Margaret Guroff: “The Mechanical Horse” | Talks at Google
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Margaret Guroff: “The Mechanical Horse” | Talks at Google

October 30, 2019


[APPLAUSE] MALE SPEAKER: Welcome
to Talks at Google from Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is a topic near and dear
to my heart, as a cyclist. So I’m very pleased to
introduce Margaret Guroff, who’s written a fascinating cultural
history of the bicycle and its surprisingly
broad impact on life in this country, which
we’ll speak about today. Margaret is a magazine
writer, an editor with broad experience
in features, essays, and investigative work. Her regional and national awards
include the A.D. Emmart Prize for Writing in the Humanities. A long time writing
teacher and public speaker, Guroff is also the
editor and publisher of “Power Moby Dick,” an online
adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel. She attended Wesleyan and
Johns Hopkins Universities with degrees in English
and nonfiction writing, and she teaches nonfiction
writing to grad students at Johns Hopkins. She was an editor at
Baltimore Magazine, and is currently executive
editor at the AARP magazine. Welcome, Margaret. [APPLAUSE] MARGARET GUROFF: –much
for that introduction. And thanks to all of
you for being here. I’m really happy to be
at Google particularly. This book wouldn’t be the book
it is without Google Books. So if any of you works
for Google Books, I’d like you to come up later
so I can hug you, and perhaps not stop hugging you. This is my book. And I was advised to start with
a joke, so I have one for you. He says, “I’m looking
forward to the time when I shall make you one
of the happiest of women.” And she says, “You
are very kind, sir, but I do not think my
father would allow me to accept a bicycle from you.” So what’s going on here? This is a young woman
who would rather have a bicycle than a fiance. Well, if you know much about the
history of the United States, you know that in this period,
there was a major bicycle boom going on. They seemed to be everywhere. Everyone either
wanted one or had one. In fact, in 1898, the year after
this appeared in the “Yonkers Statesman,” of all the national
advertising in the United States, 10% was for
bicycles or bicycle parts. So they were really kind of
inescapable in this period. And as a result, they were very
influential in this period. But, if you start looking
at US history for bicycles, you start to see them everywhere
and discover that they really had a big impact on the way
we have lived in the country, from their appearance
here at the beginning of the 19th century, and
through to the present day, which is something that
people are not as aware of. And that’s why I
wrote this book. So what I’d like to do is I’ll
read you a chunk of chapter 3. But first, I’d like to give
you a little slide show to catch you up to that part. So we’ll do about 15 minutes of
slides, 15 minutes of reading. And then, if you
have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. So this is the first
proto beginning bicycle that appeared in this country. It was invented in 1817 in
Germany, arrived here by 1819. They started to build them. It’s called the draisine after
the guy who invented them, Baron von Drais. Looks a lot like a bicycle,
but there’s one crucial thing missing, which is the pedals. So this was more
kind of a glider. You had to Fred
Flintstone your way across the countryside, which
is what that guy is doing over there in the corner. It was made of iron originally. They could also
make them of wood. And very expensive because
you had to have them made by an artisan for you. So these were for rich people. But they were
fascinating to everyone because they could go up
to nine miles an hour, which is as fast
as a horse trots. And this is the first
thing that most people had seen that could
go as fast as a horse. So there was a mania
for these in France, in England, and also
here during this period. People thought they
might replace the horse. But in the end, they
were very heavy. They were fun to go downhill on. Uphill, not so much. This is 50 pounds or more. And another important thing,
particularly in this country, was that the roads just
couldn’t accommodate this kind of locomotion. Most of them were not paved. So most of them were
rutted and muddy, or dusty, or they had things
growing up out of them, or they would go to a
certain point and then stop. Even the ones that were
paved had cobblestones kind of up and down. Later on, some were made
of wood and they would rot. At this time, this was really
more of a toy than something that people could
really get around on or that could replace a horse. So it had a brief fashion,
and then it sort of went away. Another thing I wanted to
mention about the 19th century that you may know is that
middle class and upper class women during this whole
century, and prior to this, dressed in long dresses. It was considered indecent
to show your ankles. It wasn’t just a dress. It was a dress plus underskirts
to make them puff out like that– in this
period, a hoop skirt. Later on, maybe a bustle. Even if you weighed only 105 or
110 pounds as a little woman, you could wear 25 pounds
worth of clothing. And so, in addition to all
the skirts and underskirts, they needed a corset, something
to really cinch in their waist, but not just to make
them look skinnier, but actually to act as
kind of a scaffolding to hang all this
clothing off of. So when you see a woman
dressed like this, you know she’s also
very constrained by some kind of corset that’s
helping hold it all up. Now, with these
long skirts dragging in the mud or the horse
manure or whatever you had on the
road, it wasn’t very healthy with this constraining
corset, and people knew that. Reformers knew that. And at this period,
in 1851, they were talking about something
that made more sense for women. There was a rational
dress movement. This is Amelia Bloomer,
a newspaper editor. She advocated this
kind of a costume, which is still very modest,
but doesn’t drag on the ground, doesn’t have all
this heavy fabric. This was called a
Bloomer costume. She and several other feminists
were very strong supporters of this costume. They were widely mocked. People didn’t want to wear this. Women did not want to wear this. And even Amelia Bloomer stopped
wearing it after a couple years because she couldn’t
get anything done because people were
pointing at her and laughing. So women had an option. They could have adopted
a different way of dress, but they chose not to. They didn’t want to do
that at this period. That’s background, history,
yadda, yadda, yadda. This is the next
iteration of the bicycle. It’s called a pedal velocipede. This is from the
US patent in 1866. You can see there’s
a new edition. It looks a lot like the
draisine, which was also called a velocipede,
but now you’ve got pedals on the front axle. So you can actually churn
and move without your feet touching the ground. This was the new
scientific marvel. They couldn’t figure out. People would see
this thing coming and they couldn’t figure
out, how is it going? How is this person moving
without touching the ground? This was also very heavy. The top part would
be still iron. These wheels are made of wood,
so they look like wagon wheels. That’s basically what they were. This goes a little faster,
racing indoors maybe 12 miles an hour. Another fad erupts in
Europe and also here. By 1869, this is a scene from a
velocipede riding school in New York, because think about it. Nobody knew how to ride a bike. They didn’t exist. So these schools opened. People had to learn
how to balance, how to pedal on
these heavy things. And then there was a
huge demand for them. And there was this expectation
that when the weather got warm– this was a winter scene. When the weather
got warm this year, people would be able to take
these out on the open road and ride them as if
they were horses. They would be, for people
who couldn’t afford a horse, an affordable way to get around. Even though they
were still pricey. They weren’t for working people. These would cost
like $100 to $150, and people would be earning
maybe $12 or $13 a month. But what happened here is
that they loved these things. They learned to ride them. And then, when the
weather got warm enough, they took them out onto
the crappy American roads and they couldn’t get anywhere. So within a year
in this country, these kind of faded away
as well for the most part. People rode them somewhat. Some people rode them. But they weren’t fashionable. There was no more mania here. Now, in Europe, where
the roads were better, people continued
to develop these. And one of the first and
most important developments had to do with the
wheels because they knew that if you want to go
faster on a bicycle, if you make the wheel bigger,
the driving wheel, you can go farther for
each turn of the pedals. But, with these
wooden wheels, they were so heavy that
you couldn’t really make them much bigger
because nobody would be able to actually crank them. So what they did
was they started using what we still
use today, which is wires under tension to make
a lighter weight wheel that you can make much bigger. And these got to be as big as
twice the length of the rider’s legs. You would order them
the way you order suits. This is one of the
first American ones. Again, they were developed
in Europe in 1870, came over here bit by bit. And then, by 1878,
they were being manufactured in this country. And so this now
is a fast machine. It looks quaint to us. It looks like you would ride it
as a joke or if you’re a clown. It was supersonic for them. It was high tech. It was the fastest thing
they had ever seen. These would go 17 miles an hour. Now you’re going
faster than a horse because you can go
longer than a horse. And, because the arch of
this wheel is so gentle, they actually roll over a
lot of the bumps in the road that the smaller
wheel got caught in. So this is really
the first bicycle that was up to America’s
horrible roadways. And this is a scene
from a sporting book. Now, what you see here,
he’s riding on the outdoors, having a grand old time. She is riding side saddle. And you can see she still
has that long skirt. In the story, she’s
looking longingly at him. Historically, they were
looking longingly at the bike. So they wanted this. They wanted to go this
fast, women and older people who couldn’t
get up on these things. Because it went fast, so
it was difficult to ride for that reason. Also, it was hard to get up on. You had to be strong. You had to be nimble. You had to run, get it
going, and then kind of climb up the back of it. And then it was a
fixie, basically. So the pedals are going. So then you have to kind of
get your feet on the pedal. It was very difficult. So for women and
for older people, the manufacturers developed
these crazy looking tricycles. These are the big– what
they call spider wheels, the wire spoke tension
wheels, three of them. This is a very heavy machine,
still very expensive. Costs about one and a
half times a bicycle, which is now still $100. And people are earning more,
but not that much more. They require a smoother road
because you have three tracks that you need to get along. So if you have two smooth
tracks, and the third one hits something, you kind of tip over. They were very heavy, so
you’d get stuck there. So these are not
a perfect vehicle. They were better than
nothing for women. But what the manufacturers
saw was that there was still a market for something
that was safer, that wasn’t this towering
thing that could go fast, and that older people
and women could ride. And that’s when you get this. So in 1885 in
England, in 1887, this was the first American made
called a safety bicycle. The addition here is the
chain, the bicycle chain you can see around the pedals. And what that allows is
for the driving wheel, which is now the
rear wheel, to turn more than once for every
time you crank the pedals. So this is also
a racing machine. But it’s sold as a
safety, as something that is more safe for people
who don’t want to climb up on that tall wheel–
which, by the way, also could really throw
you off because when you’re on that big wheel
bike, you’re sitting with your center of gravity
right on top of the bicycle. And so if you do hit
something on the roadway, you go plummeting. And head injuries were a big
problem with that high wheel style. For this, you still
have these hard wheels. These would be wood wheels,
the rims, or hard rubber. And so you go back
to the problem of roughness in the road. So now you have a fast
vehicle that’s low enough, but it doesn’t have
the cushioning. And that’s when they added this,
which is the pneumatic tires. This is the complete package. This is an airfield tire to
cushion the bumps in the road. It’s low. It’s fast. These were invented in
1888 by Dunlop in Ireland. And they came over here
shortly thereafter. And so the only
thing that’s missing to get a woman on this bike
is just the drop frame. Take that crossbar
and drop it down to that she can get
her skirts through. They wouldn’t be these
huge, voluminous skirts. But she could still wear
an ankle length skirt and ride a bicycle. And some of them wore bloomers. So this comes back, right? So now, by the mid-1890s, you
have possibly a young woman who would rather have a
bicycle than a fiance, right? She’s got her
dropped frame here. She’s got her
cushioned tires here. And she’s got this bloomer
suit that allows her freedom. It was still
considered indecent. It’s not that their perceptions,
their aesthetics had changed. What had changed was
that these young women were willing to endure
ridicule at the beginning in order to be able to
ride a bicycle because it was that important to them. And what was important was being
able to go where they wanted to go because women
in this period were very constrained in
where they could properly go. And if you didn’t have a
horse and carriage and driver, you couldn’t really
get very far. If you wanted to
go out, usually you would need to have a chaperone
in order for it to be proper. But with a bicycle,
you didn’t need that. So this woman is threatening
to the social order, not only because she is
indecently displaying the shape of her
calf, but because she can go where she wants to go. She’s independent. And that was very threatening. So, with all that
said, I would like to read to you
some from the book. And we’re starting in a
couple years after this, 1896. This is a headline from the July
2nd, 1896 New Haven Register. “Moralists warned
that skimpy costumes and unsupervised travel would
lead to wanton behavior. ‘Immodest bicycling by
young women is to be deplored,’ declared
Charlotte Smith, founder of the
Women’s Rescue League, a group that lobbied Congress
on behalf of fallen women. ‘Bicycling by young women
has helped to swell the ranks of reckless girls who finally
drift into the army of outcast women.’ Smith reported
that her tours of brothels and interviews with
prostitutes confirmed this. Physicians, who at the time
shouldered responsibility for patients’ moral, as
well as physical well-being, had their own concerns. One visited New
York’s Coney Island and saw a 16-year-old
cyclist get drunk on wine provided by a beautiful
but nefarious older woman. ‘She looked like an innocent
child but was away from home influence,’ the
doctor reported.” And this part I’m just going
to paraphrase because it’s being videotaped,
but doctors were also concerned that the pressure
from the bicycle seat would cause teenagers
to get ideas about certain solitary
sexual practices that they wouldn’t have
thought of otherwise. And this was considered
to be dangerous to their spiritual well-being. “But the bicycles’ peril was
medical as well as moral. In the late 19th century,
many saw physical energy as a finite resource that had
to be carefully parceled out, not a power to be
renewed through exercise. The fashionable malaise of
neurasthenia was only one of the disorders
thought to be caused by a depletion of energies. Overexertion could also cause
tuberculosis, scoliosis, hernias, heart disease,
and other maladies, doctors believed. Safely sedentary
middle class women, who frequently suffered
from varicose veins and other consequences
of annual pregnancies, were prone to fatigue. One Boston writer called
them ‘A sex which is born tired,’ adding that, ‘Society
seems little better than a hospital for invalid women.’
Particularly for women in heavy dresses and
constraining corsets, any activity that raised the
heart rate could seem more likely to be the cause of
fainting and listlessness than their remedy. Opponents of the bicycle
latched onto this perception, arguing that riding would cost
women more effort than they could afford. ‘The exertion necessary to
riding with speed is productive of an excitation of nervous
and physical energy that is anything but beneficial,’
Charlotte Smith warned. ‘If a halt is not called soon,
75% of the cyclists will be an army of invalids
within the next 10 years.’ But even as Smith made
her dire predictions, Americans’ fear of
cardiovascular exercise was beginning to lift. For decades, health
reformers had trumpeted the benefits of fitness. And during the 1880s,
the United States saw a spike in organized
physical activity. Citizens of America’s
growing cities tried new sports, such
as baseball and football. And exercise advocates built
the first public playgrounds and pushed for physical activity
for both boys and girls. Doctors continued to caution
against overexertion. But they acknowledged
that, in moderation, fresh air and exercise tended
to improve patients’ health. The high wheeled
bicycle of the 1880s proved the benefits
of regular exercise to those who could ride it. Proponents made
extravagant claims for the risky machine’s
ability to restore well-being. ‘For constipation,
sleeplessness, dyspepsia, and many other ills which
flesh is heir to, not to speak of melancholy, all are curable,
or certainly to be improved, by the new remedy, bicycle,’
wrote a Texas physician in 1883. ‘It is always an
excellent prescription for the convalescents, and
nearly always for chronic invalids.’ Not everyone could take
the prescription, though. High wheeled cycling
and rigorous team sports were acceptable
only for young men. The new games deemed
suitable for mixed company, such as lawn tennis and
golf, were far less taxing, and therefore far less likely to
lead to noticeable improvements in fitness. As for working out on your
own, the recommended options were either too costly,
like horseback riding, or too boring, like
indoor calisthenics, to gain much popularity. As a result, many more
Americans of the 1880s thought they ought to exercise
than actually did it.” And I wanted to show you–
this was from an 1889 exercise manual. So we’re not talking
about CrossFit here. They weren’t
interested in sweating. “So when the safety
bicycle appeared at the end of the
decade and Americans began riding in large numbers–
an estimated two million in 1896 out of a population
of about 70 million– few were certain how such
vigorous physical activity would affect them. Doctors were wary. Most US physicians believed
that patients’ conditions were largely based on their habits,
their experiences, the weather, and other environmental factors. Good health was a reflection of
proper balance among the body’s systems and energy. ‘A distracted mind could
curdle the stomach. A dyspeptic stomach could
agitate the mind,’ writes the medical historian
Charles Rosenberg. It was the doctor’s job to
know each patient well enough to restore balance
when something was out of whack, using laxatives,
diuretics, and other purging drugs to reboot the system. ‘Even contagious diseases could
not be treated in a cookie cutter fashion,’ argued an
1883 medical journal editorial. ‘No two instances of typhoid
fever or of any other disease are precisely alike. No rule of thumb, no recourse
to a formula book will avail for proper treatment even of
the typical diseases.’ To many doctors, advocating a specific
drug to cure a specific disease seems the height of quackery. And, just as there were no
one-size-fits-all medical treatments, many physicians
believed there were no one-size-fits-all
exercise routines. While cycling enthusiasts
rhapsodized about the safety bicycle’s benefits for riders
of both sexes and all ages, doctors fretted that
many of their patients would be harmed by
the new machines. Even seeming success
stories were suspect. In an 1895 paper
on heart disease, one doctor reported
that a patient who had panted for breath after
climbing one flight of stairs was now able to cycle
up hills with ease. ‘It would be wrong to conclude
from this that cycling is not injurious,’ the doctor wrote. There hadn’t been enough time to
observe the bicycle’s long term effect. Moreover, as an
unfamiliar activity, cycling tended to catch the
blame for pretty much anything bad that happened to a
new rider afterward, up to and including death. Logically, acute
injuries were a concern. Though the safety
bicycle did greatly reduce the risk of head wounds,
it didn’t obliterate that risk, particularly among scorchers,
thrill seeking youngsters who hunched over
their handlebars and pedaled as fast
as they could.” And I have a picture
of a scorcher for you. This is the unrestrained
demon of the wheel. This is from 1893, by the way. ” ‘It might seem almost
impossible to fracture a skull thick enough to permit
indulgence in such practices,’ reported of
the Boston Medical Surgical Journal, ‘but the bicycle
at full speed has been able to accomplish it.’ Medical
journals also noted the danger of road rash and broken bones. More insidious than
crash injuries, though, were new
chronic complaints attributed to cycling. The bent over posture
of the scorcher was thought to cause a
permanent hunch called chiphosis bicyclisterum or,
familiarly, cyclist’s stoop. Repeated stress to the
cardiovascular system– that is, regular workouts– could
lead to irregular heartbeats and poor circulation,
a bicycle heart. Gripping the
handlebars too tightly might cause finger
numbness, or bicycle hand. And a dusty ride could
trigger cyclist’s sore throat. Practically every
body part seemed to have its own
cycle-related malady. At least one New York doctor
devoted his entire practice to treating such ailments. Of all the physical woes
attributed to the bike, though, the one that
most strained credulity was the bicycle face.” So let’s just bring this
guy in a little closer. “Characterized by wide, wild
eyes, a grim set to the mouth, and a migration
of facial features toward the center,
the disorder was said to result from the
stress of incessant balancing. A German philosopher claimed
that the condition drained ‘every vestige of intelligence
from the sufferer’s appearance and rendered children
unrecognizable to their own mothers.’ The bicycle face hung
on, too, warned a journalist. ‘Once fixed upon
the countenance, it can never be removed.’ ” So let’s just get
that off the screen. This is a magazine from 1896. “The doctors raising these
alarms were careful to state that many of the new
diseases affected only cyclists predisposed to
them, which would explain why so few of their
fellow physicians might have encountered
the disorders. ‘Whilst thousands ride immune,
a small percentage will suffer,’ wrote one doctor. Another, who blamed
cases of appendicitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and
the thyroid condition Graves’ disease on excessive cycling,
that it didn’t matter how many people
believed that cycling had improved their health. ‘It would not affect my argument
in the least if swarms of them had been rescued
from the grave.’ Nevertheless, the
more Americans took to cycling, the more tenuous
these claims of danger came to seem. The machine made
physical activity both practical and fun. ‘The bicycle is inducing
multitudes of people to take regular exercise, who have long
been in need of such exercise, but who could never be induced
to take it by any means hitherto devised,’ one doctor
wrote in Harper’s Weekly in 1896. And all that activity
had an effect. Riders quickly noticed
improved muscle tone, increased strength, better
sleep, and brighter moods. ‘Women especially transformed
themselves,’ wrote the novelist Maurice Thompson in 1897. ‘We have already become
accustomed to seeing sun browned faces, once
sallow and languid, whisk past us at every
turn of the street. The magnetism of vivid health
has overcome conservative barriers that were impregnable
to every other force.’ The empirical evidence
of cycling’s health value began to overtake conservative
doctors’ concerns, as the rhetoric scholar Sarah
Overbaugh Hallenbeck argues. ‘Though many physicians
continued to raise objections to the sport, their voices
were increasingly drowned out by those of more
observant and pragmatic practitioners.’ ‘The bicycle
face, elbow, back, shoulders, neck, eroticism, wrote one
military doctor in 1896, ‘I pass as not worthy of
serious consideration.’ Rather than discourage
bicycle use, most physicians came to
cautiously endorse it. ‘So long as a cyclist can
breathe with the mouth shut,’ wrote one
such doctor in 1895, ‘he is certainly perfectly
safe.’ Some went further, citing evidence of the bike’s
benefits for heart patients, migraine sufferers, diabetics,
and others with chronic conditions. In Chicago, the demand for
injectable morphine dropped as patients with anxiety
or insomnia discovered that ‘a long spin in the fresh air
on a cycle induces sweet sleep better than their favorite
drug,’ the Bulletin of Pharmacy reported. This shift paralleled
a transformation in medical thinking
during the 1890s, when American
physicians increasingly embraced the scientific method. Some clinics in
continental Europe had adopted this
evidence-based approach early in the 19th
century, using statistics to determine the
efficacy of treatments, and evaluating patients’
conditions according to universal norms,
rather than trying to divine what was normal
for each individual patient. In the United States,
however, doctors arguing for this approach
were long in the minority. Only at the very end
of the 19th century did a research-based
curriculum take hold at US medical schools. It would be folly to suggest
that the bicycle alone caused this transformation. Many other factors were at play,
such as improved transatlantic communication, an influx
of European immigrants, including scientists, and
a snowballing of evidence for new medical concepts, such
as the germ theory of disease. But, even if the bike
did not independently modernize American medicine,
its unprecedented impact on fitness, and the
clash this revealed between what doctors said
and what experience showed, may well have
accelerated the shift. Much as the bicycle triggered
changes in women’s dress that high-minded
advocacy could not, it bolstered scientists’
then radical argument that what is good for
one human body tends to be just as good for another. To the bicycle
faithful of the 1890s, this seemed to be just the
beginning of the changes that the machine
would bring about. ‘The gulf between social
classes would recede under the influence of this great
leveler,’ one enthusiast wrote in The Century magazine. ‘It puts the poor man on
the level with the rich, enabling him to sing the song
of the open road as freely as the millionaire, and to
widen his knowledge by visiting the regions near to
or far from his home, observing how other men live.’ And while women may not
yet have had full access to higher education, or
even the right to vote, the unchaperoned,
self-propelled Bloomer Girl seemed to be pedaling
in that direction. ‘In possession of her bicycle,
the daughter of the 19th century feels that the
declaration of her independence has been proclaimed,’ wrote
one female journalist. ‘And in the fullness of time,
all things will be added to complete her happiness
and prosperity.’ The first wave feminist Susan
B. Anthony was born in 1820, one year after
the first draisine was exhibited in the US. By the time of the safety
bicycle boom in the 1890s, she was a snowy-haired eminence
too old to risk riding, but she had an
opinion of the sport. ‘I’ll tell you what I think of
bicycling,’ she said in an 1896 newspaper interview, as she
leaned forward to lay a hand on the reporter’s arm. ‘I think it has done more to
emancipate woman than any one thing in the
world.’ ” Thank you. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: So you’re
a cyclist yourself, I believe, riding around
Bethesda and Washington DC. And it’s clear that
cyclists are kind of not necessarily
representative of the population as a whole. You’ve got kids riding, and
some city people who may not be able to afford a car. But a lot of cyclists are
upper middle class, very white, more male than female. I mean, if you look at
sports cycling, for example. What’s your take on that. MARGARET GUROFF: Well, that’s
the way it’s always been, pretty much. In this country,
the bicycle industry has been dominated
by older white men. And what’s happening
right now is that we have a very
diverse population, but the bicycle is popular in
cities among prosperous people. So you have these
whole swathes of kids who live in rural
places, or live in exurbs where it’s really not safe. There aren’t places
for kids to ride bikes. Or it’s not part of
their family’s tradition if they’re immigrants. And so you’ve got kind of this
bifurcation of the population, where people who
love bikes, who they may buy a new bike every
year, every five years. They’re very into the sport and
they’re getting more into it. They’re spending
more money on it. But then, at the other
end, you have the people who you would expect
to be growing up into the sport are not. They’re doing other things. It’s something that
bicycle manufacturers are really puzzling over right now. AUDIENCE: You’re focusing
on bicycles in America. What was happening
across the pond? Was there similar stories
playing out in Europe, or were things different? MARGARET GUROFF: It
depends, because this book covers 200 years. So there were periods where
things went in parallel, like this period that
I’m talking about, that things tended to emerge
in England or in France and then get heard of over here. In some cases, there
were things that were happening here first
that may have translated back over there. It’s a little murky. And these booms tended to happen
on both sides at the same time. So in 1818, 1819, people
were crazy for the draisine in France and England. 1869, there was another
velocipede craze in both places. Then here, it kind of
dropped off, kept on there. But then immediately within
10 years was back here. And then the 1890s bicycle
boom was in the Western world, so in Europe as well as here. What happened right after
that with the crash, people kept riding
bikes in Europe. And adults kept riding
them for utility, even if not because of fashion. But here, it quickly
became something that adults did not do,
and that the industry focused on selling to kids. And that’s the main difference
between here and there, was that for most
of the 20th century, riding a bicycle was
not really something that an adult would think
of doing, particularly where other adults could see them. So hopefully,
that’s changed now. AUDIENCE: So your
book is primarily about sort of the history
of cycling in North America. I’m kind of curious where
you think things are heading and how some of these
historical trends might be manifesting
themselves now? MARGARET GUROFF: That
is a great question. There are some
question marks, though. There are some
things that we don’t know that are going to direct. I mean, looking at the
history of cycling, it’s very up and down. There’s very boom and bust. So just, if you’re
reading the patterns, you would say, right now,
it’s really popular in cities. And in 10 years,
everyone’s going to be doing something else. But then it will come back. Now, the main question
mark is what’s going to happen with
self-driving cars, like the Google car. Because there are people
who think that– I mean, these are coming, right? And there are people
who think that they’re going to reduce
private car ownership and reduce traffic to the extent
that the roads will become much more accommodating to cyclists. And also, since fewer
people own cars, there will be more of a
meeting of the minds instead of this fight for asphalt. If things go wrong,
there could be a lot of private
self-driving cars that are just kind of bumper
caring into each other all day waiting for their
owners to get off work. And if they’re poorly programmed
or if they’re poorly regulated, the roads then become
someplace, again, that’s very unsafe for cyclists
and people stop doing it. And that may go city
by city or state by state, depending on how
the organizations respond to this new technology. MALE SPEAKER: Thank
you very much. MARGARET GUROFF: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] You.

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  1. Genius book, genius talk, genius person & writer…fascinating stuff! I loved the book and  think that it's one of the best on the subject.

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