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Roads Were Not Built For Cars is a history book exploring the role of US & UK cyclists in improving highways for everybody.

GULP: This project reached its funding goal within an amazing 20 hours. Thanks for all the support. The Kickstarter campaign is not over, it will continue to take pledges until April 20th. 

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Cyclists were written out of highway history in the 1920s and 1930s by the all-powerful motor lobby: Roads Were Not Built For Cars tells the real story, putting cyclists centre stage again. The first edition print version of the book, available in the summer, will be individually-numbered and produced in limited numbers: copies could very well become highly collectible. In the winter of 2013 I'll release a free PDF of Roads Were Not Built For Cars. This will be available via the blog-of-the-book and, being free, will make sure the book's message reaches as many people as possible. Supporting this project with one of the options on the right helps me with the wider campaign to resurrect the important role cyclists played in improving roads for all.

Not that the book is only about cyclists. It will also contains lots of automotive history because many automobile pioneers were cyclists before becoming motorists. A surprising number of the first car manufacturers were also cyclists, including Henry Ford. Some carried on cycling right through until the 1940s. One famous motor manufacturing pioneer was a racing tricycle rider to his dying day. Literally. He was killed after being hit...by a motorcar.

The free PDF version of the book will go live on the site in winter 2013; the first edition print, Kindle and iPad versions will be produced in August or shortly thereafter. Kickstarters therefore get a head-start and they also get lavishly-illustrated editions. The print, Kindle and iPad versions will be packed with pix; the PDF will be text-only (i.e. academic- and Googlebot-friendly). The iPad version will also have videos and interactive graphics; the free PDF won't. The print version will be about 350-pages long and will be available in full-colour and mono versions. 

What's in the publication?

Lots of meaty stuff. There will be chapters on:

  • Cycling's contribution to automotive history. It's far more extensive than you may think: from Henry Ford in the US to Charles Rolls in the UK, and more.
  • An in-depth look at the Cyclist Touring Club's Roads Improvement Association founded in 1885 and the Good Roads movement of the League of American Wheelmen of the same period.
  • The history of roads: animal tracks, Romans, turnpikes, the longer-than-realised use of asphalt, and more.
  • From sidepaths to cycleways: the history of separate tracks for cyclists, including New York's Coney Island bike path and the 1930s cycle tracks in London, right through to the Dutch-style cycle infrastructure of Stevenage in the UK.
  • Tracking the political influence of cyclists: for instance, in the 1896 Presidential election campaign, the League of American Wheelmen was the only organisation to have its own room in the campaign HQ of the Republican party.  
  • Profiles of highway governance pioneers such as Horatio Earle of the US and Rees Jeffreys of the UK. They are best known today as arch-motorists but they both learned their craft as officials in bicycle advocacy organisations in the 1890s. They pushed for better road surfaces long before they became motorists. Both went on to become very influential proponents of motoring but neither forgot the critical role played by cyclists.
  • Cycling and class: how did cycling go from an activity for the upper and middle classes to 'poor man's transport'?
  • Roads in the future: currently, roads are dominated by cars just as they were dominated by trams in the 1940s. Could automobiles go the way of trams?  

Aiming for publication in August

If you've been following the progress of the book on Roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com, you'll know that Roads Were Not Built For Cars has been two years in the making. The research phase is nearly over (one more day in the CTC archives at Warwick University and one more day in the British Library in London) and soon all the threads can be brought together to finish the text. I'm also busy securing rights to the book's many illustrations (the full-colour ones ain't cheap and won't be in the free PDF).

Two or perhaps three launch parties

There will be a launch party in a bike-friendly venue in my hometown of Newcastle in August. There will also be a launch party in Surrey in September. This will be a mobile launch party, a bike ride from Woking to the 1890s "Mecca of all cyclists", Ripley. The ride will be led by me and accompanied by special guests. We'll stop off at historic locations en route and - weather-permitting - finish at either the Anchor Inn in Ripley (epicentre of English cycling in the 1880s and 1890s) or find a scenic spot for an al fresco picnic. I'm aiming to ride in period costume and on an 1890s bicycle but won't be forcing anybody else to do likewise. Mind you, it would look great wouldn't it? A rolling recreation of part of the 25 mile ride from London that was world-famous in the 1890s. If that's not your cup of Earl Grey, there are also plans for a launch party in Coventry, home city of the British bicycle industry.

Download the music from the video

When I found some long-forgotten sheet music for Scorcher, an 1897 bicycle-themed piano piece, I wanted to hear what it sounded like so I asked musician Greg Johnston to interpret it for me. His up-tempo version can be heard on the video at the top of the page or by clicking below. Maybe click play and listen to it while reading the rest of this page? (MP3-playing widget isn't visible to those visiting this page with an iPhone or iPad.)

As an early Kickstarter reward, please feel free to download the track from my Dropbox. It's in MP3 format. 

Best bits from the blog

MOTORISTS’ FRONT OF JUDEA: What Have The Cyclists Ever Done for Us?

New York City once had the best bike path in the world (and it was the first, too)

Oakley glasses, MTB tyres, hi-viz jackets, Cannondale Lefty forks: all created in the 1890s

Ministry of Transport started one so why doesn’t Britain have a Dutch-style bike path network?

Chicago aims to be a world-class cycling city (you know, like it was in the 1890s)

Why is cycling popular in the Netherlands: infrastructure or 100+ years of history? Both

Ugly girls on bicycles: “Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.”

Mayor of New York says roads are not for cars. And cyclists and pedestrians are “more important” than motorists

Detroit’s most famous cyclist: Henry Ford

World’s first cycling faceplant, 1865 (rider wasn’t wearing a helmet, but he didn’t die)

'Study the past'

My profile pic was taken in the US National Archives in Washington DC. I was there researching a rather large yet woefully little known petition: the petition that paved America. It was paid for and organised by cycle manufacturer Albert Pope, founder of the US bicycle industry and sugar-daddy of the League of American Wheelmen's Good Roads movement. Wheeled in to the US Senate in 1892 the over-size petition was signed by 150,000 individuals, including the US Chief Justice, State Governors and a future President. It was also endorsed by banks, large corporations, boards of trade, and labour organisations. 

The petition, wound around its two wooden bobbins, is seven foot tall, weighs six hundred pounds, and is stored deep in the vaults of the National Archives.

I was granted a rare look at the petition. 

“We don’t normally let people into the vaults, but we can’t easily move the petition,” archivist Jessie Kratz told me.

While I was in Washington DC there was a Rally for Roads, a promotional campaign supported by organisations in the roads lobby such as the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

ARTBA was founded in 1902 by...a cyclist. According to ARTBA, the organization was created to “articulate the need for a federally-built network of Interstate highways.”

ARTBA was founded by Horatio Earle, a former chief consul of the League of American Wheelmen. He became known as “the father of good roads” for his work on America’s highways, work he started when he was a cyclist.

The history of the Good Roads activists of the 1890s is largely hidden from view, obscured by similar campaigns in the 1920s and 1930s by the motor lobby.

In his 1929 autobiography Earle wrote:

“I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country.”

The local and national legislative structures put in place by cyclists in America and in Britain were later used to great effect by motorists, many of whom had been cyclists long before they were automobilists.

Had influential figures, such as Pope and Earle and many others, not spent many years lobbying for good roads when they were cyclists, they would not have been as well equipped when it came to lobbying on behalf of the automobile.

Pioneer motorists knew how to push for good roads. They knew this because they had been cyclists first. 

With your help, Roads Were Not Built For Cars will resurrect this lost history. Thanks for your support.

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STRETCH GOAL #1 [REACHED]: If I get to £8500 in pledges I'll produce a poster based on this popular posting from the blog: MOTORISTS’ FRONT OF JUDEA: What Have The Cyclists Ever Done for Us?

Print book pledgers will get a print and online version of the poster; iPad and Kindle pledgers will get an online version. The poster will be done in infographic-style.

STRETCH GOAL #2 [REACHED]: If I get to £14,000 in pledges I'm going to commission Pete English to produce new cover artwork, with the possibility of an option for people to choose which of the two covers they'd like on their personal copies. More details on the blog.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

CHALLENGE: A successful Kickstarter campaign will force me to finish the book! I've shot past previous self-imposed deadlines because I found new avenues to explore, new archives to rifle through. This has to stop.

RISKS: There's a definite risk I won't finish the book by August but having a bunch of backers pushing me to get them the book I promised will be a great incentive to finish when I said I'd finish. Launching the Kickstarter campaign is the boot up the backside I very definitely need.

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    Help me dig up more hidden highway history, then bask in the warm glow of philanthropic joy knowing you're supporting my research work. No products provided at this level, of course, but you'll get a credit in the book supporters panel and backer-only updates.

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    KINDLE VERSION: Photo-rich version of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, sent digitally via Amazon. Your name, or a recipient's name, can be printed in the book supporters panel in the Kindle version & on the blog. Kindle version will be full-colour and contain lots of links and hi-res photos and illustrations. Plus, invites to the Newcastle, Ripley and Coventry launch parties. Plus a personally signed postcard featuring an archive illustration used in the book. You'll also get backer-only updates.

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    KARL KRON PAGE: One full-colour hardback copy of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, plus the iPad version.Plus, invites to the Newcastle, Ripley and Coventry launch parties. Plus your name (or company or friend/relative) featured on the Karl Kron page in the front of all versions of the book. Karl Kron was an American writer who crowd-sourced the funding for the publication of his cycling book in 1887. This Victorian Kickstarter-style project was unusual for the time - more details in the next update. Plus a personally signed postcard featuring an archive illustration used in the book. You'll also get backer-only updates.

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    PRESENTATION, UK: One full-colour hardback copy of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, plus the iPad version, plus I'll travel anywhere in the UK - by bike and train - to give an illustrated talk to a club, society or organisation on the subject matter of Roads Were Not Built For Cars. Plus, invites to the Newcastle, Ripley and Coventry launch parties. Plus a personally signed postcard featuring an archive illustration used in the book. You'll also get backer-only updates.

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Funding period

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