Bike Battles

A History of Sharing the American Road

James Longhurst

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  • $34.95 hardcover (9780295994680) Add to Cart
  • Published: April 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / American History; Environmental Studies; Sports
  • Bibliographic information: 306 pp., 32 illus., 5.5 x 8.5 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Americans have been riding bikes for more than a century now. So why are most American cities still so ill-prepared to handle cyclists? James Longhurst, a historian and avid cyclist, tackles that question by tracing the contentious debates between American bike riders, motorists, and pedestrians over the shared road.

Bike Battles explores the different ways that Americans have thought about the bicycle through popular songs, merit badge pamphlets, advertising, films, newspapers and sitcoms. Those associations shaped the actions of government and the courts when they intervened in bike policy through lawsuits, traffic control, road building, taxation, rationing, import tariffs, safety education and bike lanes from the 1870s to the 1970s.

Today, cycling in American urban centers remains a challenge as city planners, political pundits, and residents continue to argue over bike lanes, bike-share programs, law enforcement, sustainability, and public safety. Combining fascinating new research from a wide range of sources with a true passion for the topic, Longhurst shows us that these battles are nothing new; in fact they're simply a continuation of the original battle over who is - and isn't - welcome on our roads.

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James Longhurst is associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and author of Citizen Environmentalists.

"Bike Battles offers a significant contribution to both the growing literature on the history of American bicycling and the immense, well-established literature on urban policymaking. It is scholarship written by a sophisticated historian who draws on sources ranging from the traditional to the wonderfully unusual in order to shed light on the changing history of bicycling's place in American cities."
-Christopher Wells, author of Car Country

"Bike Battles is masterly in its treatment of public policy toward the 'roads as commons,' and has given new depth to our understanding of cycling in America. I envy the light and easy style of the author."
-Glen Norcliffe, author of Ride to Modernity

"Bike Battles is a thoroughly fascinating history of the competing claims and conflict between cyclists and motorists for space on our public roads. Spanning the fields of law, politics, public policy, and pop culture, Bike Battles is essential reading for everybody from cyclists, advocates, and lawyers, to urbanists, students, researchers, planners, and policy and decision-makers, and is destined to become a classic in the field."
-Bob Mionske, author of Bicycling and the Law

"James Longhurst gives us a whole range of new ways to look at those moments of confusion, uncertainty, and rage experienced by anyone who has spent much time on roads shared by cars and bicycles. Bike Battles is academically rigorous but easy and fun to read. This is really my kind of nerdiness. I recommend it for anyone who feels stuck in polarized conversations about how we use our roads."
-Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics

"James Longhurst documents the century-long story of a common, indeed ubiquitous device, the bicycle, which has never been satisfied to stay between the lines of modernist culture. First too fast, now too slow, once too elite, now too plebian, it has always been the square peg in the round hole of urban social order. The 'battle' in Bike Battles isn't between cars and bikes; it's between individuals and the infrastructure state."
-Bruce Epperson, author of Bicycles in American Highway Planning


1. Get Out of the Road!
2. The Right Sort of People
3. The Rules of the Road
4. Victory Bike Battles
5. 1950's Syndrome
6. Bikes Are Beautiful

Note on Citations and Sources
Select Bibliography

"A measure of any book is whether it makes you think beyond its pages, and Bike Battles did just that for me. My dad used to tell me that if I got only one thing out of a book-an interesting fact, a point of view I hadn't previously considered, something helpful to my life or just entertainment-the book was worth its cover price. By that standard Bike Battles is a bargain. It allowed me to see the last 150 years of riding in America like a mosaic on the wall. I won't look at parked cars the same way again. The book ought to give today's bicycle advocates a sense of their place in history and make them proud to continue the battle."
-Grant Petersen, Wall Street Journal

"These colorful references, coupled with Longhurst's light and natural writing style, make Bike Battles easy to read."
-Amy Goetzman, MinnPost

"In six chapters, [Longhurst] traces the history of what is essentially road-sharing: first horses and carts mixed with pedestrians; then trolleys and buses; then, after WWII, an overwhelming shift, funded by federal highway dollars, to the primacy of the car."
-Joe Garvin, City Living Seattle

"Carefully researched, thoroughly documented, and very engaging, this is a book that everyone who travels needs to read and understand."