Back when the bicycle was new, it was a symbol of liberation for women – part of the new range of opportunities that women pursued and embraced at the end of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th. Last year, writer Sue Macy published a marvelous book about that era, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). She includes a quote that appeared in an American magazine in 1896:
To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play.
To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.
Unfortunately, in the United States of today, women are not riding that steed in numbers proportionate to their presence in the population. According to the most recent figures from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, only 24 percent of the bicycle trips in the country are made by women. In countries with better biking infrastructure and education, such as the Netherlands and Germany, women and men ride bikes in roughly equal numbers.
This coming Sunday, May 13, an event called Cyclo Femme aims to up the percentage of women on two wheels around the world, with a focus on the U.S.-based project of the website Girl Bike Love. They’ve got a very cool logo and a mission statement that recalls the past glory days of women on bikes while looking to a more female-friendly bike future:
WHY WE RIDE FOR CycloFemme:
HONOR THE PAST and the emancipation of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, for the freedom to choose and the chance to wear pants. CELEBRATE THE PRESENT and the riders who keep it rolling, bringing women's racing to the forefront, pushing the limits, breaking down barriers and sharing the love of the bike with everyone along the way. EMPOWER THE FUTURE of women in cycling and the opportunity for positive social change. Teach women to ride and they will change the world.
Nearly 150 groups around the U.S. have registered to ride, in states from Florida to Washington and pretty much everywhere in between. There are also rides registered in 13 countries around the world, including the Czech Republic, Venezuela, and Afghanistan (!).
Girl Bike Love is far from the only group trying to encourage more women on bikes. For the first time this year, there was a National Women Cycling Forum at the National Bike Summit. Women on Bikes SoCal has a campaign to double the number of women who ride. Researchers are documenting the underrepresentation of women on bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees. And there are countless women blogging about bikes (follow @WomenBikeBlogs to get a sampling).
Here’s what Susan B. Anthony had to say about biking (as quoted on Girl Bike Love’s site):
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.