The bicycle emerged as a new means of transport sometime around the early 19th century, but those early “bone-shaker” models were more or less advertised as a device to be used only by men.
More sophisticated bike designs that appeared later on, such as the roadster, proved convenient enough for women to take off their tight-laced Victorian dresses, and show off a little bit of more skin in what would be their ride to greater freedom in general. With the advent of the bike, also came significant advancement of womens rights.
By the end of the 19th century, the U.S. was in a bike craze, though the two-wheeler’s popularity stagnated a bit during the early decades of the 20th century. In Europe, however, British manufacturers largely started shipping bikes overseas, to the Netherlands where the bicycle remains a favored mean of transport, as well as to the farthest points of the Commonwealth.
Annie Londonderry, an emigree from Latvia to the U.S., is remembered for cycling the globe in 1894 and 1895. The first woman to do so, and she is noted saying: “I don’t want to spend my life at home with a baby under my apron every year.”
In the U.K., Billie Fleming is remembered for setting the women’s record for the greatest distance cycled in one year, in 1938, a distance of 29,603.7 miles. She was sponsored by bicycle manufacturers Rudge-Whitworth, and Cadbury chocolate.
Stigmas about women riding on a bike eventually melted as the decades of the 20th century sped on, and this selection of photos of women, both younger and older, is proof that women have taken to cycling with a full grace and beauty.