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Ride to Modernity

Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900

Glen Norcliffe
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    Ride to Modernity
    Book Description:

    An examination how the bicycle as a symbol of modernity and social status fits into the larger picture of change and progress in a period of dramatic economic, social, and technological flux.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7935-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Modernity and the Bicycle
    (pp. 3-40)

    It was probably in the late summer of 1869 that coal miners on the day shift at the Caledonia mine in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, stumbled out into the bright light of day to see the strangest of scenes. A young man – Henry S. Poole, the mine manager’s son – was riding around in the mill yard on a curious, two-wheeled, pedalling machine. This was, quite possibly, the first bicycle ridden in the province that, only two years earlier, had been one of the founding members of the Canadian Confederation. Henry’s father had taken a holiday in England during...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Bicycle Carrier Wave
    (pp. 41-88)

    Tools, clothes, furniture, and bicycles can become old in two ways; they can wear out, and they can become obsolete, owing either to changes in style or to technological innovation. In pre-modern times, things became old mainly by use, whereas in modern times shifts in fashion and consumer tastes can make things oldbeforethey wear out.¹ Of its very nature, industrial modernity is connected with technological innovation. Such innovations are not necessarily ‘good’; indeed, the heart of Berman’s critique of modernity is that innovation has a Janus-like personality, with one face looking to make the world a healthier and...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Modern Manufacturing: From Artisanal Production to Mass Production
    (pp. 89-120)

    Of the many currents and undercurrents that flowed with the tide of modernity, the trinity of political modernity, social modernity, and economic-cum-technical modernity had the most direct impact on modern life. For Krishan Kumar the last of these three is evidently of great importance, since it prompts him to pose the question: ‘is it really possible to think of the modern world without considering that it is also industrial?’¹ The short answer to this rhetorical question is clearly intended to be in the negative. A longer answer would explore the formative link between carrier waves and industrial modernity. In this...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Bells and Whistles: The Bicycle Accessory Industry
    (pp. 121-148)

    The term ‘bells and whistles’ came into common use as recently as the mid-1980s, when journalists began to employ it to describe the new generation of microcomputers.¹ In that highly competitive market, computer manufacturers started adding extras to woo the potential buyer. What was the origin of this term? In the 1991 edition ofThe Oxford Dictionary of New Wordsthe opinion is offered that the term was an allusion to fairground organs with their multiplicity of bells and whistles, but it could equally be a reference to bicyclists of the 1880s, who also made extensive use of bells and...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Bad Roads, Good Roads
    (pp. 149-178)

    Innovations make demands on infrastructure. Trains need tracks and signalling systems. Ships need docks and wharves. Electric lighting requires electricity-generating capacity and transmission lines. The recent expansion of computer networking has necessitated sophisticated telecommunication channels to carry huge increases in the flow of digital information. Conversely, inadequate infrastructure may slow the progress of a carrier wave.¹ Thus, the interest of Victorian bicyclists in improving and modernizing the infrastructure they used forms part of a larger pattern. Their zeal extended to the network of highways and byways along which they rode and the bridges and embankments they crossed. In seeking to...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Cycling Crowd: Modern Life on Wheels
    (pp. 179-210)

    Like most innovations, the bicycle had both negative and positive effects, triggering numerous contests over patents, markets, its use, its regulation, its safety, its medical effects, and so on. Notwithstanding these contests, the carrier wave associated with the bicycle ratcheted the project of economic modernity forwards several notches. The bicycle had a substantial impact on technological innovation, on production methods, on consumption patterns, and on road improvement.¹ Modernity is a contested project, however, and it involves more than the economy; it is a broad cultural movement that infuses many aspects of daily life. Although historians view modernity as the dominant...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Larger Spaces and Visible Places
    (pp. 211-246)

    We have seen that in the latter part of the nineteenth century the bicycle constituted a carrier wave. Although relatively minor in comparison with some of the great innovations of history, the bicycle nevertheless was of considerable importance both in advancing the project of modernity and in providing a crucial bridge between the railway age and the era of the automobile. It triggered a burst of bicycle-related innovations, it changed patterns of industrial production, it boosted new forms of consumption, and it allowed the bicycling class to show off its colours as a social elite. From a geographical perspective, these...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Pedaller’s Progress: The Bicycle and Modernity
    (pp. 247-256)

    In this final chapter the analysis is reversed, to reflect on the insights that the preceding exploration of Canada’s bicycle era may add to our understanding of modernity. To the extent that modernity has penetrated almost all aspects of everyday life, a study of its practical impacts ought to provide a useful basis for such an assessment. The average person has not experienced modernity as a cerebral process, and even fewer see it as a meditation upon the philosophy of the Enlightenment project. Indeed, it seems highly likely that many who embrace modernity have never read its foundational philosophers. The...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 257-274)
  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 275-282)
  15. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 283-284)
  16. Index
    (pp. 285-288)