- Cycling and Society
This collection found its naissance in the “Cycling and the Social Sciences” symposium convened at Lancaster University in June of 2004. The editors rightly assert the originality of their interdisciplinary text and hope that it will precipitate a concerted effort to center the academically neglected practice of cycling as a legitimate and fruitful focus of committed research. Whereas they emphasize the importance of maintaining a critical perspective on the subject, they suggest that cycling is worth promoting and that this promotion would benefit from a recognition and understanding of the practice’s diversity and complexity. Their book is a successful effort in this regard.
The introduction provides a useful overview of cycling and society in space and time, of precedent literature, and of the book’s contents, an outline of which follows in the next two paragraphs.
Justin Spinney’s “Cycling the City: Non-Place and the Sensory Construction of Meaning in a Mobile Practice” addresses the embodied experiences of bike commuters in London as an ethnographic fiction. Spinney’s approach is informed in part by the notion that our perceptions of the character of a place are determined in part by the technologies which mediate these perceptions. “Capitalizing on Curiosity: Women’s Professional Cycle Racing in the Late-Nineteenth Century” by Clare S. Simpson emphasizes the social and economic relationships among racers, audiences, inventors, and manufacturers, as well as the dissonance between the serious and spectacular framings of the sport. “Barriers to Cycling: An Exploration of Quantitative Analyses” by John Parkin, Tim Ryley, and Tim Jones, is a qualitative review of quantitative findings regarding the effects of car and bike ownership, journey distance and purpose, socioeconomic and demographic variables, environmental and health impacts, traffic conditions, and risk, effort, and route characteristics on the likelihood of cycle use. David Skinner and Paul Rosen’s “Hell Is Other Cyclists: Rethinking Transport and Identity” reports on the findings of their qualitative study which looked at [End Page 232] employee decisions to cycle, particularly with respect to the circular relationship between social and self-identities and transportation behaviors and experiences. In “The Flaneur on Wheels?” Nicholas Oddy explores the relationship between cycling technologies and society (with emphasis on the latter) in the early twentieth century.
“Bicycles Don’t Evolve: Velomobiles and the Modeling of Transport Technologies” is a call to recognize more than the presently normative twowheeled “safety bicycle.” Here, Peter Cox and Frederick Van De Walle discuss human-powered alternatives such as recumbents and velomobiles, and challenge the “evolinear” myth of progress which frames the automobile as a naturally superior and “evolved” transportation technology. Dave Horton’s “Fear of Cycling” discusses fear based both on manipulated perceived safety risks and of the oft-maligned cyclist “type.” In “Men, Women and the Bicycle: Gender and Social Geography of Cycling in the Late-Nineteenth Century,” Phillip Gordon Mackintosh and Glen Norcliffe investigate gender and class issues in early cycling with special attention given to order, chaos, and domesticity. Finally, Ben Fincham’s “Bicycle Messengers: Image Identity and Community” delves into issues of identity and image surrounding bike couriers in Cardiff and London.
I have only minor criticisms. At first the chapter order seems odd, given that the three chapters taking a historical perspective (2, 5, and 8) and the three emphasizing issues of identity (4, 7, and 9) are mixed together and with the others. The editors explain, however, that this disorder is intended to reframe rather than reproduce conventional circumscriptions of cycling and to encourage “unusual juxtapositions” (p. 9). The majority of authors are from the United Kingdom and, as might be expected, so too are many of the research sites. The book might have benefited from an expanded scope. The production quality is robust and the layout commendably compact, but I found the margins too small for all but magnifying-glass marginalia.
Despite the attempts of some authors to shift the discourse from that concentrating exclusively on the “evolution” of cycling technology toward more social concerns, Cycling and Society ultimately...