Bike Talk: The Bicycle Is a Symbol Of Freedom

08 March, 2016

Today is a special day for women around the world. As we celebrate International Women's Day, we must remember the role of the bicycle in women's empowerment and history. This is an old post I wrote five years ago that still rings true for many of us women on bikes today. 

Many times we've heard this quote by Susan B. Anthony who once said, "I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

It wasn’t till a cultural shift in woman’s fashion wear and the bicycle’s popularity in the 1890’s that the bicycle became a symbol as a bold statement of freedom, mobility, and activism. Even so today the bicycle remains symbol of mobility and activism in breaking barriers for women in society, industry, and politics. Riding a bicycle can be dangerous and sometimes disheartening for women around the world. Being women on a bicycle on the road, we have entered a war on the asphalt.

As I “dress up” to ride, I often feel like I’m a warrior going into battle, with two wheels to defend myself. It’s hard enough to get acceptance on the road, it's even more hard to get acceptance in a tight knit bike community. We experience it in the bike shop, in the industry, even on group rides. Even if you are knowledgeable about bicycles, racing, and mechanics it’s difficult to remain confident in a culture that places value on a woman solely for her looks. I’ve seen many women merely conform to the ideals and trends of a scene, while some women proudly proclaim being “one of the guys”. Be it so but we must continue to help our sisters progress. On group rides, I have experienced attitudes of keep up or keep out, attitudes that I have seen my girlfriends feeling discouraged from.

A part of me writes this because there continues to be this issue of of being a woman on a bike. The issue has become an exclusive niche club and a woman's desire of acceptance on the road, in a bike club, in industry. A huge part of me took up this blog because I felt there wasn't a place for me to fit in and I knew for many other women, there wasn't as place we could talk about our experience on a bike where we could empower one another. With dialogue and stories we equip women with tools for inclusivity. If we allow the attitude to "keep up or keep out" to prevail, we further discourage women and girls from riding and asserting themselves in a scene which could benefit from a community of women.

I truly believe the bicycle continues to be the symbol that empowers women. It is one solution to building a healthy body, self esteem, healthy communities, and a healthy world. This blog is a manifestation of my activism and feminism on a bike because I truly believe that cycling has given me the power to embrace my body and my riot has given me the tools to speak out to empower other women to do the same. Every time I feel dismissed for being on a bike by a whistle, a holler, a honk, or a “bitch move out of the way,” I just become stronger and empowered to ride my hardest. When I share my experiences with other women we come stronger and empowered together.

This is the message we should fight for women around the world on this International Women's Day. The bicycle community can look like anything but if it’s going to grow we need to allow more women in, different colors, different languages, different experiences. We can't make change if we carry an attitude of "keep them out if they can’t keep up". We must have tools and knowledge to empower eachother in making the world a better place, one person, one bicycle at a time.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, I wanted to highlight the role of World Bicycle Relief in empowering women and girls in developing regions of the world today through their Bicycles For Education Empowerment Program (BEEP)

"With a bicycle, a girl student gets to school on time, refreshed and ready to learn. Give a girl access to education ensures she has the confidence and knowledge to make her choices in life. Trends show that with an education, girls have smaller families, later marriages, better health, and improved financial situations. Educating girls fosters well being and freedom of movement for them as well as their communities." If you feel compelled to donate, fundraise, or ride to support World Bicycle Relief, please visit  Bicycles For Education Empowerment Program.

image @sarahpardus
Kara said...

This is such a great post!

kitten roar said...

love this post so much. it does suck that there seems to be such a great divide in the bike community, and it's actually quite intimidating! chicago has a huge network of bike messengers and riders and luckily they are quite friendly, but i have run into a few jerks who say i try to make riding a "fashion statement." when i just really love riding my bike and not looking like a slob when i get off of it, haha. :)

Sue said...

Very powerful... Thank you... It's so important to be supportive of one another: I ride all different kind of bikes and it always makes me happy when I'm on my Pashley and a roadie riding by me takes the time to say hello and give a smile. It says a lot in terms of acceptance. Same with car drivers. I did come across one rude driver recently that left me shocked and dazed for a couple of days. But, I realized that in order to change the mind set of people about cyclists, you have to put yourself out there and not let these types of incidents get to you (me). Empowerment, like you said goes a long way.

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