In the late 19th century, as the modern bicycle grew in popularity in America, women were dissuaded from riding bicycles. Doctors coined the term bicycle face, a medical condition that would afflict women if they chose to pedal. Some doctors have even gone so far as to say the condition is permanent and irreversible.
Below is a description of bike face in an 1895 issue of the Literary Digest.
Overexertion, standing upright on the steering wheel, and unconscious effort to maintain balance tend to produce a tired and exhausted bicycle face, usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with more or less drawn lips, and the onset of dark shadows under the eyes, and still with an expression of weariness.
The condition obviously turned out to be a joke, and the women did not suffer from incurable diseases. bicycle face. Instead, they gave the bike a new face, leading social change on two wheels and becoming a powerful force in mountain biking and trail defense.
From mode of transport to freedom machine
It was already socially acceptable for men to move from place to place alone in the 1890s. For women, on the other hand, the bicycle offered a new opportunity for mobility and independence. For the first time, women could come and go as they pleased without having to depend on a man for transportation. The bicycle offered women a new form of parity. In A social history of the bicycle, author Robert Smith writes, “Women have come to view the bicycle as a liberating machine.”
Sharing the joys of this machine of freedom, improving skills in a supportive environment, and inspiring more women to ride mountain bikes are key reasons why many of our local IMBA partners run women’s rides and clinics.
A vehicle for dress reform
Women couldn’t be expected to cycle comfortably (or safely) in Victorian-era clothing. Women on bicycles accelerated the much-needed dress reform movement. Tight corsets, long skirts and petticoats gave way to bloomers and less restrictive tops that allowed women to engage in physical activity more comfortably. Companies took advantage of the increase in the number of female cyclists, producing cycling suits, comfortable saddles and ball-bearing boots.
Today, almost every cycling company has a dedicated women’s clothing line, from top brands to generous IMBA business partners, to companies for women, by women, like Shredly, Wild Rye, Machines for Freedom, Revel Rider and Untamed, a woman-owner of a mountain bike clothing brand that donates 10% of all sales to support trail-building organizations.
Ride for Rights
The first wave of the women’s rights movement was already happening in America when the modern bicycle hit the streets. In many ways, this two-wheeled machine symbolized the aspirations of new womana term used to describe feminist, educated, physically active and career women in the late 19th century.
Spending time outdoors has made women more aware of the political climate and gender inequalities. As women on bikes gathered freely without male chaperones, they also organized and fought for women’s rights. It gives women a sense of freedom and autonomy. I get up and rejoice every time I see a woman go by on a wheel – the image of free and unfettered femininity.
Today, women have a strong presence in mountain biking advocacy, grassroots activism and volunteerism, leading local IMBA organizations, getting people on bikes, and improving the lives of communities by gaining better access to trails.
Women’s MTB Day: a celebration, recognition and invitation
International Women’s Mountain Bike Day is a celebration, an opportunity for female/trans/female (WTF) cyclists to come together, experience and share their passion for mountain biking.
A day dedicated to women mountain biking was imagined by Andree Sanders during the UPRISING 2018 event, the very first women’s conference of the IMBA. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper then issued an official proclamation declaring May 5, 2018 Women’s Mountain Bike Day. Today, women around the world celebrate the first Saturday in May as International Women’s Mountain Bike Day.
Women’s MTB Day is an acknowledgment of the barriers to entry into mountain biking that existed and continue to exist for women today.
Mountain biking is a male dominated sport, and there have always been higher barriers to entry into mountain biking for women. bicycle face is a great example. The barriers reside in the media representation of a mountain biker as an able-bodied man. This is in a culture that allows offensive and sexist trail names to exist. Bikes, equipment and clothing were first designed for the male body – it took a long time for companies to take into account the anatomical differences that affect the way women ride. It takes a concerted effort to break down decades-old barriers. The Women’s MTB Day aims to highlight participation in the WTF and to make mountain biking more welcoming and inclusive.
Women’s MTB Day is an invitation for everyone to listen and learn from the intersectional experiences of WTF mountain bikers.
Women are not a homogenous group, and many aspects of identity such as race, culture, and class can play a role in mountain biking and trail access. The more we listen and learn, the better we can support all pilots and future pilots.
The goal is not to put all women on a mountain bike (we can dream, right?). Instead, the goal is for women to know they can ride, because they’ll feel welcome and supported when they do.
Celebrate, listen and learn with us on May 7, and be sure to check out our Women’s Mountain Bike Day resources. Whether you’re out for a ride, a day of service, or a social gathering, tag IMBA on social media and use the hashtag #WomensMTBDay to connect with other groups.