Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle

Jody Rosen. Crown, $28.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-804141-49-9

This high-flying debut history by New York Times Magazine contributor Rosen captures the allure of riding a bike. Through vivid anecdotes, such as how the design of the bicycle led the Wright brothers to invent the airplane, Rosen makes clear how impactful the invention has been for humankind. Baron Karl von Drais, a minor German nobleman, produced the first bike in 1817, and the design was repeatedly improved upon in subsequent decades. For example, in 1888, Belfast-based veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop replaced the solid rubber tires on his son’s tricycle with “inflated rubber tubes, sheathed in canvas and an additional outer layer of sheet rubber,” leading to the widespread adoption of pneumatic tires. Rosen is equally fascinating in describing the bicycle’s changing status in countries like China, which produces more bikes per year than the world builds cars; the “Great Covid-19 Bicycle Boom” that saw people “converging on bike lanes and patronizing cycle-share systems in unprecedented numbers”; and the archetype of “bright-eyed children, bicycling through idyllic suburbs” seen in movies and TV shows like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stranger Things. Witty prose, exhaustive research, and Rosen’s contagious enthusiasm ensure that this standout history will appeal to cyclists and non-cyclists alike. (May)
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