This International Women's Day, we wanted to share some of the inspiring stories from history around women and cycling, from the influence on fashion to the empowerment of a generation! There's no doubt that female pioneers through the years have helped to influence how bikes and cycling in general have developed, all the way through to today's e-bike. Let's dig into the past and explore the present!
A route to greater independence
In the late 19th century, the bicycle became a hugely popular must-have item. Well-off people took to cycling as a leisure activity, while working people welcomed the bike as a means of quick and easy mobility. Compared to automobiles and public transport such as trains and trams, a bicycle was relatively inexpensive and gave the rider much more freedom than many other options.
"[Collection Jules Beau. Photographie sportive] : T. 4. Années 1896 et 1897", by Jules Beau, licensed under CC Public Domain Mark 1.0
The rise of the bicycle's popularity coincided with the movement for women's suffrage in many countries in Europe, North America and beyond. Indeed, in the United States, the bicycle became synonymous with the "New Woman", an archetypal symbol of The Progressive Era – she was seen as educated, interested both in sports and in following a career, and often depicted on a bicycle. In contrast to her immediate female predecessors, The New Woman was not dependent on men for transportation, and this independence allowed for much greater freedom of expression. Leading suffragist Susan B. Anthony famously 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. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
As bicycles became more and more enjoyed by female riders, adjustments to fashion began to evolve. The traditional women's clothing at the time tended to involve long and heavy skirts, which impeded riding at best, and were dangerous to life at worst. Several pioneering women in the UK designed and patented their own cycling clothing, aiming for the sweet spot between respectable and practical. Although there was something of a backlash from the traditionalist Victorian society, the strong bond between women and their bicycles was not broken!
" Three cyclists in Thames, New Zealand, around 1895. " by Unknown author, licensed under CC Public Domain Mark 1.0
From the bicycle's popularity boom in the late 19th century through to the modern day, countless women have relished the competitive side of cycling. To pick just a few highlights, the "Big Five" in the United States helped popularize friendly competition in the 1890s. Moving forward to the 20th century, the UK's Beryl Burton became a phenomenal record-breaker– despite remaining an amateur cyclist, she set over 50 national records in the 1950s and 1960s, many of which remained unbroken for 20 years!
(Re-sized) "Beryl Burton - Seafront Criterium" by Brian Townsley, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Now, of course, women's cycling is an established phenomenon. Sportswomen in other disciplines appreciate the joys of cycling too – not least, TENWAYS brand ambassador, Suzanne Schulting! The Dutch Olympian with multiple gold medals for short-track skating has always loved to cycle, and now heads to and from training sessions on her sporty and super-lightweight CGO600 e-bike, conserving energy for the intensive skating action!
Gearing bikes towards women riders
Modern bikes designs are often seen as suitable for either men or women. A decision to choose either a classic two-triangle frame with a horizontal top tube, or a step-through frame, often comes down to personal choice. Step-through frames were initially developed to cater to women; they are easier to ride while wearing a skirt, and are easier to mount – no need to throw a leg over the top tube!
For women new to or rediscovering cycling, a lightweight step-through option is often a good starting point. Optional features such as female-friendly saddles, pannier racks and mounting points for child seats are other aspects that many women consider when shopping around for bikes.
The latest development – e-bikes
Looking at statistics for cycling generally around the world, men on two wheels tend to outnumber women. Research shows some reasons for this imbalance can be women's concern about safety, their age, and their fitness level. The good news is that an e-bike can go a long way to address these worries!
Feeling safe on a bike is strongly linked to how confident a rider feels, both about the bike and the rider's ability to be a part of the traffic. Knowing that your e-bike has the power to give you that extra little boost when the traffic lights turn green, for instance, can give you the assurance you need to cycle at a steady and sustainable pace.
At TENWAYS, we're strong believers in e-bikes helping people of varying ages and fitness levels to discover the joys of fun, green mobility. And the worldwide Tenwayers community agrees – check out the voices of some of our older riders in our recent blog! An e-bike is an ideal way to overcome some of the initial physical hurdles that can put someone off cycling, whether that's a stiff knee, or several forbidding hills in the neighborhood!
Explore the options
If you're a woman looking to get started on two wheels, and considering an e-bike as your preferred option, the comfort-optimized TENWAYS CGO800S is an ideal first e-bike choice. Much lighter than many e-bikes, it's stylish with an easy-access step-through frame, is super-smooth to ride, and packs in safety features such as rear light indicators, helping you to feel more secure as you ride. For more seasoned riders who love a sporty, lightweight pair of wheels, CGO600 and its new sibling, CGO600 Pro also offer an excellent option, with the signature TENWAYS smooth ride and great handling.