Publishers seem to be busting a sprocket to get out bicycle books this year. There's this history, there's Max Alth's All About Bikes and Bicycling (p. 753), there's Tom Cuthbertson's freewheelin' Bike Tripping (p. 391), there was a recent Times Book Review piece annotating half a dozen more, and the ABA convention exhibited others. Traveler-author Alderson (View North; The Comic Postcard in English Life; The New Grand Tour) provides a perspective on the current bike mania -- evidence exists, he says, that the Sumerians tooled around on such vehicles as early as 5000 B.C. But his main thrust is cycle development in Britain, from the early 19th century hobbyhorses (or dandy-horses) which caused more than one gentleman a hernia and the much-improved boneshakers to the coming of the Ordinaries (high bikes) and the marvelous Xtra-Ordinaries, right on through the Humber tricycle and the invention of the portable (collapsible) cycle, first used by the military. There are also sections on racing, cycle clubs, safety cometh, and ""women awheel."" Alderson's style won't win any medals but it's a readable ride, complemented by illustrations from contemporary sources.