Guest post by James Longhurst
There’s a bicycle renaissance in America right now, featuring bike share programs in major cities, more bike lanes, increasing numbers of commuters, and new advocacy groups injecting much-needed energy into long-established discussions of bicycles and their place on the road. This 21st century bike boom has also attracted the attention of all kinds of academics and scholars in urban design, politics, history and the culture of bicycling. Many of the books and articles these scholars produce are only read by a small audience of academics; they are fairly arcane and impenetrable for the general public. But a small number of these projects attempt to take scholarly interests and communicate them in an interesting and approachable way.
On March 27, the authors of one of these new books on the history of bicycling came to La Crosse, and presented their research to a large audience from the campus and the community. Nicholas Hoffman and Jesse J. Gant are the authors of Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State, out from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in 2013. Hoffman is Chief Curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin; Gant is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and currently on a research fellowship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
Their book, Wheel Fever argues that the conflict over bicycling in the 1890s — in which the social and cultural symbolism of bicycling was constantly contested between middle-class men, adventurous women, aspiring African Americans, and practically-minded workers — is a means of understanding why riding a bike is strangely politicized even today. As the authors put it, riding a bike has been political from the start: the bicycle “has been defined by a rich and often impassioned debate over who should be allowed to ride, where they could ride, and even what they could wear.” The authors argue that there are two forces – one group who sees the bicycle as a threat to traditional social order; and another group who see “democratic possibilities” through which the bicycle might assist in remaking society for the better.
Gant and Hoffman’s research is an example of social history, sometimes referred to as “history from the bottom up.” These are the stories of how everyday people – not just leaders and rulers – experienced the events of history and shaped their own lives. It’s not a new approach; historians have been working on these sorts of projects for more than four decades. But this approach might be new to non-historians, and so the public talk on the UW-L campus was an opportunity to bring two worlds together.
This mix of the popular and scholarly is most obvious in Chapter 5, “The Troubled Beginnings of Wheel Fever.” This chapter puts Wisconsin bicycling into context with the racial ideology of the 1890s, connecting bicycle history to prominent scholarly works. This kind of approach has already transformed our understanding of the “White City” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The chapter concludes that “In the end, the exclusionary culture of the early 1890s, which reached a peak during the 1893 World’s Fair, put on full display the cultural limitations that would plague early cycling in the Badger State.” It would be easy to celebrate the positive legacies of bicycling in the Wisconsin; but while Wheel Fever does that, it also addresses the complexities and contradictions of race, class, and gender even when in the pursuit of the history of a “great bicycling state.”
The event on March 27 was meant to bring together the popular and the scholarly on the subject of the bicycle – with support from a variety of academic departments on campus, as well as the Wisconsin Bike Federation, and historic bicycle displays from the La Crosse Historical Society, the event brought students from economics, history and physical education together with cyclists and bike advocates from the community. With a lively Q & A, book signing and reception, it was an excellent way to spend a rainy night, and shows a building interest in cycling and its scholarship in the La Crosse community.
Missed the event? You can hear Gant and Hoffman interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Newsmaker program, with discussion of La Crosse bike history, at http://www.wpr.org/listen/559351
— guest post by James Longhurst, Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
Sidebar: Scholarly books about bicycling. From different academic disciplines, these are books meant to advance knowledge about the bicycle’s past and present, and are not as widely read as books written for a popular audience by journalists or bicycle advocates.
Luis A. Vivanco, Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing, Routledge, 2013.
Written for the college classroom; includes both historical and current observations on the cultural meaning of bicycles and their riders.
Glen Norcliffe, Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900, University of Toronto Press, 2001.
The bicycle as a symbol of “modernity” and mass consumer culture in the late 19th century.
Christopher Armstrong, H. V. Nelles, The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company: Sunday Streetcars and Municipal Reform in Toronto, 1888 – 1897, Oxford University Press, 2010.
An enjoyable but complicated story of urban politics, corruption and transportation policy.
Dave Horton, Paul Rosen and Peter Cox, eds., Cycling and Society, Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2007.
Several different approaches to understanding cycling from the perspective of European scholars, especially sociologists.
John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, eds., City Cycling, Boston: MIT Press, 2012.
Collection of articles bringing data-driven scholarship to understanding bicycle policy internationally.
Wiebe Bijker, Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.
Using the technological development of the bicycle as a case study in what was known as the “social construction of technology” or SCOT debate in the history of technology.
Bicycle Commuting in a heat wave.
Western Wisconsin has been suffering through a heat wave for the past few weeks. Despite the heat there are still lots of bicyclists out on the road commuting to work, shop or just heading out for a cool drink with friends. Just like winter, the hot humid summers here can pose challenges for some bicyclists. Here are a couple of thoughts about bicycle commuting in a heat wave.
- Timing: Try leaving for work a bit earlier when it is more likely to be cooler.
- Slow Down: If you follow tip one, you should have plenty of time to ride a bit slower, that way you will sweat less. Plus you will get to enjoy the scenery more.
- Axe the Packs: Backpacks and messenger bags can look cool, but they can leave you with a sweaty back. Try equipping your bike with a rack and panniers. If you have a rack but not panniers, use a couple of bungee cords to hold your pack/bag securely to the rack.
- What to Wear: Light weight natural fiber clothing will keep you cooler, but will show wrinkles a bit more. A hat or helmet with a brim will keep the sun off you face and having a bandana handy will let you mop any sweat off your brow. I also like wearing my sandals and rolling up my pant legs when the thermostat goes up. Short pants or skirts are also a way to keep cool, just watch out for sunburn. Read more
By Ross Seymour
Wisconsin has a short statute on how people are to use bike/ped paths. Those rules are found at Sec. 346.803 of the Wisconsin statutes. The rules apply to “Bicycle Ways.” Bicycle ways are defined as any path or sidewalk designated for the use of bicycles by the relevant governmental body. (Sec. 340.01(5s)) Bicycle ways are distinguished from bicycle lanes. Lanes are for the exclusive use of bicycles while ways are not exclusively for bicycles (presumably to include pedestrians).
First, the bicyclist must exercise due care and give an audible signal when passing another bicyclist or a pedestrian. Due care would mean giving a wide enough berth while passing or taking care to pass on a section where it would be safe. While most bicycle ways around here have good sight lines there are a few places where you can’t see far ahead enough to pass safely. On a regular road these sections would have “no passing” signs or markings.
The audible signal requirement actually comes out of the Rule of the Road for motor vehicles. A little known requirement is that when passing another automobile, the passing car is required to give an audible signal while passing (presumable a toot of the horn). (Sec. 346.07(3)) An “audible signal” is left undefined by the statutes. Read more
Filed under: Advocacy, Bike Lanes, Bike Paths, Commuting, DRBC, Lifestyle
Found Online is a collection of links to interesting articles and items we come across online. Most of these are also posted to our Facebook page throughout the month (be sure to like our page) as we find them and are put here about once a month.
The best biking cities of the East race toward Gold: Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. all receive Silver-level designations
The City of Onalaska, Wi submitted an application for Bicycle Friendly Status in the last round of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), Bicycle Friendly Community program. We are sorry to report that they did not receive this recognition but did receive and honorable mention. We hope for the opportunity to work with the city on achieving this status in the future, as well as working on Complete Streets. If your community is interested in applying the DRBC would be happpy to help.
The LAB has also just released the latest annual ranking of Bicycle Friendly States. This year Wisconsin slip from the number 2 spot to number 3, main based on the efforts of Maine, who was in a close 3 place last year and moved to number 2 this year. Wisconsin had held the number 2 spot for the past three years. Minnesota maintain its numbe 4 ranking for the second year in row. For more information on the program and on the scoring of the individual states go the LAB program website here.