Speed for escaping chaperones. Less burdensome clothes for riding. The bicycle's little-known role in equal rights.
As much as we love bike culture and everything bikes stand for, we may have underestimated the profound significance of the bicycle as a cultural agent of change. Thanks to a brilliant new book, we no longer do. National Geographic's Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) tells the riveting story of how the two-wheel wonder pedaled forward the emancipation of women in late-19th-century America and radically redefined the normative conventions of femininity.
"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." ~ Munsey's Magazine, 1896
A follow-up to Sue Macy's excellent Winning Ways: A Photohistory of American Women in Sports, published nearly 15 years ago, the book weaves together fascinating research, rare archival images, and historical quotes that bespeak the era's near-comic fear of the cycling revolution. ("The bicycle is the devil's advance agent morally and physically in thousands of instances.")