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Reviewed by:
  • The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer by Kevin J. Hayes
  • Neil R. Nicholson
Hayes, Kevin J. The Two-Wheeled World of George B. Thayer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Pp. 280. $28.95 hb.

There is a growing push among Americans to escape our daily routines and experience a different type of lifestyle. Minimalism and connecting with nature are two proposed methods for doing this. Perhaps these are two of the forces behind the surging popularity of cyclotourism. From one-day century rides to organized week-long tours to cross-country treks, more and more people are finding joy in the simplicity of the bicycle.

This text follows the travels of one of the first documented cyclotourists, George B. Thayer. Nearly 125 years ago, atop his high-wheeled Columbia Expert, Thayer developed a passion for exploring. Day trips turned into multiday and eventually week-long trips, until he decided on the adventure of a lifetime: travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. To fund his journey, Thayer relayed tales from his journey back to the Hartford Evening Post. These journalistic reports provide one of the earliest first-person accounts of such an adventure.

The reader, cyclist and noncyclist alike, will be not only intrigued but also inspired by Thayer’s expedition. With all the requirements of his day-to-day existence fitting into a knapsack on his back, Thayer found much joy in exploring unplanned routes and commiserating with locals. When a town particularly caught his attention, he found no harm in delaying his travels and spending a few extra days getting to know it. Moreover, no invitation was refused when a member of the local League of American Wheelmen section invited him to explore a nearby destination. Such a carefree attitude toward living in the moment and an honest belief in the goodness of others are two things every reader of this book will enjoy. [End Page 233]

Though the main tale of this text is the ride across America, the reader is treated to “the rest” of George’s life story as well, including more cycling adventures in destinations near and far. Canada and several European countries revealed the same local hospitality found in rural America. How cycling changed Thayer’s approach to life becomes clearer upon his return to everyday life. This serves to further the text’s promotion of cycling touring. There is little in this book that dissuades someone from wanting to explore via bicycle. The reader wants to hop aboard her bike and set out exploring.

All readers will find this book entertaining and educational. George Thayer’s touring is described in the context of the time, with appropriate historical references throughout. Thus, it could serve as a reference to late-nineteeth-century cycling. Where it lacks an academic feel, the author does provide a significant number of references to more thorough research pieces. Not only are the descriptions of Thayer’s travels vividly painted, but the personalities of Thayer and those he encounters along his journey are also described in detail. Lastly, though it is nonfiction, it holds one’s attention. Simply put, it is a fine read.

Neil R. Nicholson
North Central College


Additional Information

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pp. 233-234
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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