Culture on Two Wheels


Culture on Two Wheels

The Bicycle in Literature and Film

Edited and with an introduction by Jeremy Withers and Daniel P. Shea
Foreword by Zack Furness

366 pages
6 photographs, 4 illustrations


July 2016


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2016


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2016


$50.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Bicycles have more cultural identities than many realize, functioning not only as literal vehicles in a text but also as “vehicles” for that text’s themes, ideas, and critiques. In the late nineteenth century the bicycle was seen as a way for the wealthy urban elite to reconnect with nature and for women to gain a measure of personal freedom, while during World War II it became a utilitarian tool of the French Resistance and in 1970s China stood for wealth and modernization. Lately it has functioned variously as the favored ideological steed of environmentalists, a means of community bonding and aesthetic self-expression in hip hop, and the ride of choice for bike messenger–idolizing urban hipsters. Culture on Two Wheels analyzes the shifting cultural significance of the bicycle by examining its appearances in literary, musical, and cinematic works spanning three continents and more than 125 years of history.

Bringing together essays by a variety of cyclists and scholars with myriad angles of approach, this collection highlights the bicycle’s flexibility as a signifier and analyzes the appearance of bicycles in canonical and well-known texts such as Samuel Beckett’s modernist novel Molloy, the Oscar-winning film Breaking Away, and various Stephen King novels and stories, as well as in lesser-known but equally significant texts, such as the celebrated Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Sacrifice and Elizabeth Robins Pennell’s nineteenth-century travelogue A Canterbury Pilgrimage, the latter of which traces the route of Chaucer’s pilgrims via bicycle.


Author Bio

Jeremy Withers is an assistant professor of English at Iowa State University. Daniel P. Shea is an associate professor of English at Austin Peay State University. Zack Furness is an assistant professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University, Greater Allegheny, and the author of One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility.


"Interesting and valuable."—D. R. Jamieson, CHOICE

"Culture on Two Wheels offers an extensive and unique analysis for anyone interested in bicycles, especially those who find interest in its use beyond technical and mechanic ability. . . . This book intersects with multiple disciplines, offering perspectives that align with feminist, cultural, sport, sociological, historical, film, English, and literacy disciplines, amongst others."—Mitchell McSweeney, Sport in American History

"I was thrilled at how much this book offered me for understanding the cultural implications of the bicycle. It's as if someone opened a map, pointed out roads and trails I didn't know, and sent me out for some two-wheeled exploring."—Jimmy Guignard, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

"Perfect for the scholar, cyclist or anyone interested in symbolism in art."—Selena Milewski, Shepherd Express

“The brilliance of this book is that it makes for engrossing reading, while simultaneously inspiring the reader to get on a bicycle and simply ride. . . . [It makes] a fantastic contribution to current scholarship by engaging an actual thing in the world that has a rich history, a complex present, and maybe even—unlike most modes of human transit—a bright future.”—Christopher Schaberg, associate professor of English and environmental theory at Loyola University and the author of The Textual Life of Airports: Reading the Culture of Flight

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Zack Furness


Introduction: The Bicycle as Rolling Signifier

Jeremy Withers and Daniel P. Shea

Part 1. Bikes in Literature

1. Pilgrims on Wheels: The Pennells, F. W. Bockett, and Literary Cycle Travels

Dave Buchanan

2. From Charles Pratt to Mark Twain to Frank Norris: Horse versus Bicycle, Man versus Machine

Peter Kratzke

3. "The Face of the Bicyclist": Women’s Cycling and the Altered Body in The Type-Writer Girl

Alyssa Straight

4. Bicycles and Warfare: The Effects of Excessive Mobility in H. G. Wells’s The War in the Air

Jeremy Withers

5. Like a Furnace: Alfred Jarry’s The Supermale, Doping, and the Limits of Positivism

Corry Cropper

6. Albertine the Cyclist: A Queer Feminist Bicycle Ride through Proust’sIn Search of Lost Time

Una Brogan

7. The Existential Cyclist: Bicycles and Personal Responsibility in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Blood of Others

Nanci J. Adler

8. Communing with Machines: The Bicycle as a Figure of Symbolic Transgression in the Posthumanist Novels of Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien

Amanda Duncan

9. "Hi-Yo, Silver": The Bicycle in the Fiction of Stephen King

Don Tresca

Part 2. Bikes in Film

10. "I’ll Get You, My Pretty!": Bicycle Horror and the Abject Cyclicity of History

Matthew Pangborn

11. Bicycles in Truffaut’s Jules and Jim: Images of Emancipation and Repression

Charles L. P. Silet

12. We Hope, and We Lose Hope: The Postman’s Bicycle in Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice

Benjamin van Loon

13. Bicycle Borrowers after Neorealism: Global Nou-velo Cinema

Anne Ciecko

14. Breaking Away and Vital Materialism: Embodying Dreams of Social Mobility via the Bicycle Assemblage

Ryan Hediger

15. Beijing Bicycle: Desire, Identity, and the Wheels

Jinhua Li

16. "Swerve! I’m on My Bike": Mediated Images of Bicycling in Youth-Produced Hip-Hop

Melody Lynn Hoffmann

Afterword: Form and History in the Bicycle Sculptures of Ai Weiwei

Daniel P. Shea



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