The Politics of Bicycle Innovation: the Human-Powered Vehicle Movement

In the beginning of 2016 a long awaited edited volume on the history of cycling (and recycling) finally appeared: Ruth Oldenziel & Helmuth TrisOldenzielCyclingCoverchler (Eds.), (2016). Cycling and Recycling. Histories of Sustainable Practices. [Environment in History: International Perspectives, Vol.7]. New York, Oxford: Berghahn. As far as cycling is concerned the volume contains chapters on cycling in West Africa (Hans Peter Hahn), on negative associations of bicycle use in French cultural history (Cathérine Bertho Lavenir), on bicycle taxes between 1890 and 2012 (Adri de la Bruhèze and Ruth Oldenziel), on urban planning and cycling in Stockholm (Martin Emanuel) and on cycling in Japan (William Steele). My own contribution is a chapter on ‘The Politics of Bicycle Innovation: Comparing the American and Dutch Human-Powered Vehicle Movements, 1970s—present’. In it, I deal with the history of the international Human-Powered Vehicle (HPV) movement, originally launched in the 1970s by engineers and scientists who believed that bicycle innovation could give a major impetus to a coveted western bicycle renaissance. Based on a reading of magazines and books from the American and Dutch HPV scenes, the chapter compares ideas and practices within the Dutch Human-Powered Vehicle association NVHPV (established 1984) with those of the American-based IHPVA (established 1976), asking why the American ideas about innovative Human-Powered Vehicles did not evoke a stronger response in a bicycle-friendly country such as the Netherlands. The chapter shows that while new ideas to promote cycling may travel easily, national trajectories and cultures of cycling prove remarkably resilient to change.