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Friday, 8 October 2010

Egalitarian Bicycles

In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said, “The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”  She was most likely referring to the pneumatic-tyred,“Safety bicycle,” the design of which is the template for almost all modern bikes.  The “Ordinary,” bicycle now commonly referred to as a penny-farthing, was considered too dangerous for ladies to ride at the time.  Large-wheeled tricycles existed before the safety bicycle designed for women, but these were not practical utilitarian machines and at the time bicycles in general were used as toys by the affluent, or as an example of conspicuous consumption nowadays more commonly expressed through expensive cars.



Unwieldy women’s tricycle (above) and amongst penny-farthings (Below).

With the advent of the safety bicycle and the continued fall in the price of bicycles, women could ride a much more practical and utilitarian machine whilst still keeping their legs covered by a skirt.  The popularity of the safety bicycle with women brought in a new era of practical attire, a newfound level of personal mobility and the freedom it provided.  The men of the time were not all happy about this, it was feared that the bicycle “Would disrupt the delicate sphere of the family unit by allowing the woman to travel beyond her previous limits without the surveillance of a knowing husband nearby.” 

Nowadays it is hard to imagine that this was still going on as recently as the time the safety bicycle was introduced.  It is definitely worth remembering the egalitarian effect the safety bicycle had.


  1. Well the delicate sphere of our family unit hasn't been too badly dented...and the better half still does most of the ironing so what on earth were they worried about? ;>D

    I totally agree that in 2010, it's difficult to fully appreciate the change in culture back then, and what the safety bicycle meant to people. It can't have been such a bad idea or we wouldn't still be riding them.

    Seeing my eldest daughter pedal along for the first time a few months ago, you could see her mind ticking over at the possibilities. It's the same effect on a smaller scale.

  2. ***Off at a tangent***

    I came across some local photos with some of those tricycles in a while back - will try to dig 'em out.

  3. Great post! I saw a brill postcard on "City Girl Rides" on the subject :D

    If a woman doesn't want to rely on a car *cough*moi*, the bike is still the safest and most independent form of transport. If I go out in the evening meeting friends (and I am on my own) I feel 100% safe to cycle there and back, I've witnessed some crazy stuff on buses, where drivers (rightly so) are scared enough to stay in the safety of their booth (can I call it that?!) and some of us were scared enough to get off the bus and wait for another one. Taxis on your own can be a bit of a gamble too, while on your bike you're independent, fast and don't need to remember bus/train's timetables by heart. :D

    'We' may have come a long way but there's still a long way to go (and not just about transport)... in the meantime yip yip hurray for the bicycle!!

    L x

  4. ok... I've realised I have merged two types of spelling...

    I meant to write "hip hip hooray!" :D

    and City Girl Rides' blog is this (realised I had not referenced it properly)


  5. @LC I always feel safest on a bike, from a personal security perspective. Dodgy people on foot can be easily dropped and dodgy people in cars can be out manoeuvred if needed. The only people who could seriously harass you would need to be faster cyclists and even then it would present quite a challenge. You aren't trapped unlike in a bus or taxi which is advantageous if they were to be a bit menacing.

    @Ian I bet you were proud when you saw her take to the bike for the first time, I remember how much freedom the bike gave me when I was a child. At the time my parents didn't really cycle so I never really saw just how far it would have been feasible for young me to have travelled back then.

  6. Proud? Ever so slightly :>)

    My parents have never had bikes in my lifetime either (unless you count Wendy's old one sat in their garage), although you can tell my Dad is quite fond of 'em on the quiet. We met them on holiday a few years ago and the old fart & I sneaked off on some hire bikes for an afternoon for a ride - he loved it.

    Got some great childhood memories of hiring bikes and having day rides along 'roads' (yes, roads!) as a family abroad too in Menorca & Majorca - how times changed with the Seat Panda!


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