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Old WheelwaysOld Wheelways

Traces of Bicycle History on the Land

Robert L. McCullough

Narrated by Gary MacFadden

Available from Audible

Book published by The MIT Press

In the later part of the nineteenth century, American bicyclists were explorers, cycling through both charted and uncharted territory. These wheelmen and wheelwomen became keen observers of suburban and rural landscapes, and left copious records of their journeys—in travel narratives, journalism, maps, photographs, illustrations. They were also instrumental in the construction of roads and paths (“wheelways”)—building them, funding them, and lobbying legislators for them. Their explorations shaped the landscape and the way we look at it, yet with few exceptions their writings have been largely overlooked by landscape scholars, and many of the paths cyclists cleared have disappeared. In Old Wheelways, Robert McCullough restores the pioneering cyclists of the nineteenth century to the history of American landscapes.

McCullough recounts marathon cycling trips around the Northeast undertaken by hardy cyclists, who then describe their journeys in such magazines as The Wheelman Illustrated and Bicycling World; the work of illustrators (including Childe Hassam, before his fame as a painter); efforts by cyclists to build better rural roads and bicycle paths; and conflicts with park planners, including the famous Olmsted Firm, who often opposed separate paths for bicycles.

Today’s ubiquitous bicycle lanes owe their origins to nineteenth century versions, including New York City’s “asphalt ribbons.” Long before there were “rails to trails,” there was a movement to adapt existing passageways—including aqueduct corridors, trolley rights-of-way, and canal towpaths—for bicycling. The campaigns for wheelways, McCullough points out, offer a prologue to nearly every obstacle faced by those advocating bicycle paths and lanes today.

Robert L. McCullough is Associate Professor of Historic Preservation at the University of Vermont and the author of The Landscape of Community: A History of Communal Forests in New England and other books.


“Anyone who’s interested in the history of cycling, or the history of infrastructure and landscape, will find the images McCullough has collected fascinating.”


“Every bump in the road, vista, dispute, and triumph, Old Wheelways identifies and analyzes in a taut narrative deftly sited in period technological and social frameworks: here scorches a significant book.”

—John R. Stilgoe, Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape, Harvard University

“Robert L. McCullough has created a highly readable, scholarly book about ‘landseeërs’ in America who, in the late nineteenth century, toured on bicycles and developed a new understanding and appreciation of the world around them. Old Wheelways will cause readers to begin looking for remnants of the bicycle paths that were so prevalent before the automobile took over the roads and became the primary way of getting out and around. This book greatly adds to our understanding of the role of bicycles in the creation of America’s modern society.”

—Gary W. Sanderson, Coordinator, International Cycling History Publications, and Editor, The Wheelmen Magazine

“In this engrossing study, the author examines the golden age of American bicycle touring, before the arrival of the automobile and general demotion of cycling as child’s play. We learn a great deal about who these adventurers were, where they roamed, how they improved cycling conditions, and what they left behind in the way of souvenirs, literature, and landmarks.”

—David V. Herlihy, author of Bicycle: The History and The Lost Cyclist

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks