In A Modern Utopia (1905) H.G. Wells gives us a Darwinianly kinetic utopia which will embody what he calls ‘the travel age of mankind’. Transport systems are accordingly an important part of his futuristic vision, and it is encouraging to know that ‘cycle tracks will abound in Utopia, sometimes following beside the great high roads, but often taking their own more agreeable line amidst woods and crops and pastures’.
Spinning briskly down those genial tracks will presumably be the admirable bicycle that Joanna Russ imagines in her utopian Whileaway in The Female Man (1975), ‘a stout machine, with broad tires (compared to ours) and a receiver for registering radio beacons ... Her bicycle was singing the musical tone that lets you know you’re on course, a very lovely sound to hear over the empty fields’. So there you are: sat-nav decades avant la lettre.
But my favourite utopian bicycles are those in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge (1990), which won’t need H.G. Wells’s cycle tracks at all because they are, after some rugged muscular work to get their propellors going, aerial rather than terrestrial: ‘Kevin would hear a voice from above, and looking up he would see her in her little Hughes Dragonfly, making a cyclist’s whirr and waving down like a sweaty air spirit’ These wonderful flying bikes will certainly take some beating; so let us hope that future utopian writers can rise to the challenge!