The Mystique of the Bicycle

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

2 minute read

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

View of small-town street with brick buildings and cars parked in diagonal parking with string lights going across street in Cleveland County, Oklahoma.

Norman, Oklahoma Eliminates Parking Mandates

The city made a subtle, one-word change that frees up developers to build parking based on actual need and eliminates costly unnecessary parking.

September 14, 2023 - Next City

Few passengers waiting in subway station with multiple platforms and "North Station" signs in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Transit Riders Report Safety Concerns

Almost three-quarters of current and former riders report feeling unsafe while using MBTA services.

September 18, 2023 - Hoodline

View of Boston from Bunker Hill with statue in foreground

Boston to Begin Zoning Code Update, Mayor Announces

It’s been nearly 60 years, but the city of Boston is finally ready to do a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning code.

September 14, 2023 - The Boston Globe

Aerial view of large warehouses in Southern California with hills in background.

California Air Regulators to Crack Down on Warehouses

Truck traffic to and from Southern California warehouses accounts for as much pollution as refineries, power plants, and other industrial polluters combined.

September 22 - Los Angeles Times

Close-up of bioswale drain with pebbles and various small plants with water running through.

FEMA Climate Resilience Loans Target Small Communities

A new loan program reduces the bureaucratic hurdles to implementing small-scale climate adaptation projects.

September 22 - Grist

Silver and red WMATA public bus at station in Washington, D.C.

D.C. Delays Bus Lane Enforcement

The program using cameras to ticket drivers who block bus lanes was scheduled to begin this week.

September 22 - DCist