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Cycling Towards Women's Liberation

The feeling that comes from riding a bike is one of total liberation, don’t you agree? Your body comes alive, your heart soars, and you know deep down that you are free. That you are independent. That you can go anywhere. 

Biking has helped women find this feeling of liberation for over 100 years, ever since it was adopted by the U.S. women’s suffrage movement as both a practical tool and an inspiring symbol. 

In practical terms, the bicycle allowed women more mobility, giving them a way to travel safely without male supervision. Before the advent of the bicycle, women were expected to be chaperoned when traveling on foot, and were rarely permitted to manage the horses and carriages that were the most popular form of transportation at the time. 

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Such limitations are unimaginable in much of present day America, but they were the norm at the turn of the 20th century. Though the feminist movement still has so much left to fight for, we are incredibly inspired by the way the bicycle has helped women’s rights advocates travel so fast and so far along the path to liberation in the past 100 years.  

The bicycle gave women the freedom to pursue work outside the home, to exercise in public, and participate in social gatherings. This monumental invention increased the visibility of women and normalized the idea of women engaging in public life. Women’s cycling advocate Frances Willard believed fervently in the freeing nature of cycling, and felt that “myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world.”

Women involved in the British suffrage movement used this newfound mobility to advocate for political equality. Many women rode around campaigning for the right to vote from the seats of their “steeds of steel,” which allowed their message to reach far more people than would have been possible if they were only traveling by foot.

Corbis Historical/Getty
Corbis Historical/Getty

Other British suffragettes even went so far as to block Winston Churchill's motorcade with bicycles! Imagining the power of that moment- women boldly standing up to power, reinforced and supported by their steadfast bicycles- truly gives us chills.  

The advent of women’s cycling also encouraged a shift away from the rigid, restrictive styles that had been the norm in women’s clothing and towards more comfortable, functional pieces. It became acceptable for women to wear bloomers and eventually even pants while biking. These new fashions gave women more mobility and freedom, and they also challenged conventional notions of acceptable womanhood. Cycling sociologist Kat Jungnikel noted that “women’s cycle wear became visual shorthand for the ‘New Woman’ who was identified by her desire for progress, ‘independent spirit, and her athletic zeal.’” 

The image of a woman on a bike was also a powerful symbol, as it depicted women as independent, self-reliant, and courageous. As such, it helped shift the way that women were viewed and the way they saw themselves. Can you imagine how transformative that sensation of flight and freedom would be if your entire life had been restricted by rigid social norms and unyielding corsets?

Law-abiding women suffragists | The Brighton Bicycle Club
The Brighton Bicycle Club

Suffragist Susan B. Anthony famously loved the image of a woman on a bike, noting that the bicycle “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.”

This feeling of complete freedom and possibility is exactly what inspired Bluejay founder, Jennifer Bogan to launch the company. Bogan wanted to help give present day women the same sense of freedom and opportunity  that the first female cyclists experienced over 100 years ago. “It’s hard not to imagine the possibilities when you are on a ‘limitless;’ bike. Everyone has the same smile the first time they experience it. It’s magical. You are flying!” said Bogan. 

From the beginning, it has been our mission to help women feel strong, independent, and capable, and we are so honored to carry the inspiring legacy of the bicycle forwards into the 21st century.

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