Authors Alford and Ferriss demonstrate the connections between material culture, society and freedom/independence through a history of two-wheeled transportation. Beginning with the premise that tinkerers often create new technological developments which are not linear but result in social change. New materials (cotton which provides new clothing options, steel tubing developed for armaments, but light and strong enough for frames), and the human need for alternative, independent transportation blend the road, the machine and the rider into a continuum.
Both safety bicycles and motorcycles (a diamond frame bicycle with a motor) appear in 1885; while the bicycle is generally seen as positive and benign the motorcycle has an outlaw image that solidifies in the 1940s and 50s. The introduction of Japanese motorcycles in the 1960s creates the dual image that exists today.
Both machines invoke freedom; not only the ability to go where and when one wants (both on and off road) but also freedom from governmental and social conformity. While bicycling is seen as a choice, motorcycling represents an identity. Both bicycles and motorcycles are actants that influence and change the rider, and society, in subtle but important ways.
Dr. Jamieson is a Professor of History at Ashland University.