The Mystique of the Bicycle

A new book illuminates the history and meaning of the bicycle in human society.

June 5, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


“From their debut in the 1800s, bicycles have been a confounding presence on the streets, their riders’ unpredictable careening infuriating carriage drivers, then car drivers, and, the whole time, pedestrians.” Meanwhile, some cyclists cling to a “sense of moral superiority,” Zoë Beery writes in The Atlantic. “As climate collapse looms, bicycles have taken on a saintly quality, extolled as squeaky-clean instruments of penance for wealthy countries’ carbon emissions.”

This cut-and-dry story doesn’t tell the whole tale, argues a new book by Jody Rosen. “Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle takes readers time-traveling and globe-trotting to build up an alternate narrative about a simple machine that becomes harder to categorize the more you learn about it. Through history and across cultures, bicycles are a human denominator.”

The source article outlines Rosen’s book, which details the history of the bicycle and the cultural and historical significance of the machine. As Beery notes, “Fascinating tidbits organized by loose themes, abrupt topical switches within sections, and chapters on trick cycling, exercise bikes, and bikes as sex objects make the book comprehensive but also unfocused. Still, the meandering structure often feels like a leisurely ride, full of spontaneous detours into unexpected delight.”

Beery also calls the book “essential” for its “rigorous reporting” of historical facts and the less pleasant aspects of the bicycle’s history. “In showing that bikes have always been complicated—accessories to some and essential to others, means of recreation and of labor, signifiers of both wealth and poverty—Rosen also shows that they are universal, inviting even the most skeptical readers along with his humility and humor.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2022 in The Atlantic

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