In 1817, a former forester by the name of Karl Drais undertook an excursion on the paved road from Mannheim, Germany to Schwetzingen, just west of Heidelberg, and back. These eight miles took him just an hour (a stagecoach would have needed about four). Instead of merely walking, he drove himself or rode on a special vehicle he had constructed for himself: the Draisine, or dandy horse, made from wood. The local newspaper didn’t even take notice. We don’t know if Drais was aware of the importance of his vehicle, which we remember today as the prototype of the first bicycle — in other words, the first mechanical individual means of transportation without a horse.

The revolutionary aspect of the Draisine was the fact that it had two wheels in a line rather than next to each other. Drais acquired something like a patent in his home state of Baden, and later in Prussia and France. However, his invention was not yet a bike in the sense that we know today. It didn’t have pedals yet, and was propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with his or her feet. This direct connection with the ground gave riders the feeling of being somewhat in control, while the bike as we know it today requires more trust in the device. It was something the people back then simply didn’t have. More… “Revolution on Two Wheels”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.


A person who eschews a car and walks by choice today seems willfully archaic, as curious a specimen as someone choosing to play professional football in a leather helmet.

Why would you choose to walk when the gods of modern technology have provided us with cars? We’re in an age of rapid movement, and walkers seem to be in no hurry; many are known to stop to talk to others, or to admire some streetside oddity that’s captured their attention. “English has no positive word for lingering on the street,” wrote British transportation consultant John Whitelegg. “In English, slowness in general is often treated with pity (a slow learner, retarded) with derision (sluggish) or with suspicion (loitering).”

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to The Atlantic and the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New… More…

In the early part of the 20th century, the automobile blew people’s minds. In his Futurist Manifesto, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti equated the automobile with the liberation of the human spirit. Hearing the sounds of automobiles beneath his window in 1909, he wrote: “At last mythology and the mystic cult of the ideal have been left behind. We are going to be present at the birth of the centaur and we shall soon see the first angels fly!” Later in the Manifesto, Marinetti proclaims: “We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit.”

All of this Futurism ended, unfortunately, in fascism. This was the kind of fascism that wanted to blast the old world into a million smithereens to make way for the new man, hard and steely and worthy of the age of machines. In a Russian… More…

Once I had a boyfriend, and when he got into my car for the first time he said, “Oh, it’s dirty.” I could tell he was concerned, because it was not just cluttered — it was strange messy. I looked around and tried to imagine what I would think of the owner of a car like that if it wasn’t mine. I moved things out of the passenger seat — shoes, rackets, books, orange rinds, glasses of dried smoothie — but then I thought there was no use in pretending. “It’s just like this normally,” I said. “It just is.” It was a time when I was too worn out to lead anyone on. “Hey, you know I ride a bike,” Sean said.

He said sometimes people flipped him off while he was riding, or threw drive-thru drinks at him from their car for no reason. I told him the… More…

In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I believed that my patriotic duty was to give up gasoline, so I stopped driving a car for a while and picked up a bike. I live in Los Angeles, a city known for traffic, freeways, and smog. But it’s a perfect place to ride a bike, too. The weather is beautiful and the streets are wide and mostly flat. Biking gave me a new perspective. I’d lived in Los Angeles for a decade already, but the city didn’t really snap into focus until I saw it from the saddle of my father’s 1968 Realm Rider 10-speed.

I saw things I’d never noticed, but most of all, the city stunk. Riding down the street was an olfactory deluge. The leaden stench emanating from automobiles and buses wasn’t the half of it. That was tolerable and expected, like the hamburger… More…