Threesology Research Journal
A History of the Bicycle

History of the 
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History of the Bicycle

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History 407-507 Dr. David Ortiz Jr.
Lectures: T & Th 9:30-10:45 a.m. in Architecture 302A Social Sciences 229
Office Hours: T & Th 1:00-3:15 p.m. Office phone: 626-8419 w/v.m.

The modern bicycle has been present in human lives for less than a century and a half. Yet in that brief period of time it has spread throughout the world and its popularity is near-universal. In this course we will trace the evolution of bicycle in four distinct ways: as a transportation device, with a gendered component; as a site for the development of human technology; as commodity for economic development; and as a device for human pleasure, leisure time, and exercise. We will explore its invention, growth, and development from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries in societies around the world. We will survey important developments in the history of the bicycle from approximately 1850 to the present.

Required Texts (407 & 507)

James L. Witherell, Bicycle History: A Chronological Cycling History of People, Races, and Technology (BH)
Margaret Guroff, The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life (MH)
David Kroodsma, The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate (BD)
David V. Herlihy, The Lost Cyclist (LC)
Pete Jordan, In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist (CoB)

Required Texts (507 only)

Paul Smethurst, The Bicycle: Towards a Global History
David V. Herlihy, Bicycle: The History
Bruce Weber, Life is a Wheel: Memoirs of a Bike-Riding Obituarist
Tim Moore, Gironimo!: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy
David Gordon Wilson, Bicycling Science

Course Note: This course is a standard History course, which means there is a great deal of reading and writing. Therefore, if your schedule is too heavy, if you work too many hours, if for any reason you cannot commit to the level of work required, you should seriously consider dropping this course. Do not worry, I will offer this course regularly.

Weekly agenda: The course outline below is simply a guide to help students organize their reading. In general, I will try to reserve 10-20 minutes at the end of each class for questions and discussion. Please do all of the course reading by Tuesday so that you are prepared on Tuesdays and Thursdays to answer questions and discuss the texts. I may deviate from this outline from time to time.

Course Outline:

PART ONE – Bicycle Invention, Development, History

Week 1: Introduction & Stating the Problem: Introductions to a Bicycle History
Jan 12 Readings: Begin LC

Week 2: From Drasines to the "safety"
Jan 17-19 Readings: BH, Intro & Chap. 1; MH, Intro & Chap. 1; CoB, Chap. 2

Week 3: Ordinaries and Safeties
Jan 24-26 Readings: BH, Chaps. 2 & 3; MH, Chap. 3; CoB, Chap. 1

Week 4: The Modern Bicycle
Jan 31-Feb 2 Readings: BH, Chaps. 4 & 5; MH, Chap. 4; CoB, Chaps. 3 & 5

PART TWO – Bicycles and the Economy of Bicycle Production

Week 5: A New Transportation Device
Feb 7-9 Readings: BH, Chaps. 6 & 7; CoB, Chap. 6; should be through LC, Chap. 8

Week 6: Building Boom: 1890s to 1920s
Feb 14-16 Readings: CoB, Chap. 4
Week 7: The Lean Years: 1920s to 1950s
Feb 21-23 Readings: MH, Chap. 7; CoB, Chaps. 7 & 14

Week 8: Cultural and Economic Revival of the Industry
Feb 28-Mar 2 Readings: MH, Chap. 8; CoB, Chap. 16; Finish LC

PART THREE – The Science and Technology of Bicycle Making

Week 9: Early Technological Advance
Mar 7-9 Readings: BH, Chaps. 8 & 9; MH, Chaps. 5 & 6; Begin BD**

Mar 14-16

Week 11: Bicycle Racing, Research, and Development
Mar 21-23 Readings: BH, Chap. 10; CoB, Chaps. 9, 10, 11

Week 12: Human Powered But Electronically Shifted
Mar 28-30 Readings: BH, Chap. 11; CoB, Chaps. 8 & 12; should be through BD, Chap. 14

PART FOUR – Racing, Riding, Relaxing: Bicycles and Culture

Week 13: The Influence of Bicycle Racing
Apr 4-6 Readings: MH, Chap. 2; CoB, Chaps. 13 & 15

Week 14: A Leisure Device?
Apr 11-13 Readings: CoB, Chap. 17; MH, Chap. 10

Week 15: Cycling and the Health Culture
Apr 18-20 Readings: CoB, Chap. 18

Week 16: What My Bike Stands For: Politicization of the Bicycle
Apr 25-27 Readings: CoB, Chaps. 19

Week 17: Towards a Bicycling Future
May 2 Readings: BH, Chap. 12; MH, Chap. 11; CoB, Chaps. 20 & 21; Finish BD**

8:00-10:00 A.M.

**With the exception of the Final Exam Schedule, the above course outline is subject to change. I reserve the right to add supplemental assignments as necessary during the course of the semester.**

GradingThe student’s final grade for the course will be based on the following:

Attendance and Participation (20%) – Learning is, in large part, a shared experience based on reading and discussion. Obviously, one cannot participate in discussion in absentia. Hence, attendance is counted here not just as your presence, but that and your active and informed involvement in discussion based on the week’s readings. We will typically discuss the week’s course readings (BH, CoB, MH) on Tuesdays. We will discuss, during the first half of the semester (LC), and during the second half of the semester (BD) on Thursdays.

In-Class Assignments – Reading Summary Papers (25%) – There will be reading summary papers due during the course of the semester. These will be 400-750 words in length and convey the student’s own sense of the assigned reading for that particular week. There are no make-ups for these unless arrangements are made with the instructor well in advance of the due date.

Short Paper (25%) – This is a short essay that will take a position on David V. Herlihy’s, The Lost Cyclist. I will discuss the topic and suggest possible paper prompts in class prior to its due date, which is Friday, 10 March 2017. Papers will be 1000-1500 words in length, typed, double-spaced in 12 pt. font, footnoted in Chicago Manual of Style format. The relatively short length of the paper requires tight argumentation. The paper will be evaluated according to their form (grammar, spelling, and organization), content (demonstrates a thorough reading and historical understanding of the work), structure (thesis, evidence, and argument). If the previous criteria are met, papers that exhibit a unique approach will be rewarded for the originality of their content.

→ Note: writing assignments that are late,←
even just a second after the deadline,
will be penalized severely...
(a minimum of 1 letter grade).

Final Paper (30%) – The Final paper will respond to a prompt on David Kroodsma’s, The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate and will follow the format of the Short Papers, but it will be 1500-2000 words in length. I will discuss the prompt and distribute it well in advance of its due date, which is Wednesday, 3 May 2017.

History 50 – There is a graduate section of this class. Graduate students will have more extensive readings, in addition to the readings assigned for the undergraduate course. Graduate students are expected to attend the undergraduate lectures regularly and meet with the instructor on a group basis, twice monthly, in order to discuss regular course readings. Graduate students will write response papers (2 page single-spaced maximum) on their class readings, an annotated bibliography or research paper, and a historiography paper or research paper. Graduate student grading will be as follows:

  • Meetings/Engagement/Preparation 40%
  • Response papers 20%
  • Annotated Bibliography or Research Paper 20%
  • Historiography Paper or Research Paper 20%

Attendance – Statement on Excused Absences:

All holidays or special events observed by organized religions will be honored for those students who show affiliation with that particular religion. Absences pre-approved by the UA Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee) will be honored.

I do take attendance and the pace of the course is such that students who do not attend regularly or who come to class unprepared will have a very difficult time succeeding in this course. My lectures will be interspersed with frequent, open classroom discussion of the readings and the issues raised by the readings. Students are expected to meet assignment deadlines, prepare their reading assignments conscientiously, and participate actively and intelligently in classroom discussions.

In Class Etiquette – Students are required by ABOR 5-308 & 5-401 to behave in a way that facilitates a learning environment. Cell phones are to be neither seen nor heard. Use of all other personal electronic devices (P.E.D.s), with the exception of laptop computers, is prohibited in this class. Laptops may be used in the instructor-designated area of the class for note-taking only. We are all responsible for curtailing any behavior that disrupts the learning environment.

Policies against Threatening Behavior by Students:

Threatening behavior—including any statement, communication, conduct, or gesture that causes a reasonable apprehension of physical harm to a person or property—will not be tolerated. Sanctions may include suspension, expulsion, arrest, and criminal prosecution. For more information on UA policies concerning threatening behavior, please see:, Policies against Threatening Behavior by Students

Plagiarism Policy – Plagiarism and cheating will not be tolerated. All assignments performed for this course must be original and must be performed individually unless otherwise noted. Every incident of academic dishonesty will be strictly punished. The history department mandates that academic dishonesty be punished by a failing grade for the course. Additional sanctions may include a permanent record on your academic transcript and suspension or expulsion from the university. For more information on UA policies concerning academic integrity, please see:, Academic Integrity

Notification Regarding Disability:

It is the University’s goal that learning experiences be as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. You are also welcome to contact Disability Resources (520-621-3268) to establish reasonable accommodations. Please be aware that the accessible table and chairs in this room should remain available for students who find that standard classroom seating is not usable.

IMPORTANT ADDENDA: All course assignments must be submitted in order to earn a grade in this course. There is no extra credit assignment for the class. Students with special circumstances that could impair their ability to meet course requirements must make their situations known to the instructor prior to exam and assignment due dates. This course will present very controversial subject matter (sexuality, race, gender, etc.). Censorship is not consistent with the goals of this class or my own beliefs about a university education. Students unwilling to engage with readings, lectures, film, video, music or discussions of such issues, for whatever reasons, should drop this course. Remaining in the class constitutes student acceptance of these class norms.

H.O.B. note: a part of cycling history both past and present is the attitudes which different countries have about the bicycle, such as for example, Belgium's tiny population and its production of multiple professional cycle winners and America's much larger population and its miniscule quantity of professional cyclist winners. It should be noted that Belgium and other EU countries provide for a social security benefit for its cyclists whereas the US and other countries do not. Attitudinal differences plays a large role in the inculcation of cycling incentives both for personal and national interests and orientations. If only the US government and business community would grow up...

See for example:

Examples of Racing Events

Origination date: Tuesday, November 5th, 2019... 2:00 AM
Initial Posting: Tuesday, November 5th, 2019... 2:43 AM
Updated Posting: Saturday, 30th July, 2022... 5:40 AM

Your Questions, Comments or Additional Information are welcomed:
Herb O. Buckland