But here’s the thing: no one could stop them. Women weren’t set to give up these new freedoms after finally ridding themselves of the dreaded chaperone.
Annie Londonderry was an American mother of three who decided to cycle around the world in fifteen months, setting off from Boston in 1894 carrying only a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver. Not only did she make full use of a woman’s new found freedom of movement, she also did a lot to change public perception by becoming a bit of a celebrity.
Since then, there’s been no stopping ladies from pedalling, with Beryl Burton often hailed as one of the most inspiring and important female cyclists or all time. In fact, the act of cycling is still rather revolutionary. Cycling attracts women of all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, passions and interests. You can enjoy being on your bike in a myriad of ways; from road racing to mountain biking, cyclo-cross to bike polo.
Cycling encourages women to step outside the traditional gender roles that still exist in our ‘enlightened’ world: it’s not quite the move from skirts to bloomers, but women who cycle are challenging the idea of femininity by partaking in a form of exercise that’s male-dominated.
And in other parts of the world, the bicycle is still acting as a catalyst for change. Shannon Galpin has been working with the Afghan Women’s Cycle team since 2012, trying to kick-start a cultural revolution similar to that which changed things for women in the West in the late 1800s.
“I realised that when you look at any culture, when women started to ride bikes it kind of up-turned the apple cart and created a lot of controversy,” says Shannon. “This has happened in every single culture. You can’t blame [the lack of freedom for women] on religion. It’s just a natural, cultural timeline of women’s rights.”
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