New Haven is the birthplace of pizza, hamburgers, George W. Bush and the Knights of Columbus. And according to author David Herlihy, New Haven is also the birthplace of an invention that revolutionized transportation around the world — the bicycle.
A series of events Thursday to promote Herlihy’s new book, “Bicycle: The History,” included a talk, bike tour and book-signing party at Devil’s Gear Bike Shop. The festivities will continue today with a “Critical Mass” where up to 100 local cyclists biking en masse will “reclaim the streets,” Elm City Cycling leader Elaine Lewinnek ’95 said. The events were sponsored by Devil’s Gear Bike Shop and Yale University Press.
“New Haven is a great biking city,” Lewinnek said. “It’s really frustrating to drive here, because it’s hard to find parking and it’s hard to get around. When you’re biking you have so many more options.”
Herlihy’s book chronicles the history of the bike, including its birth in 1866 when French inventor Pierre Lallement, who lived in the New Haven area at the time, introduced his creation to New Haven residents and received a U.S. patent for it. The book, which has more than 200 illustrations, is the product of 10 years of research, Herlihy said. While researching, Herlihy said he also learned a lot about New Haven and Yale and gained insight into how Yale students got around in the 19th century.
“New Haven was the hotbed of the original two-wheeler bike, the one from 1819 without pedals,” he said. “Apparently it was the city with the most of those early vehicles in circulation, especially by Yale students.”
Herlihy said he chose Yale University Press to publish his book because of all the connections between cycling and New Haven. The company, which will officially publish the book Nov. 1, is promoting “Bicycle: The History” as its lead title of the fall.
“It’s the most definitive and up-to-date approach to a subject that’s of really great interest to people interested in the history of American technology as well as the modern-day cyclist,” Brenda King of the Yale University Press said. “It’s for people who love cycling as a sport or as recreation or as an environmentally responsible way of life. What’s exciting about this book is that it cuts across all those different kinds of readers and bikers.”
Prior to the book-signing party, about 40 New Haven residents, including members of Elm City Cycling, turned out for the bike tour. The group assembled at the corner of Chapel and College streets, next to a plaque commemorating Lallement’s work. Many of the attendees said they bike frequently, and some lamented that the weather may soon inhibit them.
“I’m here because it’s beautiful out and there aren’t going to be many cycling days left,” said Laurie Klein, a New Haven resident who bikes to work everyday.
Elm City Cycling is a group focused on spreading knowledge about New Haven’s bike routes and promoting safe cycling in the city. Group members work with city officials to encourage bike lanes, bike racks and bike paths. The group’s currently aims to work with the Dwight Hall Tutoring program to teach basic bike safety to New Haven children and show them the best cycling routes in the city.
“There’s not a big line separating who are the Yalies and who are the non-Yalies,” Lewinnek said. “We all live here and we all bike around.”