive research. . . . I’m glad he invited us along for the ride."—Colman McCarthy, Washington Post & Chicago Sun Times

"Fascinating for the energetic at heart, is Bicycle. . . . It’s an erudite chronicle of the centuries old obsession humans have had to travel by means of self-locomotion. Fully researched and impressively documented, the narrative is authoritative, but carries its scholarship with a light touch, and boasts period illustrations that everyone will enjoy."—Nicholas Basbanes, Wichita Eagle

"A delightful romp in the history of a pleasant topic, loaded with otherwise unavailable information and richly illustrated, written with dabs of humor, and reliable in the knowledge of its author. It will fascinate bicycle fans and also scholars and students interested in the development of social attitudes, attires, and models."—Vera Laska, International Social Science Review

"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

"David Herlihy’s epic Bicycle: The History is a comprehensive guide to the early evolution of the bicycle. Filled with anecdotes from the late 19th and early 20th century, along with hundreds of photos, drawings and catalog excerpts, this is a book that can be consumed in bits, browsed or read with careful attention."—Kent Peterson, Outside

Winner of the 2004 Award for Excellence in the History of Science sponsored by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers

Winner of the 2005 Sally Hacker Prize sponsored by the Society for the History of Technology

ISBN: 9780300120479
Publication Date: August 16, 2006
480 pages, 7 x 10
98 b/w + 115 color illus.