Cycling has played an essential role in daily life, commute, and material culture of Ukraine. In many of its areas, this has been the only affordable means of mechanical transport throughout the XX century. With a bike, people traveled to work, transported goods, and made new contacts in distant areas. The state managed the distribution of bicycles and used it at war. Nevertheless, the visions of modernizing the country focused on motorized vehicles. Despite its ubiquity, the bicycle got often discarded as a childish toy.

First of all, my book project aims at making visible diverse historical experiences of using the bike for transport. From the time when bicycles appeared on the streets of Eastern Europe, the social profile of cycling and its intended use had changed dramatically. In my book, I would like to show how cycling originated as an act of conspicuous consumption by the Imperial elites in the Habsburg Monarchy and Russian Empire, and then gradually turned into a tool to make ends meet in the Socialist economy of peasants and workers. The book will be sensitive to gender, age, and ethnic aspects of cycling, trying to answer the critical questions of who cycled and for what purposes.

Second, I would like to present cycling as a social construction. State authorities and political activists, traders, and consumers engaged in the process of debating aspects of cycling far before the local society learned to produce it. Although the first bicycles were imported together with new ideas of bodily conduct and culture of leisure, the local community appropriated the new commodity in its own ways. The state regulated traffic, taxed the cyclists, and regulated activities of the cycling associations. In turn, the users of the bicycles lobbied their own solutions for the set-up of public space.

Using examples from the wartime and interwar period, I will show how the bicycle was put into the service by the Soviet State. In particular, I will show how the bicycle was regarded to be a public good, not a means for use in private purposes. Signed by Stalin’s top-managers, Molotov and Kuybyshev, the state plans for production and distribution of bicycles reflected the idea that the bicycle should have been used primarily by party activists, administrative officials, military, customs control, doctors, mail carriers, and athletes. Moreover, the meager offer of bicycles for sale was open primarily to industrial regions and big cities, discriminating republics like Belarus or Tadzhikistan. Meant for the state, the bikes were mobilized to the Red Army twice in 1919 and 1939.

Limiting cycling mobility has also been one of the aspects of Nazi terror in the occupied territories. The Nazi administration issued own rules about registration of bicycles and traffic, and eventually confiscated the bikes in most areas of today’s Ukraine. At the same time, the bicycle appeared as a propagandist image for potential Ostarbeiters. The latter were encouraged to go to Germany, learn to cycle, and use the bike for everyday life together with the rest of Germans.

After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union turned the production of bicycles to over 1 million per year. That meant that workers and peasants could finally afford the tool. Despite the ubiquity of the bicycle 1950-1980s, the official press did not cover the phenomenon of cycling in small cities and villages very much. Instead, the media focused on providing public transport, developing new models of motorized vehicles, etc. The local communities in areas outside large urban centers developed their own scenarios of cycling. The bicycle was a tool to broaden their mobility patterns so that one could reach neighboring settlements for business and private purposes, deliver deficit goods, attend a dance club, or find a spouse. Using the tools of oral history, I plan to describe the everyday practices and conceptions of cycling in areas with sparse connections of public transport.

Last, but not least, I plan to present cycling in Ukraine as part of global phenomena. Several cases would exemplify connections between cycling cultures internationally. I will use an example of Columbia bicycles, manufactured in the late XIX century in Connecticut, USA, to show how the producers, agents, and consumers engaged in promoting a new practice of cycling. I will compare the numbers of production and distribution of bicycles in the Soviet Union to those in the USA, Western Europe, and China. I will show how the German equipment for bicycle production, paid as war reparations in 1947, stimulated new turn in Soviet bicycle production and use. In terms of cycling, Ukraine historically has had similarities to other parts of the world. Therefore I see this research as a way to produce a better understanding of micromobility worldwide.



The book relies on concepts of the social construction of technology, mobility and micromobility studies, the social life of commodities. Rather than depicting the history of cycling as linear progress, the book will present a series of synchronous accounts of cycling – the bicycle boom of the 1890s, the bicycle for Soviets in the 1920-1930s, biking at World War II, and post-war rural cycling culture. I view the bike as a commodity with value, ascribed to it by local and global actors. It changed hands and got traded across the world. And at the same time, this was a tool for mobility and creating new economic, political, and social reality. Neither speed, nor landscape was crucial for the proliferation of cycling. Instead, I show that the state policies, marketing, and cultural norms determined the cycling spaces and lifestyles in Eastern Europe.


This research is the first-ever attempt to discuss cycling history in Ukraine. Moreover, there is hardly any literature on cycling in other parts of the countries that Ukraine belonged to – the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Cycling in Poland and Habsburg Monarchy is relevant, however, it mostly focuses on sport cycling in Western Ukraine. This work will rely on the research of cycling in other parts of the world (see the list below). At the same time, I will use research on related topics of commodity and transport history in Eastern Europe to delve into the local context.


The collection of sources includes several thousands of newspaper articles, archival documents, published materials, and oral interview records. The newspapers were collected mainly through automatic search in online databases of Russian, Austrian, Polish, and Ukrainian digital libraries in four languages: Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German. The most voluminous sets of articles come from the following newspapers: Kievlianin(1890-1917), Kievskoe slovo(1890-1905), Yuzhnyi Krai (1890-1917), Tsyklist (1894-1904), Kurjer Lwowski (1890-1914), Koło (1890-1910), Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung (1885 – 1914), Radfahr-Sport (1890-1914), Sport im Bild (1890-1914), Za rulem (1929-1990), Izvestia (1919-1990), Pravda(1919-1990). About 500 newspaper articles come from the collection of local Ukrainian press, digitalized through archive. The archival documents come from the state archives of the Russian Federation (GARF, RGIA, RGASPI, RGALI) and Ukraine (TsDIAU, DALO, DAKhO). The collection also includes rare publications, collected in Russian and Ukrainian libraries: yearbooks of Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv cycling associations from the 1890-1900s, Soviet manuals for cycling, children literature about cycling. In 2018, with the help of a Ukrainian NGO U-Cycle, I had also collected 93 filled questionnaires about family experiences of cycling in Ukraine. Apart from several valuable findings, many inquiries provided me with contacts of people who had used a bicycle as a transport means in the Soviet period. The book is a challenge of analyzing content from multiple data sets with thousands of entries.


This project started in 2013 from collecting newspaper articles on the side of my main archival task. History of cycling had been my side interest until I defended a dissertation in 2017. Since after it turned into my main research theme. During 2017 and 2018, I’ve collected sources and cooperated with the cycling community of Ukraine to develop a perspective that would empower today’s civil activists. In 2018, I also made a street installation “A Bicycle Boom of the 1890s” together with the National History Museum of Ukraine and U-Cycle. This event is documented in an 8-minute video, available publicly online ( During 2018-2019 I have studied literature on the history of cycling worldwide during my Fulbright scholarship in Washington DC. My academic advisor was Prof. Kate Brown, a renowned researcher in the Field of Soviet Nuclear Technologies. In November 2019, I’ve conducted an archival search in Moscow and St. Petersburg within a Fellowship from German Historical Institute. I have written two chapters of the book during post-doctoral program at the University of Basel under guidance of Prof. Dr. Frithjof Benjamin Schenk. I plan to complete the fieldwork in the first half of 2022, focusing on local archives of Kharkiv and Lviv (were the bicycle production was concentrated in the UkrSSR), and take oral interviews with people who cycled in small cities and villages of Ukraine during the Soviet time. Part of the interviews will be conducted via Skype, while others in real places, where cycling has been popular (Sarny/Novograd Volynsk, Sloviansk, Mukacheve/Uzhgorod). I plan to finish writing the book by 2023, and publish it soon after in English.

Presentation of findings

Within the past years I have presented papers on history of cycling on a number of academic events: Workshop “Ukrainian Subjectivities” at European University Institute (Florence); Currents Talk at University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Lectures at Shevchenko Scientific Society (New York and Washington DC); lecture at Cannactions Architectural Festival in Kyiv; presentation German Historical Institute in Moscow; poster at Annual convention of the American Council for Public History (Hartford, Connecticut); presentation at The Aleksanteri Conference “Technology, Culture, and Society in the Eurasian Space” (Helsinki, Finland); presentation at “Between Kyiv and Vienna: Histories of People, Ideas, and Objects in Circulation and Motion” Conference at IWM (Vienna), “Soviet ‘I’ and Soviet ‘We’ in between Ideology and Reality,” (Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), Transport to Mobility (T2M) Convention at Shanghai, ASEEES 2020 Convention, Washington DC. Excerpts of my future book were discussed within Osteuropa Kolloquium in Basel University.

During 2022-2023, I plan to submit articles to international peer-reviewed journals.

Preliminary Book Outline


The bicycle as an example of social construction ­­– Cycling in Eastern Europe: why are we surprised to learn about its history? – Micromobility and state policies ­– Bicycle for emancipation and as a means of totalitarian control – How does history cycling in Eastern Europe relate to other global phenomena of cycling?

The Bicycle Boom of the 1890s

Imported bicycles for the elites – Imported cycling culture vs local traditions ­– Production, marketing and promotion of new brands – Conspicuous consumption ­– New ideas of bodily conduct and gender roles appropriated in local society ­– Cycling tracks and urban developments ­– State policy: taxes, traffic rules and overseeing the cycling associations ­– Was there “a good road” movement in the Russian Empire? ­– Class discourse of cycling and its legacy after the fall of the Russian Empire.

Cycling Between the Wars

Mobilization of bicycles in 1919 and 1939 – Bicycle import and production in the Soviet Union – Kharkiv Bicycle Factory after removal from Riga ­– Not for private use: distribution of bicycles in the early Soviet Union – Bicycle travels in works and life of futurist writers – Relay races promoting totalitarianism – Did Stalinist workers commute by bike? – How was cycling in Galicia and Bukovina different?

Micromobility During World War II

“Everyone cycles in Germany” – propaganda images in recruitment of Ostarbeiters – Bicycle in Nazi and Soviet armies: when fuel isn’t enough – Nazi rules for bicycle traffic in the cities: limiting mobility – Accounting and expropriating bicycles towards the end of the war – Bicycle in the eyes of imprisoned – Bicycle as a trophy.

The Cycling Union

Not a small thing, but nothing to be proud of: the discourse of cycling in the era of highways and motor vehicles – Bicycle mass market in the Soviet Union – Bicycle vs. Public Transport: Soviet patterns of bicycle distribution – Bicycle as an only available means of individual transport: cycling in small towns and cities – Bicycle as a tool to make end meet: an example of the kolkhoz worker – Expanding micromobility: cycle to a neighbor village and attend a club – Bicycle for children: urban discourses of cycling.


Making bicycle visible in the history – Nonlinear evolution of the technology – Bicycle vs. Car: East-European case – State policies and mobility.

Selected Bibliography

Arnold, David, and Erich DeWald. “Cycles of Empowerment? The Bicycle and Everyday Technology in Colonial India and Vietnam.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 53, no. 4 (October 2011): 971–96.

Bijker, Wiebe E. Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change. First Edition edition. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1995.

Bissell, David, Kevin Hannam, and Peter Merriman. The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. Edited by Peter Adey. 1 edition. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

Cvetkovski, Roland. "Russlands Wegelosigkeit. Semiotiken einer Abwesenheit" In Mastering Russian Spaces: Raum und Raumbewältigung als Probleme der russischen Geschichte edited by Karl Schlögel, 91-108. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2019. 

Dauncey, Hugh. French Cycling. Liverpool University Press, 2012.

Ebert, Anne-Katrin. “Cycling towards the Nation: The Use of the Bicycle in Germany and the Netherlands, 1880-1940.” European Review of History—Revue Européenne d’Histoire 11 (January 1, 2004): 347–64.

Ebert, Anne-Katrin. “Liberating Technologies? Of Bicycles, Balance, and the ‘New Woman’ in the 1890s.” Icon 16 (2010): 25–52.

Fitzpatrick, Jim, and Roey Fitzpatrick. The Bicycle in Wartime: An Illustrated History. Revised ed. edition. Kilcoy, Qld.: Star Hill Studio, 2011.

Friss, Evan. The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s. 1 edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Furness, Zack. One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.

Kurek, Artur. Galicyjskie stowarzyszenia kolarskie 1886–1914: charakterystyka i działalność. Kraków: AWF Kraków, 2011.

Hadland, Tony, Hans-Erhard Lessing, Nicholas Clayton, and Gary W. Sanderson. Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History. Illustrated, Reprint edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2016.

Ladd, Brian. Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age. Reprint edition. Chicago, Ill.; Bristol: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Männistö-funk, Tiina, and Timo Myllyntaus. Invisible Bicycle: Parallel Histories and Different Timelines. Leiden; Boston: Brill Academic Pub, 2018.

Männistö-Funk, Tiina. “The Crossroads of Technology and Tradition Vernacular Bicycles in Rural Finland, 1880—1910.” Technology and Culture 52, no. 4 (2011): 733–56.

McCullough, Robert L. Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land. 1 edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2015.

Möser, Kurt. Geschichte des Autos. Frankfurt/Main ; New York: Campus-Verl., 2002.

Norcliffe, Glen. Ride to Modernity — University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Oldenziel, Ruth, and Adri A. Albert de la Bruheze. “Contested Spaces: Bicycle Lanes in Urban Europe, 1900-1995.” Transfers 1, no. 2 (2011): 29–50.

Osterhammel, J. Die Verwandlung der Welt: eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Historische Bibliothek der Gerda Henkel Stiftung. Beck, 2009.

Randolph, JW 2007, 'The Singing Coachman or, The Road and Russia's Ethnographic Invention in Early Modern Times', Journal of Early Modern History, vol. 11, no. 1-2, pp. 33-61.

Siegelbaum, Lewis H. Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile. 1 edition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.

———, ed. The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc. 1 edition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Smethurst, P. The Bicycle — Towards a Global History. Springer, 2015.

Schechter, Brandon M. The Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in World War II through Objects. Cornell University Press, 2019.

Schenk, F.B. Russlands Fahrt in die Moderne: Mobilität und sozialer Raum im Eisenbahnzeitalter. Geschichte (Franz Steiner Verlag). F. Steiner, 2014.

Turpin, Robert. First Taste of Freedom: A Cultural History of Bicycle Marketing in the United States. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2018.

Randolph, JW 2007, 'The Singing Coachman or, The Road and Russia's Ethnographic Invention in Early Modern Times', Journal of Early Modern History, vol. 11, no. 1-2, pp. 33-61.

Vivanco, Luis. Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New. 1 edition. New York: Routledge, 2013.