Course code:



I - Introductory

Class size limit:


Typically offered:


“Nor could I see a reason in the world why a woman should not ride the silent steed so swift and blithesome.”, Frances E. Willard, A Wheel Within a Wheel, 1895

The bicycle is one of the most amazing inventions of the 19th century. With 25 pounds of metal, plastic and rubber, a person can propel themselves at staggering speeds of 20 miles per hour or more. Bicycles are a clean, healthy and efficient mode of transportation, yet they struggle to maintain relevance in some countries. In this course, we will study how this came to be in the United States and look at how other countries treat bicycles as transportation. The course will be divided into three roughly equal parts: History, Science and Policy. In the History module, we will start with the development of the bicycle in the late 1800s and study its impact on society as an example of how technology disrupts societal patterns. We will study the influence of the bicycle on mobility for the poor and for women, with Frances Willard and Annie Londonderry as examples. We will look at novel uses of bicycles in developing countries and in war. In the Science module, we will study the physics of bicycles, including gear ratios, brake leverage, steering geometry and ergonomics.  In the Policy module, we will study how rights to publicly funded roadways changed in the 20th century, with a focus on the American experience in removing pedestrians, animals and bicycles from the streets. We will also look at bicycle policy and street use in other countries to see how policy can shape behavior. Students interested in the history and physics of bicycles as well as how corporate power can co-opt public resources will benefit from this course. Students who complete this course will have an understanding of the development of the bicycle, the physics and mechanics of bicycles, and of the policy decisions that led modern roads to be dominated by the automobile. Evaluation will be through class participation, quizzes, and written essays.



Always visit the Registrar's Office for the official course catalog and schedules.