Cycling and Women’s Rights: A Lesson for Conservatives?

I found this article in The Atlantic today: How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women’s Rights.

“By the 1890s, America was totally obsessed with the bicycle—which by then looked pretty much like the ones we ride today. There were millions of bikes on the roads and a new culture built around the technology. People started “wheelmen” clubs and competed in races. They toured the country and compared tricks and stunts.

The craze was meaningful, especially, for women. Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are credited with declaring that “woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle,” a line that was printed and reprinted in newspapers at the turn of the century. The bicycle took “old-fashioned, slow-going notions of the gentler sex,” as The Courier (Nebraska) reported in 1895, and replaced them with “some new woman, mounted on her steed of steel.” And it gave women a new level of transportation independence that perplexed newspaper columnists across the country.”


The writer Adrienne LaFrance continues:

“The bicycle, as a new technology of its time, had become an enormous cultural and political force, and an emblem of women’s rights. “The woman on the wheel is altogether a novelty, and is essentially a product of the last decade of the century,” wrote The Columbian (Pennsylvania) newspaper in 1895, “she is riding to greater freedom, to a nearer equality with man, to the habit of taking care of herself, and to new views on the subject of clothes philosophy.”

What struck me about this passage was that the bicycle had become a political tool almost as soon as it was invented. In this case, it became a tool to advance the cause of women’s suffrage. LaFrance goes on to explain how women’s fashions changed as a result of cycling and how newspapers columnists and reporters reacted.  Read the whole thing:

There is a lesson here for conservatives. As I stated in an earlier post, right now the bicycle is a political tool of the Left, a means to demonstrate your environmental and left-wing bona fides. But, just like the environment, the bicycle properly belongs to conservatives. Consider this closing passage from the article:

 “…I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have felt like—in an age when American women were still decades from the right to vote and inundated with men’s opinions about their ankles—for a woman to to go outside, hop on her bicycle, and ride as fast as she could wherever she wanted, leaving the rest of the world wondering where she might go. 

Indeed, “to ride as fast as she could wherever she wanted, leaving the rest of the world wondering where she might go”, no government regulations to hold her back; no bicycle paths to hem her in, to keep her “safe” from the buggies and Model Ts.  Just a woman and her bike and a sense of freedom and adventure.


So what is the lesson here for conservatives? Consider that, in Toronto, only 35% of the cycling population is female, and I would surmise that most of those women tend to be left on the political and cultural spectrum. Conservatives need to make cycling attractive to conservative women by going back to the early days of cycling and appealing to the spirit of a “woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle”. In today’s context, that would be “conservative woman riding to political change on her bicycle”.  It’s a stretch, but come on ladies, let’s ride!!! You don’t need bike paths, provincial strategies or Olivia Chow politics to enjoy your bike. Just ride.

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