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TWO WHEELS GOOD by Jody Rosen Kirkus Star


The History and Mystery of the Bicycle

by Jody Rosen

Pub Date: May 24th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-804-14149-9
Publisher: Crown

A lively social history of the bicycle.

As New York Times Magazine feature writer Rosen observes in this good-natured narrative, the bicycle has always been viewed through a complex moral lens. In China, where “the number of bicycles manufactured this year…will exceed the total worldwide production of automobiles,” it was viewed as a great equalizer—but then, when car culture took hold, as something of an anachronism confined to the poor, and now, in a time of inequality, a status symbol for the wealthy and their expensive machines. Just so, as the author notes, there’s always been a tension between “bicycle love and bicycle loathing” in the Western world, where the bicycle and its forerunners were heralded as cleaner than animal-drawn vehicles and criticized for such things as showing off a little too much leg. Rosen chronicles his travels around the world to look at bicycle culture. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, which has some of the most tangled traffic jams anywhere, countless bicycle rickshaws underscore the fact that the machine is usually meant for labor and not recreation and that “the most widespread form of freight cycling is the one devoted to human cargo.” Back home in New York, Rosen risks life and limb to travel a city in which “bicycle infrastructure is inadequate, and cy­clists are forced into roaring traffic on streets where motorists oper­ate with something close to impunity.” At the same time, however, bicycling is “the best way to comprehend and imbibe New York.” The author delivers the goods lightly and always interestingly. His opening, for instance, concerns the origins of the rubber tire thanks to the tinkering of a Belfast veterinarian tired of bumpy cobblestones, and the discussion of the worldwide bicycle-theft epidemic is eye-opening: Most locks are easily thwarted and law enforcement indifferent, all good reason to follow Rosen’s lead and buy only inexpensive bikes.

Fans of bicycling and how-the-world-works reportage alike will find this a great pleasure.