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On Bicycles

A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City

Evan Friss traces the colorful and fraught history of bicycles—and bicyclists—in New York City. He uncovers the bicycle’s place in the city over time, showing how the bicycle has served as a mirror of the city’s changing social, economic, infrastructural, and cultural politics.

Author Information


Evan Friss is an Assistant Professor of History at James Madison University. He is the author of The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s (University of Chicago Press, 2015).Evan Friss is an associate professor of history at James Madison University and the author of The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s. He used to pedal around New York City, but now lives in Virginia with his family.


A thoughtful, entertaining look at an essential form of transportation in New York City.

Owen Gutfreund, Hunter College:
An essential contribution to multiple fields—New York history, transportation history, urban history, and planning history—this compelling and fascinating story takes you along with ease, artfully offering a barrage of digestible information, including previously unknown morsels. Even the most well-read New Yorkers, cyclists, and urban historians will find something new here.

Samuel Zipp, author of Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York:
A superb history of New York’s cycling cultures over the last two centuries, On Bicycles surveys the evolution of the bicycle in the city from urban menace and medium of feminist liberation to weekend joyride and mainstay of the transportation network. Written with verve and precision, it reads like a long glide down Broadway with the wind at your back, catching green light after green light.

David Herlihy, author of Bicycle: The History:
A fresh and personalized perspective on what the bicycle has meant to New Yorkers over the years.

David Nasaw, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History, CUNY Graduate Center:
Witty and wise, engaged and engaging, surprising, fun and fabulous—I’m running out of adjectives to describe Evan Friss’s wondrous new book. Move over Amsterdam: New York City is a bicycling city too, though with fits and starts, grunts and guffaws, and more than a handful of bike haters (some in high places). A great way to learn about the history of the city that never sleeps—and has never stopped arguing about its bicycles and bicyclists.

Phil Liggett MBE, "The Voice of Cycling":
Two hundred years ago, the first riding machines that resembled what would become bicycles began pouring into Manhattan, and New York City would never be the same again. On Bicycles is brilliantly researched, noting the battles against local government, sexism, the automobile, and the railways, as the bicycle fought its way to become more popular today than ever before. Vive le vélo!

Kim Phillips-Fein, author of Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics:
This social history of the transformation of New York’s relationship to cycling is elegantly researched, gracefully written, and nearly as delightful as the bicycle itself.

Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates, former NYC transportation commissioner:
In On Bicycles, Evan Friss fills in the missing chapters that bicycles hold in New York City’s near-miraculous transportation history and shows how the city’s streets are finally catching up with them.

Audience: Professional and scholarly;General/trade;