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Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State

SKU: 9780870206139
By: Jesse J. Gant and Nicholas J. Hoffman
Foreword by David Herlihy


Wheel Fever is about the origins of bicycling in Wisconsin and why those origins still matter, but it is also about our continuing fascination with all things bicycle. From “boneshakers” to highwheels, standard models to racing bikes, tandems to tricycles, the book is lushly illustrated with never-before-seen images of early cycling and the people who rode them: bloomer girls, bicycle jockeys, young urbanites, and unionized workers. Laying the foundations for a much-beloved sport, Wheel Fever challenges us to imagine anew the democratic possibilities that animated cycling’s early debates. More details...
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Product Details
By: Jesse J. Gant and Nicholas J. Hoffman
Foreword by David Herlihy


“Wheel Fever gives an excellent overview of bicycle development during a crucial period when the curious two-wheeler was still vying to prove its lasting value.”—From the foreword

On rails-to-trails bike paths, city streets, and winding country roads, the bicycle seems ubiquitous in the Badger State. Yet there’s a complex and fascinating history behind the popularity of biking in Wisconsin—one that until now has never been told in depth. Meticulously researched through periodicals and newspapers, Wheel Fever traces the story of Wisconsin’s first “bicycling boom,” from the velocipede craze of 1869 through the “wheel fever” of the 1890s. From the start it has been defined by a rich and often impassioned debate over who should be allowed to ride, where they could ride, and even what they could wear.

Many early riders embraced the bicycle as a solution to the age-old problem of how to get from here to there quickly and easily. Yet for every supporter of the “poor man’s horse,” there were others who wanted to keep the rights and privileges of riding to an elite set. Women, the working class, and people of color were often left behind as middle- and upper-class white men benefited from the “masculine” sport and all-male clubs and racing events began to shape the scene. Even as bikes became more affordable and accessible, a culture defined by inequality helped create bicycling in its own image.

Wheel Fever is about the origins of bicycling in Wisconsin and why those origins still matter, but it is also about our continuing fascination with all things bicycle. From “boneshakers” to highwheels, standard models to racing bikes, tandems to tricycles, the book is lushly illustrated with never-before-seen images of early cycling and the people who rode them: bloomer girls, bicycle jockeys, young urbanites, and unionized workers. Laying the foundations for a much-beloved sport, Wheel Fever challenges us to imagine anew the democratic possibilities that animated cycling’s early debates.

Jesse J. Gant is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with research interests in nineteenth-century United States history. A native of Janesville, Wisconsin, he has written for the History News Network, the Indiana Magazine of History, and the Wisconsin Magazine of History. Jesse is a committed cyclist who divides his time between Madison and Saint Louis.

Nicholas J. Hoffman is curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, and has written articles for the Wisconsin Magazine of History. His lifelong interest in Midwest history led to a master’s in history from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. A native of Hillsboro, Wisconsin, and an avid cyclist, he enjoys exploring the state’s landscape on two wheels.

Paperback, 256 pages, 190 color and b&w photos.

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"Wisconsin's Bicycles, Past and Present"

Jim Gallen on Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:57:05 PM

Comments: Most of us ride, or have ridden bicycles, but have you ever wondered how this machine evolved and became so popular? What models lead to the ones we ride today? What forces and heroes were instrumental in achieving their popularity? If you are looking for the answers to these questions, “Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State” is the place to begin. This book takes the reader through the models of the past. The Velocipede, ridden by Velocipedestrians, made its advent shortly a... More details


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