Alas, yet another article I was planning to write pre-COVID-19 and am just getting around to it now.
And while the importance of bike infrastructure and culture may not be foremost on most folks’ mind, it still is a pretty major deal. As social distance creeps into the bike lanes, the city of Boston continues to mull over plans to expand bike lanes and accessibility, even going so far as to deem bike repair shops “essential”. In fact, the bicycle is one of the foremost tools to envisioning a green future, that and a major, intersectional climate justice movement.
But, enough of the policy mumbo-jumbo for the moment. The true purpose of this article is to shine a light on some books by Lorenz Finison, namely “Boston’s Twentieth Century Bicycling Renaissance”. The other noteworthy book also by Finison is “Boston’s Cycling Craze 1880-1900”. These two books can bring an unfamiliar reader familiarity with the world of biking in the late 19th century and 20th century, with a local flavor.
Personally, embarrassingly, one of the questions I found myself asking no more than 20 pages into “Boston’s 20th Century Cycling Renaissance” was “When and how was the bicycle even invented?’
While these moderately thick books do not cover that question, they provide a remarkable survey of the last 150 years or so of biking in and around the Greater Boston Area. Not only that, the author’s attention to female and minority interests in biking is particularly astute in “Boston’s Cycling Craze”, as well as in “Renaissance”, going into detail of the sex politics of Cambridge’s famous Bicycle Repair Collective, now the Cambridge Bicycle School in the latter book.
The stories and era quotes and first hand accounts all add up to a formidable piece of research that reads easily. An avid reader/biker can take this book down on a rainy day.
It will not take the reader long to realize that the star of “Boston’s Cycling Craze” is Kittie Knox, a bi-racial female biker from Boston biking in the 1890’s. Finison’s story of Knox is inspiring and seeks to run counter to the often white-washed narrative of biking. “Finding Kittie Knox … was the reason I started Boston’s Cycling Craze” says Finison when I interviewed him at his home in Needham in early March.
“Knox was one of the very few women of color riding at that time, which made her unusual.”
Knox was an outspoken biking advocate and sparked criticism when the League of American Wheelman erected a color bar in their league to get rid of black cyclists.
Kittie Knox is in some ways the progenitor of Boston’s rich biking history. If you like me want to know what exactly bike culture is and where it came from in Boston, look no further than these books by Lorenz Finison. From backward bicyclists riding down Blue Hill Ave to tracing the tough question of “Where Do Bikes Belong?” in Boston through the twentieth century.
Purchase them at: https://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/bostons-twentieth-century-bicycling-renaissance
Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of bostonhassle.com. //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.