Recently, I’ve read a book about Annie Londonderry, the first woman who cycled the globe in the 1894. Yeah, that was like two centuries ago. American cities were covered in horse shit, in fact, “one New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows”. Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time. Tailors in NYC were organizing against sweatshop working conditions. It was a time of serious economic depression and progressive inventions. Some of the coolest cycling inventions were patented – Schrader valve, padded bicycle seat, cyclometer and, clipless pedal. The development of the safety bicycle was arguably the most important change in the history of the bicycle. The idea was for bikes to become practical transportation as oppose to penis enlargement tools for young dandies. Banana split was invented a few years later. The woman suffrage movement’s youngest supporters raised their voices in Brooklyn. Polls were declared feminine. Bicycles were declared feminine.
Some of this stuff sounds very 19th century and other, creepily abides in the present.
Annie referred to herself as the “New Woman”, which she undoubtedly was. Other than that, she was a polish immigrant, married, mum of three, 23 years old when she decided to embark her cycling adventure. Imagine her in late Victorian attire – long skirt, corset, neat bowtie. All of that on a massive vintage Sterling (it wasn’t vintage at the time), optimistically pedaling towards the end of the world. A few miles in, the skirt was down. I’m not insinuating she got lucky. The “New Woman” was wearing bloomers. Also called the “reform dress”, “an innovation of readers of the Water-Cure Journal, a popular health periodical that in October 1849 began urging women to develop a style of dress that was not so harmful to their health as the current fashion.” Bicycle was literally transforming socio-political realities.
The other night I was enjoying a glass of wine with a couple of friends in 2016. I was biking for a while to meet them so my hair was somewhat messy, I had a simple pair of tight pants, black blouse and rugged pair of lace up ankle boots. Couldn’t help but noticing that women around me were wearing corsets and high heels. There was a time when I was wearing all that heavy machinery. I was raised in Eastern Europe where heavy machinery is still a symbol of femininity. Admittedly, there was a time when I wouldn’t leave my house without a pair of high heels. Bicycle liberated me from all this Victorian legacy. I felt sexy in my breathable, easy outfit. Dopamine was kicking in from pedaling. My bike was waiting for me outside, promising there are no limitations for the two of us. The two of us, we’re free. That’s sexy to me. I don’t know if anyone else thought the same and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn (Clark Gable reference).
Throughout her journey across the world, thousands of articles were written about Annie. She was described as pretty, not pretty at all, charming, attractive, totally unattractive, fragile and too masculine, as P. Zheutlin points out, even her “capacity to love was questioned”.
Much like Annie, bike commuting transformed me into a “New Woman”. Biking transcended and transformed the way I perceive my garment and my sexuality. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever feel like wearing heels or I quit shaving my legs (God forbid), it just means that I don’t need a piece of clothing to validate me. So many women (two centuries later) scoff at bike commuting, explaining how they have to “look pretty” for work. Corporations continuously educate us that bankers wearing suits are unmistakably more competent than the ones wearing khaki pants (who are you? Bear Grylss?!) The fashion industry bombards us with images of models looking fragile and toned, not masculine, muscles are for boys. All of that is not very encouraging. Emilie Bahr writes about women and urban bike commuting in the U.S. reminding us that “we [women] make up only about a quarter of all bike commuters”.
Do you want to be a delicate flower or do you want to be a strong, capable human being? Do you want to live your life to the fullest or fuss over your stupid hairdo? Do you want to organize in smart and practical ways or stick to the 19th century rituals? These questions are posed to sound dramatic. Life is never a vulgar polarization like that. The real questions is – Who are you not to be free? Discover your sweet spot (and I don’t mean the G-spot, you can read more about that in Cosmopolitan) and let yourself be transformed into the “New Women” of the 21st century. Whatever that is for YOU. YOU are charged with sex appeal, not the outfit, not the hairdo, not your nails. Your charisma expands with your self-confidence, and that particular personality trait, seldom arises through conformity. YOU dictate how you want to be perceived.
Get on that bike, get uncomfortable, and, see what happens. There are other ways, I’m just sayin’, this one has a proven record of success.