A Bicycle Ride with You

28 Aug

With less than thirty days left of summer, it’s natural for Americans to try to spend as much time out of doors as possible before the weather begins to change.

And one popular way to do that is on a bicycle.

Lady cyclists in 1898. Their outfits include jaunty hats, puffed sleeves, and purses hung from clips attached to their belts.

Bicycle riding was extremely popular during Isabella Alden’s lifetime, especially for women. It gave them instant mobility, and a way to escape the homes they had been confined to for generations.

With a bicycle women could travel to see new sights or tour new towns—and they could do it without being dependent on a man.

Suffragist Susan B. Anthony said bicycling “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

The cover of Lippincott’s Magazine, July 1896.

Author and cycling advocate Lillias Campbell Davidson wrote that bicycle riding helped women escape their homes:

The lives of women have been unnaturally cramped and contracted within doors.

She encouraged housewives to take up cycling. She believed a good, healthy ride would help them return to their work “cheered, refreshed and braced to take up the burden of daily commonplace life once more.”

Another advantage cycling had for women was the change it made in their wardrobes. By 1900 women cyclists were wearing split skirts when riding, and many cycling women shed their corsets and petticoats for more practical attire.

From the December 1896 issue of The Lady Cyclist magazine

Not everyone liked the changes. When one Baltimore woman was criticized for wearing “bloomers” (as the divided skirts were called) while riding her bike, she replied:

“I can ride faster than people can talk.”

A ladies’ bicycle suit with divided skirt, 1898.

By 1898 bicycle sales to women were booming, thanks in large part to Sears, Roebuck & Company.

They began marketing affordable bicycles to ladies, and even printed a specialty catalog to market the many different models they offered.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. Bicycles specialty catalog of 1901.

Before long, women across the country were riding Sears bicycles, and discovering for themselves the thrill of healthy exercise and the freedom of traveling under their own power.

Are you a bicycle rider? What do you like most about the sport?

2 Responses to “A Bicycle Ride with You”

  1. Elaine August 30, 2019 at 7:55 pm #

    Some random thoughts on reading this post: I’m struck by how the handles and the seat are on roughly the same level. Wouldn’t that make the rider lean forward uncomfortably? And women’s bikes have not changed substantially over the years, how many other things we use can say that? In the second picture from the top, I automatically thought, “Oh, look, she’s taking a selfie” before I realized. I’m guessing the last picture has what’s called “leg o’mutton sleeves.” As always, I love all the dresses and pictures.

    • Isabella Alden August 31, 2019 at 3:24 pm #

      I think you’re right, Elaine; bikes haven’t changed much since the 1890s, but I hope they’re more comfortable to ride! Those are indeed leg o’mutton sleeves. Between the skirts and the sleeves and the high collars, women wore a lot of fabric in those days. Thanks for commenting! —Jenny

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Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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