Bicycle Studies Pick Up Speed in Academia -
Not so long ago, the term “cycling studies” would have been seen as puzzling in the United States—why study what were effectively perceived as toys?
But the world has changed—Britain’s queen has just congratulated Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Los Angeles has wrapped up its third CicLAvia, New York City is launching its massive bike-share system this summer, and Portland is aiming at having 25 percent of trips by bicycle in 2030—and universities and think tanks have finally caught up with it.
More than 100 academic studies related to cycling have been published this year alone, including new research on the mathematical optimization of bike infrastructure, the health benefits of mass cycling events, and even the precise nature of the “wobble” that can strike riders at inopportune times. Lees-McRae College in North Carolina even offers a cycling minor.
In one sense, this is a return to grace for bicycles. Bikes were once at the forefront of culture and technology in the United States—the Wright brothers used their experience as bicycle manufacturers to create the Wright Flyer, after all—but after World War II, freedom came with car keys, not a kickstand. Yes, the “bike boom” put millions of people on bicycles, but for recreation, not for the more utilitarian purposes favored in other countries.
But change was in the air, even in gasoline-addled America. Recognition of the environmental costs of driving led to the signing of the Clean Air Act in 1970, which coincided with first modern boom in two-wheel transport. Ten years later, the first waves of gentrification started, bringing higher-income residents to urban centers once left for dead. In the 1990s scientific consensus on climate change was growing as cities began to realize they couldn’t build their way out of automotive congestion. Cyclists began to show their strength and numbers.