Monday, October 19, 2009

Bike for equality

by Emily Sullivan

A few weekends ago I packed into a 7-passenger van with six guys. No, we weren’t headed to a prostate cancer survivor’s conference, but rather the Trexlertown bike swap. T-town is one of the biggest bike swaps events in the country, and only happens twice a year. Women were about as scarce as the Campagnolo 8-speed components I needed at the swap. My rough estimate is that maybe 5% of the crowd had two X chromosomes.

It was an awesome event and overall a great day, but one particular occurrence left a bad taste in my mouth. I walked over to a seller’s table and picked up a pair of brake levers—a pretty basic bike component. As I lifted them off the table, the older man behind it looked at me and said, “Come on. You don’t even know what those are!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to beat him over the head with them…

For a variety of reasons—which I will likely write about in future posts--bike riding and maintenance are arenas dominated by men. Many people don’t know that women and bicycles have a fascinating history together. Susan B. Anthony once suggested that bicycles have "done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Women began riding bicycles at the close of the 19th century. This had two dramatic effects on society: it made women exponentially more mobile, and it changed fashion. Mobility at large means independence—women did not have to rely on men to get around, and were able to set their own agendas independent of their husbands’ and fathers’. In the fashion world, cycling forced the invention of bloomers and a departure from the corset.

Of course, this terrified men. What is disturbing is that it evidently still does!

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