I had the pleasure of attending - and filming - a brilliant lecture by one of the planet's foremost bicycle historians, Iain Boal. Everytime I am in his company I learn outrageous amounts about the history of the bicycle. He was invited by Copenhagen Museum in conjunction with their current exhibition Copenhagen by Bicycle. His lecture was based on a lifetime of research and thought but also in his new book, out this fall (2010) called The Green Machine - A Brief, illustrated history of the bicycle in a planetary perspective.
As Iain says at the beginning of episode one:
"The real history of the bicycle is more interesting than the mythification. Frankly, things are too serious. We have to have a grown-up history of cycling and of the bicycle. I'm going to upset some purists, but that's okay. I've upset myself."
In episode 1 Iain discusses the origins of the bicycle, starting with the Draisine, invented by the Keeper of the Forests at Mannheim, Carl von Drais. He explains that von Drais' tinkering was far from a coincedence. The invention of the bicycle was an direct result of the eruption of Mount Tambura in what is now Indonesia. The global effects of the eruption caused The Year Without a Summer and massive crop failure all around the world, including Europe. The price of oats skyrocketed and, consequently, so did the price of keeping horses. There was, in short, an energy crisis and Von Drais was forced by necessity to seek alternative transport forms.
He highlights the history - and myths - surrounding the next milestone, Kirkpatrick Macmillan's Scottish bicycle from 1839 and continues on to the modern mythology surrounding the emergence of the mountain bike in the 1970's. Along the way he firmly trashes the fraud still thriving today that Da Vinci invented the first bicycle.
This is Part 01 of 05.
THE GREEN MACHINE : A BRIEF, ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE BICYCLE IN PLANETARY PERSPECTIVE
Iain Boal will present a new illustrated history of cycling, one designed for the 21st century and its interwoven crises. Drawing upon the artifacts of cycling history currently on display in the City Museum of Copenhagen, Professor Boal will trace the heterogeneous origins of the bicycle, busting some Eurocentric myths along the way. It is a fresh story that celebrates the bicycle's freewheeling sociability and the part that human-powered mobility must play in the human settlements of the future, but refuses to be blind any longer to the bicycle's entanglement with capitalist modernity's brutal labor process or its complicity with the automobilism that has paved the planet, rendered cities unconvivial, and now threatens the biosphere itself.
Iain Boal is an Irish social historian, resident in California since 1985. He is associated with Retort, a group of writers, artisans and artists based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is affiliated with the Geography Department and the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, and the Community Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. In 2005/6 he was a Guggenheim Fellow in Science and Technology. He co-edited Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, City Lights Press,1995, and was one of the authors of Retort's Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (Verso, 2006). The Green Machine will be published by Notting Hill Editions, London, in the fall of 2010.