When Women Cyclists Break the Rules

When bikes became readily available in the 1800’s, women began hopping on saddles everywhere.  In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”

popular magazine of the day wrote “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.”

Bikes allowed women to independently venture outside their home. They ushered in more practical clothing. They offered a an outlet for physical activity.

In the 1800’s, this was pretty big stuff.

Caroline Mani, Cyclocross Racer. Courtesy of Raleigh Bicycles.

Caroline Mani, Cyclocross Racer. Courtesy of Raleigh Bicycles.

Unfortunately, medical minds of the time discovered that women just lacked the mental or physical capacity to ride bikes like men. Clinicians at the time uncovered significant health risks to women cyclists. Risks like  “Bicycle Face:” a female cyclist’s face would get “usually flushed…with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness” and “a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes.”

Scary stuff, indeed.

Other doctors at the time allowed that women could ride a bike, as long as they followed rigid guidelines around conservative attire, low levels of exertion, upright posture, and other such stuff. One such doctor, a Dr. Shadwell, developed strict guidelines for women cyclists, a full list of which can be found here.  For the benefit of women everywhere, here are four graphic images of what happens when women cyclists break those rules:


Rule#1: Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”

Kristin Armstrong, above, is a professional road bicycle racer and two-time Olympic gold medalist, the winner of the women’s individual time trial in 2008 and 2012

Rule#2: Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.

Tela Crane, Seattle hometown prodigy, Olympic hopeful, mentor to junior cyclists. Shown here at LA Grand Prix November 2013

Rule#3: Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.

Connie Carpenter-Phinney is an American retired racing cyclist who won four medals in World Cycling Championship competitions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She also won the gold medal in the cycling road race at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, as well as twelve U.S. national championships.

Rule#4: Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

Marianne Vos above, is a Dutch cyclocross, road bicycle racer and track racer who has drawn comparison to Eddy Merckx as being “the finest cyclist of her generation”. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, she won the gold medal in the points race; in the 2012 Summer Olympics, gold in the women’s road race. She is a 3-time World Road Race Champion, and 7-time World Cyclocross Champion.

Friends, we have come a long way.

Please join us on LilyDrive to celebrate and support yesterday’s and tomorrow’s victory salutes, Olympic medals, long rides, and fast sprints.