AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractBicycle history and historiography is currently undergoing significant reassessment. Historical studies on bicycles and bicycle mobility have been dominated by the legacy of chronologically organised accounts of the bicycle as artefact. While valuable, this approach has had a tendency to elide significant differences between specific histories of the place of the bicycle as a component of broader mobility systems in varying geographical locations. New areas of social and cultural history are combining with colonial and post-colonial analyses to understand both the Eurocentric nature of dominant accounts and the hidden possibilities of multiple and plural narratives. Moving away from an artefactual bicycle history, this study embraces recent developments in the study of technology and draws on use-pattern approaches to the study of bicycle technology. Shifting focus to a use-centred account and comparing experiences across geographical boundaries reveals substantial differences in patterns and timescales of adoption of the bicycle as basis for mass mobility. By taking a comparative approach to the historical and developmental patterns of bicycle use across varying geographies it becomes possible to isolate the significant factors that may be responsible for shaping cycle use. A comparative use-centred history, placing the bicycle in the context of broader mobility and energy use patterns can enable better understanding of the social forces at work to shape constraints and opportunities, and provides the capacity to interpret the factors at work in the rise and fall of cycle use. The paper re-examines patterns of growth and decline of cycle use for transport in a number of locations (including UK, USA, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and China), in order to elucidate the factors which have surrounded important change in cycle use. To briefly summarise the main argument of the paper, the roles and influences of a number of actors in times of modal shift are examined. In particular, consideration is given to the contrasting roles of industry and national economic production regimes; users and non-user groups, with specific reference to the role of symbolic value in respect of cycle use; Public policy frameworks; infrastructural provision; and finally, attention is paid to the relationship between cycle use and the use of other mobility modes. In conclusion, it suggests new ways in which to think about bicycle history, moving away from the dominant periodised model and pointing instead towards mechanisms of change in bicycle usage.
CitationConference paper prepared for 40th Symposium of the International Committee for the History of Technology, ICOHTEC in Manchester, 22-28 July 2013
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