brighton cycling

Women and cycling have an important history - and the relationship between the two has led to the bicycle being seen by many as a symbol of women's freedom.

A History of the Bicycle and Women's Rights

On the topic of cycling and women's rights, the American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony, wrote in 1896:

"I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.

We've selected five vintage photos that we think illustrate important moments of change in women's freedoms from the Victorian age to visibility in the cycling industry today.

the safety-cycle-Photograph- London Stereoscopic Company Getty Images

The arrival of the Safety Bicycle, a more practical evolution of the Penny Farthing, prompted Victorian fashion to make way for a new look for women that was more conducive to riding a bike - such as this outfit from around 1884.

Women were allowed to ride a bike without a chaperone and understandably, leapt at the opportunity and the chance to wear (slightly) more comfortable clothing.

This sort of rationale dress literally gave them more mobility and as a result, they were freer to travel without the risk of their cumbersome skirts getting caught up.

Photograph- Hulton Archive-Getty Images

The level of inequality that women experienced in the past is depicted in this photograph.

Male undergraduates at Cambridge University protested against the full admission of female students by hanging an effigy of a ‘New Woman’ on a bicycle from a window in Market Square circa 1897.

This is an example of how the bicycle was associated with the women's movement, used here to demonstrate the men's opposition against a women's right to have a university education.

womens cycling history

In around 1895, probably out of anxiety that women now had a vehicle towards their own liberation, a list of dont's for women on bicycles was published.

The list included one 'don't' that instructed women not to "cultivate a 'bicycle face'!"

Clearly the concern was that women riding bikes would become less feminine. Nowadays, we applaud the bicycle face with a selfie!

Two suffragettes on bicycles in 1914. Photograph- Corbis

The bicycle was also a symbol of the Suffrage movement - the campaign for a vote for women.

Over 100 hundred years ago, Alice Hawkins, a suffragette, cycled around Leicester promoting the women's rights movement. She upset the city greatly, largely due to her clothing choices in wearing pantaloons!


Women's pro-cycling today owes a lot to the original icons like Great Britain's Beryl Burton OBE (1937-1996).

21 Facts we Bet you Never Knew About Beryl Burton

Beryl won more than 90 domestic championships and seven world titles, and set a women's record for the 12-hour time-trial which exceeded the men's record for two years.

olympic debut

It wasn't until 1984 that women's cycling was put on the Olympic agenda. The first road race was at the LA Games and was won by Connie Carpenter-Phinney or the USA.

2016 Olympic Road Race to Start and Finish on Copacabana Beach

Since '84, women's cycling has provided some of the most exciting Olympic performances, including the women of Team GB on both track and road at London 2012.

Interview: Laura Trott

heather Wyman

This is a photo of cyclocross champion, Helen Wyman winning the Koppenbergcross in 2013.

This event is significant as it was the first cycling race that offered equal prize money for both men and women. Helen Wyman commented:

It is a very significant moment for women's cycling. This allows women to make one step up the ladder towards equality

Cyclocross is moving forwards - the UCI recently provided a massive pay rise to the women racing the CX World Cup, and added an under 23 category so 18-year-olds don't have to race with the likes of Wyman and Marianne Vos. You can read more about that story in our interview with Helen here.

womens tour

We are now into our second year of the Women's Tour, significant because it's the first ever women's UCI level race to come to Britain and because its organisers were upfront about it being a way to bridge the gender gap in cycling.

What happened to the Women's Tour de France?

In this photo, Marianna Vos pedals here way to victory over the finish line in the inaugural Women's Tour last year. In a recent interview a huge supporter of the event, Chris Boardman said,

I think what I enjoyed about the last Aviva Women’s Tour were the resources that went into creating an international event, that was properly televised by ITV and it gave women’s racing in the UK, in fact globally, a major event.

Here's to many more years of the Women's Tour!