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A hundred yards from where I'm sitting is (was) Pierce's Iron Foundry, part of which was used for the manifacture of  bicycles in the early 20th century. I must admit I never did, or had an opportunity to, cycle much myself. 

About 1880 John Boyd Dunlop in Belfast re-discovered the pneumatic tyre which revoluntionized the use of the bicycle, the  'High Nelly'  as it came to be known in Ireland. People were able to visit and get to know, and often marry, their neighbours in the next parish.

For many women the bicycle of the 1890s enabled escape. Escape from kith and kin, escape from the strictures of late Victorian society, escape from tight corsets and voluminous dresses and, in many cases, escape from chaperones. It was the bicycle that gave women their first true taste of freedom. Bicycles required no fare, no feed; bicycles didn’t have timetables; bicycles could go – almost – anywhere. Women could ride alone, and many did, but it was pushing the boundaries!

In 1896 a US womens' rights advocate, said: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it 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, untrammelled womanhood.”

Of course many in Victorian society were scandalised by the behaviour of bicycling women, and severely disliked the free-flowing costumes many of them wore, but it changed society in more ways than one. On bicycle or in cars,  women have come a long way since the late 19th century!


It's easy to forget how many of our freedoms are contingent on the right, and the ability, to move about without aid or escort.

My own grandmother never learned to drive a car. I don't know whether she rode a bicycle; by the time I was born she would have been too unsteady to do so safely. After my grandfather died, my youngest uncle still lived at home for several years, so she always had someone to drive her to church, grocery, visit friends, doctor.

When my uncle married and left home, she became very isolated. We were glad when she decided to move to a retirement community where many old friends lived in walking distance, and bus service was available.
"It's easy to forget how many of our freedoms are contingent on the right, and the ability, to move about without aid or escort."

How true. Why the whips in the photo?
I confess, I had not noticed the whips.

Maybe they were used to fend off over-excited dogs that chased the cyclists?
Adventures in women's lib! Remember the saying about "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle"? Maybe the fish DID need the bicycle!
I often see people wishing we could return to the past and the values of those days, and am horrified. My mother and grandmother could not have led the life I lead (nor would I ever have managed to go to university or all the rest). :)