New Books Network

Evan Friss, an associate professor of history at James Madison University, historicizes the bicycle’s place in New York City’s social, economic, infrastructural and cultural...

Evan Friss, an associate professor of history at James Madison University, historicizes the bicycle’s place in New York City’s social, economic, infrastructural and cultural politics.

On Bicycles: A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City (Columbia University Press, 2019) curates a history of the key moments and individuals who worked to integrate the bicycle and the bicyclist into the urban fabric. Friss explores the long-standing debate over what a bicycle is—cars and walkers, he contends, had specific places on city streets. The bicycle was a different story. New Yorkers strove to define and redefine the relationship among New York City, its people, and their bicycles. Beginning with the fad of velocipedes and the arrival of the first modern bicycles on city streets in the second half of the nineteenth century, On Bicycles highlights key moments in cycling history. With each era, a diverse cohort of cyclists and municipal officials tasked with integrating—or banning—bicycles from city streets. Cyclists turned to bikes as a form of exercise as recreation, as a liberating technology, and as transportation. In Friss’s capable telling, cycling is a window into the nature of transportation, streets, and urban life.


Kara Murphy Schlichting is an assistant professor of history at Queens College, CUNY and author of New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore.