The Bicycle: Vehicle for Societal Change, BIC 2690

Prof. Ross D. Petty Wintersession 2000

Office Hours: M,T,R,F 1:30-2:30 018 LuksicHall; x5529


Through study of the bicycle we shall:

1. Examine technology not as a single invention, but as a series of technological changes only some of which are successful.

2. Explore the social and technological effects of a particular stream of innovation beyond its specific purpose.

3. Learn to appreciate the influence of technology on society and business.

4. Study the value and role of simple technology in the modern and future world.


Other Babson courses related to Society, Technology, and Society typically address technology in a general context and its effects on society in a narrow context such as politics, communication, human values, or business. In contrast, this course presents a case-study of a single stream of technological advances, called the bicycle, and examines its broad range of societal effects. This approach complements the typical course at Babson and provides another perspective for students seeking to understand the societal effects of technology.


25% Class Discussion and Participation

45% Paper/ Presentation on Social Impact Assignment

30% Take-home Essay Final Exam


The readings and short texts: The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet by Marcia D. Lowe (1989), and The Bicyclist's Dilemma in African Cities by David Mozer (1989) are available at the bookstore. For those interested in additional readings, I will occasionally recommend additional books on particular topics. One general book with coverage similar to this course is Bike Cult by David Perry (1995). In addition, as noted in the syllabus, segments of the BBC documentary "Bicycle: A Celebration of the Invention," and the videos "Invention is Not Enough", "The Song of the Bicycle", and "Way to Go, Bicycles in Cuba" will be shown in class.


(Dates of topic coverage approximate depending on class interest)

1/10 Introduction to course and overview of bicycle development

In class video excerpt from "The Bicycle"

Assignment: Sidney Aronson, "The Sociology of the Bicycle," 30 Social Forces 305-312 (1952); S.S. Wilson, "Bicycle Technology" Scientific American 81-91 (March 1973); Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity 59-64 (1974).

1/11 Bicycle Evolution to Automobiles and Airplanes

In class video "Invention is Not Enough" and "The Wright Stuff"

Assignment: Paul Rosen, "The Social Construction of Mountain Bikes ..." 23(3) Social Studies of Science 479-513 (1993); Allan Nevins, Ford, The Times, The Man, The Company 133-135, 186-191 (1954); Edwin Schwin, excerpt from Fifty Years of Schwin Built Bicycles 17-21 (1945); Chester Kyle and Wolfgang Gronene, "The Bicycle-Airplane Connection," Air & Space 88-95 (March 1990).

1/12 Bicycle Business

In class video excerpt from "The Bicycle"

Assignment: Jane Jacobs, "Bicycles and the Wealth of Nations" 27 Ceres 47 (July 1995); David A. Hounshell, From the American System to Mass Production 1800-1932 189-215 (1984); Glen Norcliffe, "Popeism and Fordism: Examining the Roots of Mass Production," 31(3) Regional Studies 267-280;S. Kotha, The National Bicycle Industrial Company; Ross D. Petty, "Peddling the Bicycle..." 15(1) Journal of Macromarketing 21-46 (1995).

One page description of Social Impact Assignment due!

1/13 Turn-of-the-Century Transportation (lots of reading, skim, don't get bogged down)

Assignment: Richard Harmond, "Progress and Flight: An Interpretation of the American Cycle Craze of the 1890s," 5 J. Social History 235-257 (1971-72), and Gary Allen Tobin, "The Bicycle Boom of the 1890s: The Development of Private Transportation and the Birth of the Modern Tourist," 7 J. Popular Culture 838-849 (1974), Richard Holt, "The Bicycle, The Bourgeoiseie and the Discovery of Rural France, 1880-1914" British Journal of Sport History 127-139 (Sept. 1985); Stephano Privato, "The Bicycle as a Political Symbol: Italy , 1885-1955," 7(2) Intíl J. of History of Sport 172-187 (1990); Terrence Cole, Wheels on Ice 1-20 (1985); Jim Fitzpatrick, The Bicycle and the Bush 24-92 (1980).

1/14 Womenís Emancipation and Bicycle Racing

In class video excerpt from "The Bicycle"

Assignment: Ross D. Petty, "Women and The Wheel"; Ross Petty, "The Social Impact of Cycling as a Technology Based Sport," Lynne Tolman, "Worcester Whirlwind Overcame Bias."

1/17 Martin Luther King Day No Class!

1/18 Good Roads and Traffic Law

Assignment: Gregory C. Lisa, "Bicyclists and Bureaucrats: The League of American Wheelmen and Public Choice Theory Applied," 84 Georgetown Law Journal 373-398; Todd Litman, "Whose Roads?; Ross D. Petty, "The Impact of the Sport of Bicycle Riding on Safety Law," 35(2) American Business Law Journal 185-224 (Winter 1998).

1/19 Practical Uses: Soldiers, Police, Messengers and others

In class video excerpt from "The Bicycle"

Assignment: Martin Caiden and Jay Barbree, Bicycles in War 10-31 (1974); Wade Shaddy, "Operation Dark Claw" Bicycling 20-21 (Sept. 1999); "Work Force" The Bike Mag 32-35 (April 1995); Ted Wilson, "Cops on Bikes Down Under," and short readings; Lowe, pp. 31-45; John Forester, "Objective and Psychological Explanations for Differences in the Bicycling Programs of Different Nations;" Michael Replogle and Harriet Parcells, excerpts from Linking Bicycle/Pedestrian Facilities with Transit National Bicycle and Walking Study (FHWA Case Study # 9, Oct. 1992); John Pucher, "Bicycling Boom in Germany: A Revival Engineered by PublicPolicy," 51(4) Transportation Quarterly 31-46 (Fall 1997) Gary Gardiner, "When Cities Take Bicycles Seriously," World Watch 16-22 (Sept.Oct. 1998); Robert Stachowiak, "Yellow Bike Programs," Bicycle USA 16-18 (Sept.-Oct. 1998).

1/20 Developing Countries

In class video "Way to Go"

The Assignment: Nwabughuagu, "The Role of Bicycle Transport in the Economic Development of Eastern Nigeria," J. of Transport History 91-97 (March 1984); Mozer, all; Lowe, pp. 5-13, 23-31; Michael Replogle, "Bicycles & Cycle Rickshaws in Asian Cities;" 1372 Transportation Research Record 76-84 (1992); Walter Hook, "Economic Importance of Non-Motorized Transportation," Transportation Research Record No. 1487: Nonmotorized Transportation Research, Issues, and Use 14-26 (1995); Joseph Scorpaci and Annie Z. Hall, "Cuba: Havana Pedals Through Hard Times," 5 Sustainable Transport 4-5 (Fall 1995).

1/21 The Future

In class video "The Song of the Bicycle"

Assignment: Lowe, pp. 14-22; Gihon Jordan, "The Future of Transportation: Not a Mirror of the Past"; "Improving Access for the Poor in Urban Areas," 20 Appropriate Technology 21-23 (June 1993); Kuranami, et al., "Planning for Non-Motorized Vehicles," 90 The Wheel Extended 10-17 (Dec. 1994); "Human Power" Bicycling 66-86 (Dec. 1988); Scott Martin, "Cycle City 2000'" Bicycling 52-56 (March 1992); Frank Jameson, "Charging for the Future," Bicycle Culture 46-47 (March 1994); Ed Ayers, "Breaking Away" 6 World Watch 10-18 (Jan-Feb. 1993).

1/24 Student Presentations and Take Home Final Exam due

1/25 Student Presentations and Social Impact Assignment Papers due; Course Evaluations

Social Impact Assignment

This course consists of a detailed case study of the societal impact of the bicycle. It is hoped that students will learn about social impacts that they previously have not ever imagined. Yet, the goal here is not to earn a PhD in the Bicycle, rather it is to learn to think about technology and its effects on our society in non-obvious ways. For the primary course assignment, you should select a technological innovation of your choice, that is your "bicycle," and explore its little known societal effects. Use the Technology Triangle as a guide, but due to our short time together, don't try to cover all points. Rather focus on what you think are the most significant or important social impact(s) of the technological innovation you are examining.

You may pick an innovation with obvious impacts, e.g., the car, computer or photocopier or something more obscure. While it goes without saying that your paper should cite sources and references, your grade will be based primarily on the level of thought shown in your project by the development of non-obvious social impacts, not on your research skills. In other words, if you select an innovation with obvious impacts, you should focus on non-obvious effects. Better still, select an obscure or unrecognized innovation and most if not all the impacts you develop will be non-obvious. One interesting source of ideas are the works by James Burke, host of the BBC series connections and author of a book by that name as well as The Pinball Effect and The Axemaker's Gift. He specializes in finding obscure connections from one innovation to another in the history of technology.

Your project should result in both a 6-12 page, double spaced paper due the day before the last class/final exam. It also requires a 7 minute in class presentation on the last two days of class. I need a one page description on or before Wednesday, Jan. 12th. This description will not be graded, but allow me to approve the suitability of your proposed topic and perhaps offer suggestions. Group projects are acceptable, but should be proportionately larger in scope than individual projects.

Take Home Final Exam

This assignment is due in class on Monday January 24th. You have a three page single spaced limit to answer the following two questions. Given the page limitation, don't spend it reiterating facts from the readings or your paper, rather assume I know those facts and construct a persuasive argument presenting your position.

  1. Given its rich history, does the bicycle really have a significant role in the 21st century? Pick one example of an important role and explain its significance or explain why the bicycle has no important role. (I recommend about 2 pages on this question).
  2. How does the social significance of the bicycle compare to the technological innovation you studied in the social impact assignment? Which would you judge to have the more significant impact and why?