Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 12.10.39 pmToday is the last day to chip in and reserve a copy of Bike Boom, the new book by Carlton Reid.

Bike Boom: The Unexpected Resurgence in Cycling is a sequel to Reid’s earlier best-seller Roads Were Not Built for Cars, which grew out of his excellent blog of the same name. (The earlier book was so popular it’s already out of print and a bit of a cult object! Luckily a reprint is on the way, and an e-book version is available).

Reid’s first book, Roads Were Not Built for Cars, did exactly what it says on the tin – and more – by revealing the story of how modern roads were, in fact, built for bicycles. Read a great review here.

In a nutshell: paving and tarmac and drainage and curbs and all the modern roading features we take for granted? Brought to you by the bike lobby and designed for bikes. In other words, if you’ve ever gazed at a big highway and thought to yourself “Y’know, that could be the widest, smoothest bike path in the world…” you’re not far wrong.

The “Good Roads” movement in the US and the UK was a two-wheel phenomenon, dreamed up by those who could see the egalitarian and democratic appeal of mass bicycle use. In the 1880s, they lobbied hard for smooth passage for their magical new machines.

(Sidebar: anyone know the NZ history? It seems rather quiet on the subject of a bike lobby; maybe our roads were mostly built for bullocks and gold-miners and railways. And it took longer – even by 1929, less than 3% of our roading was sealed! Didn’t stop people cycling on them, though.)

The Pioneer Cycling Club don't seem too bothered by the unsealed West Coast Road, yo. (Christchurch City Libraries: CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0071, 1884)
These bad boys from the Pioneer Cycling Club don’t seem too bothered by the unsealed West Coast Road. (Photo: Christchurch City Libraries: CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0071, ca. 1885)

Ironically – although it makes perfect sense, if you think about it – many of those early bike pioneers in the US and the UK went on to become combustion-engine tinkerers and car enthusiasts. Two wheels good, four wheels better? Enter Henry Ford (who borrowed ideas for his factories from the bike-building industry!) and the affordable motor car, and the rest is history – albeit a history that conveniently managed to forget the key role of bikes and bike-people in making it all possible.

Reid’s new book, Bike Boom, aims to pick up the story again in the 1970s, after the drastic drop in cycling numbers over the mid 20th century. It’ll tell the story of the deliberate push to free roads up for bikes again – a story that only becomes more urgent as it becomes increasingly clear that the combustion engine, not the human-powered bicycle, is the real dinosaur.


Bike Boom will aim to dig down into historical sources to find out how the Netherlands built a world-class network of bicycle paths – and much of the rest of the world didn’t. I’d also like to interview the bicycle advocates and planners of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (and those of today, too) to hear their stories, and learn from their successes and their mistakes.

Sounds extremely useful for our purposes! Read more about the new project (and sign up for a copy if you like) here.

And while you’re at it, check out this great list of quotes about bikes.

My fave:

“I’ll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.”
Susan B. Anthony, 1896

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3 responses to “Bike Boom – a book for all of us!

  1. Great post Jolisa. What an awesome way of recontexting the sense of entitlement to roads. Rather than arguing about who pays MV Registration etc, re-tell the story of why roads were built and who used them. What a great story to get out to a wider audience and influence current attitudes

  2. I agree with Bruce, great post Jolisa.

    I am ashamed to say I didn’t research NZ’s roads history. However, an awful lot of archive material in my book came from the excellent digital archives of NZ newspapers. There were very active correspondents writing about cycling in NZ newspapers in the 1890s and it’s highly likely cyclists in NZ would have copied the “Good Roads” organisations of UK and US, because they certainly did so in Australia.

    How effective they were would have depended on the size of the middle classes in the towns and cities of the time.

    On the car front the only NZ company I wrote about in the book was a transplant from England:

    MARLBOROUGH ENGINEERING
    Marlborough Engineering of New Zealand made Marlborough motor cars from 1912 until the 1920s. Between 1922 and 1928 the firm made the Carlton brand of motor car. Company founder John North Birch was a bicycle-maker in the 1880s and 1890s, latterly working from the Foleshill Cycle Works near Coventry, England. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1905.

  3. Lovely to have you drop in, Carlton – and thanks for the leads on our local bike history! It would make a great research project for someone local (hint hint to any history postgrads reading this and casting about for a thesis topic…)

    I really appreciate your first book for its upending of the conventional wisdom, and am looking forward to your new book, which I imagine will become a bible round here!

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