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.