When is the book due to be published? I’m plumping for sometime in
Spring Summer this year. Most of the research has now been completed I keep finding great new avenues of research but I’m nearly done with my exploring, I now need to crack on with writing the text; sourcing a bunch of illustrations; coding the fancy-schmancy iPad version; designing the e-book and the print book; sorting ISBNs; and then publishing in a variety of formats. Just!
Now two years in gestation the book has taken a lot longer to research than I thought it would. This is mainly because I’ve been spinning off at tangents, digging out deeper and more convincing evidence to show that cyclists had far more influence on government road policies than previously thought. Not just previously thought by the public at large, but by social history and transport academics, too. I’ve also been my travels, scouring libraries in London, Detroit, Washington D.C., among other places, unearthing primary sources to back up the book’s central thesis. I’ve even uncovered fascinating glimpses of life in the 1890s in my hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne (such as the world’s first horse/car/bicycle retailer – and it’s still standing).
I hope you think the book is worth waiting for. It will certainly be a very long and detailed work. All of the text will be available for free online – in a number of formats – and there will also be a rich media tablet version, and a number of print versions. The fancier versions of the book will be available to purchase, with one being subsidised with advertising, and the other ad-free, but costlier.
shortly evaluate whether to soon set up a Kickstarter project so early adopters can pre-order the pay versions of the book. The book will go ahead even without Kickstarter, but crowd-funding would certainly be the surest way of testing the viability of the pay versions. Will anybody want to pay for a book about 19th Century cyclists changing the world for the better? I know there’s a demand for the information – the blog stats tell me that – but there’s a huge difference between nuggets of social history given out on the internet for free, and selling gert big books (that won’t be cheap).
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SELECTED BLOG POSTS
MOTORISTS’ FRONT OF JUDEA: What Have The Cyclists Ever Done for Us?
“All right, but apart from the pneumatic tyre, ball bearings, differential gears, roads, motoring, and aviation, what have cyclists ever done for us?”
The “Mecca of all good cyclists”: Ripley Road
The War of the Worlds, the Dibble sisters, Occam’s Razor, women’s liberation, and the London Olympics: all are linked by the “most famous cycling highway in the world.”
New York City once had the best bike path in the world (and it was the first, too)
Difficult to imagine, but in the 1890s a number of American cities could boast the world’s best bicycle-infrastructure. Part paid for by pushy, influential cyclists, the bike paths in cities such as Seattle, Portland, and even Los Angeles, were far in advance of any that could be found anywhere else in the world at the time.
Oakley glasses, MTB tyres, hi-viz jackets, Cannondale Lefty forks: all created in the 1890s
Many of the things we consider ‘modern’ about cycling – even basic things such as anti-puncture gloop or hi-viz clothing – were available to Victorian cyclists.
If the Second World War hadn’t intervened, Britain might now have a dense network of Dutch-style segregated bike paths. Or, at least, such a segregated network was the ardent desire of motoring organisations, leading police officers, the Ministry of Transport, county council officials and the majority of other witnesses who gave evidence to an influential parliamentary committee in 1938
Ride your bicycle on a Sunday? Go to Hell!
So popular was cycling in the 1890s that American church leaders feared that congregations would be dangerously depleted by those who preferred to ride rather than attend church.
Road rugosity, the CTC member who became transport minister, and cycling in the rain at the London Olympics in 1948
He may have killed off the railways and promoted, instead, the use of motorways but Ernest Marples was a member of the CTC, the first member to rise to the role of minister for transport.
Chicago aims to be a world-class cycling city (you know, like it was in the 1890s)
In the 1890s Chicago didn’t need cycle-only “side-paths”, it had 40 miles of wide boulevards, which bicyclists had almost to themselves: the well-surfaced boulevards were for “pleasure vehicles” only, horse-drawn wagons were only allowed on dirt roads, and streetcar trolleys were also kept away from the boulevards.
Tread carefully or your strap-on knobbifier may leave the wrong impression
Just as Oakley-style plastic lenses for cycling were around in the 1890s, so were MTB-style knobby tyres. Most solid tyres of the period – as fitted to high-wheelers, which didn’t need the suspension offered by pneumatics – were smooth. Most pneumatics were patterned with grooves. However, for serious mud-plugging on an overseas tour on Humber Safety cycles in 1893, the Stead brothers were equipped with the “latest bicycle Torrilliou pneumatic tyres and Edwards’ corrugate cover.”
Northern England’s cycle infrastructure is the best in Europe
The micro-infrastructure, that is. Britain’s bike paths are famously comically bad, but English aggregates – the little stones enrobed in asphalt – are in demand across the world. Specifically, some little stones from a quarry in deepest Northumberland. They’re naturally red. Some of the wide and separated bike paths in the Netherlands, and in other bike-friendly countries, are made with these red stones.
Wide, smooth cycleways adjacent to main roads but separated from cars and pedestrians. Perpetually-lit, airy, safe underpasses beneath roundabouts. Direct, convenient and attractive cycle routes designed not by car-centric town planners but by a transport engineer who cycled to work every day. Priority given to cyclists at intersections. Schools, workplaces, shops: all linked by protected cycleways. Recreational bike paths to nature areas. Colour-coded sign-posting. Plentiful cycle parking in the town centre and at the rail station. An urban cycle network lionised at global conferences and the subject of lectures, books and magazine articles. Amsterdam? Copenhagen? Groningen? No. Stevenage.
Why is cycling popular in the Netherlands: infrastructure or 100+ years of history? Both
Imagine, if you will, War of the Worlds in reverse. Imagine not a destructive alien invasion, but a constructive one. Imagine giant space-ships sucking up all of the wonderful bike paths in the Netherlands and depositing them in the UK, creating ready-made bicycle infrastructure, separated from the road network, protected, connected. Once they’ve got used to having aliens as town planners, do you think car-mad Brits would become bike-mad? Would the instant installation of near-perfect infrastructure lead to an overnight explosion in bike use?
Ugly girls on bicycles: “Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.”
For many women, the Safety bicycle of the 1890s enabled escape. Escape from kith and kin, escape from the strictures of late Victorian society, escape from tight corsets and voluminous dresses (bloomers weren’t invented for bicycling but so-called ‘Rational dress’ was ideally suited to journeys awheel), and, in many cases, escape from chaperones. Later, it was the motorcar which enabled easy illicit liaisons (especially when motorcars were made more private, with side windows, a roof and, ahem, a bed of sorts) but it had been the bicycle which had given women their first true taste of freedom. Bicycles required no fare, no feed; bicycles didn’t have timetables; bicycles could speedily go – almost – anywhere.
The bicycle which led to Britain’s gold rush
The Surrey Machinist Co. of Great Suffolk Street, London, was noted for its high wheelers but in 1889 it created a bicycle that would have almost zero impact at the time but which, about 100 years later, went on to influence what would become the Lotus Superbike, the carbon monocoque bicycle used by Chris Boardman in Barcelona.
Mayor of New York says roads are not for cars. And cyclists and pedestrians are “more important” than motorists
Michael Bloomberg: “Our roads are not here for automobiles. Our roads are here for people to get around…The streets were there to transport people. They are not for cars…Cyclists and pedestrians and bus riders are as important, if not, I would argue more important, than automobile riders.”
Drive fast to your tomb
Assassins who fret over telescopic rifle sights or the latest undetectable poisons would be better to run down their prey with a car. Kill with a gun, expect jail-time; kill with a car and more times than not you’ll walk free. It often seems that the usual laws of the land are suspended when crimes are committed on the public highway. Speeding isn’t deemed a social ill, it’s seen as a necessary consequence of our modern, over-stressed lifestyles. Yet the desire for highway haste, and the belief that slower users of the highway should get out of the way of the faster ones, has a long and inglorious history. Road bullying was amplified by motorisation, not introduced by it.
Detroit’s most famous cyclist: Henry Ford
The first motorcar on the streets of Detroit was followed by a tall, slim man on a three-year old bicycle. This bicycle was the slim man’s pride and joy, an individual means of transportation affordable by almost all. The slim man was Henry Ford. Three months after riding behind Detroit’s first car, Ford knocked out the wall of his home workshop at 58 Bagley Avenue in downtown Detroit and went for a drive in his first automobile. This was the Quadricycle, featuring a great many bicycle parts, including steel spoked wheels and pneumatic tyres.
The petition that paved America
On September 20th, 1893, the Duryea Brothers road-tested the first gasoline-powered American-built automobile. Most people assume it was early cars such as these – and later ones from the likes of Ford and Buick – which paved America. In fact, the impetus to create better roads didn’t come from the automobile industry, it came from cyclists. In February 1893, the Senate passed a law creating the Office of Road Inquiry. This office – charged with researching best-practice and learning what the Good Roads movement had spent the best part of 20 years lobbying for – later became the Federal Highways Administration. The Good Roads movement had been started by cyclists. Soon after its formation in 1880, the League of American Wheelmen started to push for better roads. The League of American Wheelmen – and the Good Roads movement – were bankrolled by Albert Pope, the manufacturer of Columbia bicycles. In 1892, Pope paid for and organized a petition, requesting the creation of a federal Government Roads Department among other things. Pope’s petition was influential – it was signed by the US Chief Justice, State Governors and was endorsed by banks, large corporations, boards of trade, labour organizations and a future President.
How two cycling organisations founded in 1878 (and a Minister for War) created better roads for all
Aristocrats who wished to take up a sport in the 1880s purchased how-to guides penned by peers. The Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes was founded in 1885 by Henry Somerset, 8th Duke of Beaufort, owner of Badminton House, a stately pile in Gloucestershire. The first book in the series – on hunting, naturally – was authored by the Duke and a number of his aristocratic friends. Two tomes on fishing followed. A horsey title was published in 1886 and, in the same year, there came two books on shooting. Books on boating and cricket didn’t appear until 1888 but had been preceded by a joint book on Athletics and Football in 1887. Prior to this, and showing how important cycling was at the time, the Badminton Library’s book on Cycling was published early in 1887.
World’s first cycling faceplant, 1865 (rider wasn’t wearing a helmet, but he didn’t die)
This is a line-drawing of the world’s “first header”, a forward fall from a bicycle. It’s also a line-drawing of the creator of the world’s first pedal-operated bicycle. The creator and rider is Frenchman Pierre Lallement. The location is Birmingham, close to New Haven, Connecticut. Lallement first attached cranks and pedals to his ‘dandy horse’ in 1863 and rode this 70lb wooden machine on the cobbled streets of Paris. In 1865 he emigrated to America, taking his novel contraption with him. Meanwhile, in Paris, Pierre Michaux, as associate of Lallement and probably his employer, started selling pedal-operated velocipedes thought to based on the Lallement design. It’s Michaux who is often credited with “inventing” the pedal-powered bicycle. However, in an article in Outing magazine of 1883, Charles E. Pratt, the co-founder of the League of American Wheelman, credited Lallement as the true father of the bicycle.
Lesbians and Cycling: an Illustrated History
Cycling helped expand the gene pool. But cycling was also a vehicle, as it were, for couplings that wouldn’t result in offspring. Same-sex relationships have a long history and cycling had its part to play.
When President’s said cyclists deserved medals
In the 1896 Presidential election campaign, the League of American Wheelmen was the only organisation to have its own room in the campaign HQ of the Republican party. President of the United States: “if wheelmen secure us the good roads for which they are so zealously working, your body deserves a medal in recognition of its philanthropy.”