Bicycle History: Women and Bicycles

May is National Bike Month!


Babes on Bikes

Guest Post by Charlotte Adcock, Assistant Planner – Multimodal

For centuries, society viewed women’s role to be in the home. Women were expected to wear long dresses, restricting her ability to travel to horse and carriage. The bicycle gave women of the time a control over their own mobility. Of course, cycling in a dress can be difficult. As many women wanted to ride a bike, it called for a change in fashion. Full length skirts and dresses that were typically worn came to be viewed as restrictive by women’s rights advocates. A woman who could not ride was inhibited. Many advocates for women’s rights at the time began wearing what came to be called ‘bloomers.’ Amelia Bloomer, who loaned her name to the pants, had made dress reform a major part of her work in women’s rights. For those against women’s suffrage, bloomers were scandalous. However, for an advocate, the bloomers were a symbol of women’s independence. La Bicycliste 1897 Bicycle BabesLa bicycliste et caricature, 1897” by Montorgueil, Georges, 1857-1933 (creator) Somm, Henry, 1844-1907 (illustrator) To Maria Ward, the bicycle was also a symbol of women’s freedom. To her, full independence was achieved through total responsibility for the bike, including how to purchase, ride, and maintain it. In her guide “Bicycling for Ladies,” she lays out how to do just that, as well as cycling etiquette. Ward firmly believed that women were no less capable of being a good bicycle mechanic than men. Today, there are more male cyclists on the road than female in the United States. According to 2011- 2015 5-year estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS), only .4% of women workers ride a bike to work in the United States, compared to .8% of the total number of male workers. In Oklahoma, .1% of the more than 780,000 women commuting to work ride a bike in Oklahoma. This equates to about 1,100 women cyclists riding to work, compared to more than 3,100 male cyclists. Of course, this is only looking at the number of men and women that ride a bike for their commute to work. The Census Bureau does not keep track of the number of people that ride for recreational purposes, nor are there records for the number of people who own a bike. However, a study by PeopleforBikes conducted in 2014 shows that most women ride for recreation. Of the 45 million women who rode a bike in 2014, 95% did so for recreational purposes. Those that reported riding for transportation said their trips by bicycle are typically for social or leisure purposes and not for their commute to work. What are the barriers to women biking? According to the same study by PeopleforBikes, 54% of women are concerned about being struck by a motor vehicle while riding, and 48% of women surveyed stated that they would ride more with protected bike lanes. This is consistent with other studies. As Jan Garrard – who has authored many studies on gender differences in cycling – states in a 2009 interview with Scientific American, “If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female.” As the article explains, women are a good indicator for bicycle friendliness for a few reasons. First, women are typically more concerned about their personal safety while they ride. Women also do a lot of the child care and shopping, so they want bike routes to be organized and practical as well as safe.

Ladies, what are your thoughts?

Do you have concerns about riding a bike? Have you had experiences that make you think twice about hopping on a bike? Share them with us on Facebook!


[fb_plugin page href=”” tabs=”events”]

Click to Download: 2017 Bike To Work Poster

Staff Contacts

Charlotte Adcock
Assistant Planner – Multimodal

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This