UCI Road World Championships: Long-term Effects of Bicycles in Women’s Lives.

UCI Road World Championships are over and congratulations are due to all cyclists, especially Chloe Dygert and Emma White, two US cyclists who came in first and second in the women’s junior road race. Dygert and White were also 1 & 2 in the women’s junior time trial. It made me reflect again on the long-term effects of bicycles in women’s lives.

On September 17, I posted this picture on my Facebook page and mentioned that some suffragists called bicycles Freedom Machines because of all they opened up in the lives of 19th century women. I’ve been thinking about bicycles a lot this past week, and it seems this is a topic worth revisiting after the close of race week.
cloth doll on child's bike
Male domination of cycling ended as a result of the introduction of the safety bicycle in the 1880s. The safety bicycle had smaller wheels, a lower seat, a diamond frame and (soon) pneumatic tires. In 1896, Margaret Valentine Le Long garnered fame (if not fortune) by riding a safety bicycle from Chicago to San Francisco.
A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle.
A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
Not all women cycled for feminist reasons. Indeed, at the end of the 19th century, some cycled in order to expand Victorian moral and aesthetic tastes and sentiments into the public arena. These women cycled to feminize, domesticate, and civilize public spaces they considered masculine, loud, and rowdy.
Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsk was the first woman to bicycle around the world. “Annielondonderry” by Unknown – http://www.annielondonderry.com. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia.


But regardless of why women took up cycling, the bicycle took them out of the home and into an expanded world. In addition, practical dress for women cyclists (in addition to eliminating corsets) resulted in divided skirts, bloomers, and knickerbockers. It was practical, facilitating more comfortable riding. But at the same time, it was symbolic in breaking from the dominant norms of appropriate female dress and behavior. In 1896, Susan B. Anthony told the New York World’s Nellie Bly that bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
Bicycle suit punch 1895
Bicycle suit, 1895. By http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/punch/15.html [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Frances Willard, suffragist and founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was one of the most famous women of her day with a mass following of independent-minded, often politically active women. At the age of 53 Willard determined to learn to ride a bicycle because she “wanted to help women to a wider world…from natural love of adventure—a love long hampered and impeded…[and] from a love of acquiring this new implement of power and literally putting it underfoot.” Her book, A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, was published in 1895. Bicycling magazine called it “the greatest book ever written on learning to ride.”
Frances Willard
Frances Willard by English: photo taken before 1898, author not known, Image edited Deutsch: Urheber unbekannt; Das Bild wurde vor 1898 aufgenommen; Bild wurde später (am oder vor dem 30.12.2009) nachbearbeitet. (http://memory.loc.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In his novel trilogy The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy had this to say about cycling: “Under its influence, wholly or in part, have wilted chaperones, long and narrow skirts, tight corsets, hair that would have come down, black stockings, thick ankles, large hats, prudery and fear of the dark; under its influence, wholly or in part, have bloomed week-end, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language, knickers, knowledge of make and shape, knowledge of woods and pastures, equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation—in four words, the emancipation of woman.” (Quoted in Dave Horton’s “Social Movements and the Bicycle.”)
 bicycle painted in rainbow colors as art
Some authorities warned against excessive cycling by women, girls, and middled-aged men. Also of concern in the 1890s was the possibility that bike riding might be sexually stimulating for women—which resulted in remodeled “hygienic” seats, high stems, and upright  handlebars that reduced the angle at which women would ride.  Even so, through cycling, doctors discovered that exercise is healthful—even for women! The bicycle caused the death of the corset and “straight laced” women, leaving only “loose” women. (FYI: during the Civil War, “loose women” were also known as “soiled doves.”)
Ashland bike art, bike with birds
Willard named her bicycle Gladys, for the “gladdening effect” it had on her health and political optimism.The overall message of her book presented mastery of the bicycle as a metaphor for women’s mastery over their own lives.
bicycle art: yellow bike with sun
bike with flowers
So, that’s all ancient history, right? None of this really speaks to women today, right? Unless you are Rosemary Shomaker—or one of the platoons of other women whose experiences still resonate with those of our foremothers. Rosemary posted on my Facebook page: “In the 1970s the bicycle was definitely a ‘freedom machine’ for one girl escaping a less-than-fabulous home life—me! I rode my bike everywhere. To softball and field hockey practices ad gaes. To my part-time job. To friends and boyfriends; houses. To Wolf Trap Farm Park. Along the W&OD bike path. To parks. To tennis courts. Early bike riding shaped my still uber-independent spirit. Go Richmond 2-15 UCI Road World Championships! Best wishes from a bike lover.”
mannequin on bike
I was never a bike-for-pleasure person. But bike as transportation was a big deal. It allowed me to ride from my house a few miles along a county road to visit with my cousins. My sister and I shared that bike. When I got my first car at 16, my dear sister got sole possession of that dear bike.

Go, girls! Go!
girls' bikes

UCI Road World Championships: The Beauty of Bicycles

Frankly, I never thought much about bicycles as art. When I first saw this sculpture in the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, I thought, “What an odd thing to have here!” That was shortly before Race Week edged into my conscience.
bike sculpture in Ginter Park Botanical Gardens
Sculpture in the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
But once I started noticing, bicycle art is—if not rampant—at least frequent. I found this one while vacationing with my family.
bike sculpture in Sculpture in Narragansett, RI
Sculpture in Narragansett, RI
And here are several you can see if you do tour Ashland—as I certainly urged you to do in my most recent blog!
two bicycles suspended from awning in Ashland, Virginia
Art in Ashland, VA
Last but not least, consider visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Beginning September 6, they will have a teaching program for children titled ArtCycle. It is interactive, allowing a virtual tour of museum holdings related to bicycle art as well as the opportunity to make art using bicycle parts. This program will be available for a time after race week. Check the VMFA calendar.

UCI Road World Championships

From the UCI Road World Championships Richmond 2015 website:

The Road World Championships (Worlds) is cycling’s pinnacle event, held annually in an international city as chosen by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) through a competitive bidding process similar to the Olympic Games.

Worlds is a nine-day event, featuring 12 Championship races for Elite Men and Women, Under 23 Men and Junior Men and Women. It is a rare opportunity for the athletes to compete for their country, just as they do during the Olympic Games.

UCI Road World Championship: Bicycles are welcome in the Center of the Universe

Ashland, Virginia—self-designated decades ago as the Center of the Universe—is a small town about 15 miles north of Richmond, home of Randolph-Macon College. Ashland is a railroad town predating the Civil War, originally built by executives of the RF&P Railroad.

sign reading, "Ashland, Virginia, Center of the Universe"

However, that doesn’t stop the town being very bicycle friendly. Every nice weekend day cyclists swarm at Ashland Coffee and Tea, taking breaks during their enjoyment of rural Hanover County roads.

In the spirit of race week, Ashland’s Main Street Association invited merchants and residents to welcome cyclists and fans by decorating bicycles.

I want to share with you a sampling of what you can see if you walk around the bicycle gardens in the center of the Center of the Universe!
Ashland-ALLY-bike-garden Ashland-bicycle-planter Ashland-bike-art Ashland-bike-bird-box Ashland-bike-birdhouse Ashland-bike-blue Ashland-bike-flags Ashland-bike-green-and-yellow Ashland-bike-light-blue Ashland-bike-red-petunia Ashland-bike-sculpture-monster-2 Ashland-bike-sculpture-monster Ashland-bike-treasurers-office Ashland bike wall art, "Park in rear" Ashland bike wall art

Ashland offers tourist information at the Train Station Visitor’s Center. You can get a bike garden scavenger hunt map there, as well as a self-guided walking tour of historic places.


And in downtown Ashland, you can get good food that does not come from a chain restaurant! (Of course, if chains are your thing, there are bunches around the I-95 exit, and along Rt. 1 and Rt. 54, very convenient.) There are antique stores and fun shops. Bottom line: something for everyone. Y’all come!

Ashland bike sculpture man on bike

UCI Road World Championships

From the UCI Road World Championships Richmond 2015 website:

The Road World Championships (Worlds) is cycling’s pinnacle event, held annually in an international city as chosen by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) through a competitive bidding process similar to the Olympic Games.

Worlds is a nine-day event, featuring 12 Championship races for Elite Men and Women, Under 23 Men and Junior Men and Women. It is a rare opportunity for the athletes to compete for their country, just as they do during the Olympic Games.


Bike race writing prompt


The fun begins! No doubt we will hear and read a lot about the races in the week ahead. Your challenge for this week is to consider the following writing prompts and write a story—or more than one! Fiction, genre, style, none of that matters to me. Just be sure bicycles are a central element. Please share what you create!

Write a story in which a bicycle is central to love and/or romance.

sketch of tandem bicycle surrounded by hearts

Write about how and why this bicycle is on the roof of a dry cleaning business.

blue bicycle on top of dry cleaner in Ashland, Virginia

Write a story about biking under the influence. (My preference is that the message be it isn’t a good thing to do—but that isn’t a rule!)

bicycles outside wine bar

Write about someone who commutes by bicycle.

bicycle locked to sign

Write about bicycles that are able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!

two bicycles suspended from awning in Ashland, Virginia

And in the spirit of Stephen King (a write-by-the-seat-of-his-pants author who starts with a single question): What if a cyclist on a country road suddenly realizes that his bicycle is turning to jelly? What if bicycles could reproduce the way (choose an animal) do? What if bicycles had secret night lives? Or start with your own What if...?


UCI Road World Championships

The cyclists are coming! The cyclists are coming!

Not that I am a cycling enthusiast, but any event this big piques my interest. Some weeks ago, when I first became aware of the upcoming races, I started noticing bicycles—and they are everywhere! Did you ever count how many clutches of bicycles are fastened to motor vehicles?

bike rack on car

bike rack on car

Although the Virginia DOT says that all vehicular laws apply to bicycles, clearly this isn’t the case with parking.

bike chained to sign reading, "reserved parking handicapped only"

bike chained to sign

bike chained to sign


bikes parked in store

Also, DUI statutes don’t apply to bicycles in Virginia. Although one can be charged with DUI/DWI for drunk bicycling in 22 states, Virginia isn’t among them. Still, in my opinion, one would be stupid to do it. The person most likely to be injured is the cyclist, but think of the trauma to family, and to the motorist who might have killed someone. It’s like riding without a helmet: just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

But I digress. I was talking about bicycles being everywhere, and used for all sorts of purposes. When I was a Nimrod this summer, I intentionally saved this picture for now.

bike used as planter at Nimrod Hall

And perhaps the sweetest picture of all—

bike painted pink for Ashland bike art

Check out the UCI Road World Championship website to learn more. 

Former UCI Road World Champions

Greg LeMond 1989 Tour de Trump
Greg LeMond, American cyclist (retired) and two-time World Champion
By https://www.flickr.com/people/small_realm/ [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

La Course by Le Tour de France 2015 (19936269888)
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, 2014 Road Race World Champion, at 2015 La Course by Le Tour de France.

By youkeys (La Course by Le Tour de France 2015) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons