The invention of the bicycle in the 19th century promoted the cause of female equality and freedom in the modern world.
Before the bicycle, women were expected to progress on foot, in carriages, or on horseback.
Various inventions including the car changed that - but the bicycle was likely the most crucial of them all. Inexpensive, easy to use and capable of high speeds, the velocipede, as it was then known, would help reshape the world for women, and has done so ever since.
The First Bicycles Were For Men Only - But That Didn't Stop Female Bike Pioneers
Until the 1890s, bicycles were almost exclusively for men, for a variety of reasons - one of which was the fact that they couldn't be ridden side-saddle, which was considered the only delicate way for a woman to ride anything.
Then came the invention of the "safety bicycle," which changed everything. Besides being appropriate for children, women decided it was suiatble for them as well… a steed on which they rode into a new world!
Some Viewed The Bicycle As A Sexual Threat
Besides giving women a way to get around freely, bicycling also played a role in the sexual liberation of women. It was the belief of some that if women went around straddling something, they would start having orgasms whilst experiencing shocks and vibrations from the road.
Furthermore, social trepidation was expressed by many as bicycles gave women the freedom to escape the watchful eyes of parents and chaperones.
Women were also informed that "bicycle face," the tense expression of concentration required for dodging traffic, would ruin their beauty, and that the motion of turning the pedals would make them bowlegged.
To their credit, women kept peddling regardless.
Bicycles Helped Women Shed Restrictive Clothing
The phenomenon of the bicycle also helped women get out of long, restrictive skirts, which contributed towards many unpleasant accidents caused by these long skirts being wound around the pedal.
Bicycling bloomers, or a "bicycling costume," as it was known at the time was the resultant solution. They were still ankle length and voluminous. However, they allowed more movement and were far safer.
Bicycles Were Associated With The "New Woman" And Feminism
The phenomenon of bicycles causing women to wear more "masculine" attire and go out into the world, created a nexus with the increasingly strong women's equality movement across Europe and the United States, which did not go by unnoticed.
New Women and bikes were so symbolic that Cambridge undergrads protested the admission of women in 1897 by hanging up an effigy of a woman on a bicycle!
Bicycles As Tools Of Liberation- Championed by Suffragettes
Women and bicycles were embraced by Suffragettes both symbolically and physically. In the famous words of Susan B Anthony, the American suffragist and abolitionist:
“I’ll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.”
The bicycle has played a huge role in the development towards freedom of women. Thanks to the beloved 2-wheeled chariot, women were able to travel further and faster with independence.
The number of women cyclists around the globe have been steadily increasing, urged on by a ground swell of inspiring women looking to share their love of cycling with others whilst getting more women on their bikes.
Today, women all over the world ride bikes for a myriad of reasons, from the need to get from A to B, for the sheer pleasure of a ride, or to tear each other’s legs off in a race.
Our new capsule CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CYCLING has been inspired by women’s relationship with their bike…a symbol of that freedom, independence and adventure.
SO, LET’S HEAR IT FOR WOMEN ALL AROUND THE WORLD, WHO RIDE. YOU AND YOUR FOREBEARS HAVE EARNED IT.