“Don’t be a fright, don’t carry a flask and don’t forget your tool bag.” That’s the advice the Omaha Daily Bee gave women wheelers in 1895. We didn’t learn what it means to be a fright, but Katie and I learned a few other things at a book reading for Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom at PUBLIC Bikes in San Francisco.
We learned how women were riding centuries before the turn of century, how women were off racing from the moment they mounted their steel steeds and how aggressive campaigns by conservative community members couldn’t keep women off their bikes, or off of the road to independence.
We learned how parents who wouldn’t allow their daughters to go to the theater with young men unchaperoned would allow them to go bicycling alone with young men. Could it be that the bike date was the original date? All very interesting to see where we came from as women cyclists.
To see where cycling is headed, all we had to do was look around at the venue, the headquarters of PUBLIC Bikes. PUBLIC manufactures and sells European-style city bikes. Since the founder is an designer and an urbanist, not a bike geek, they are elegantly artful as well as perfectly functional for city riding.
PUBLIC has tapped into a new market of bike riders who probably wouldn’t ever call themselves cyclists, much less women wheelers. Like Kirsten, who I met at the book reading. Kirsten lived in Copenhagen for a few months, where she learned how easy and fashionable it can be to get around on a bike. When she moved back to San Francisco she bought a Dutch style bike from PUBLIC for her four mile Cow Hollow-to-South of Market commute to work.
Kirsten stopped in at PUBLIC on her way home to buy lights since it’s getting dark earlier these days. She also wanted to get her tires pumped because she didn’t really know how. She also asked when she should come back to get them pumped again. I was surprised that the sales guy didn’t immediately try to sell her a floor pump. But I realized that for bicycles to become widespread as transportation, operating them shouldn’t require any more mechanical skill than owning a car.
The PUBLIC headquarters also serves as showroom for hand picked, positively delightful accessories. It’s where I bought my favorite Nutcase helmet, my Basil shopper pannier and a new pair of flat pedals for Zella to replace her ugly plastic ones. The plastic ones work great, but have absolutely no style.
And style has been important since the era where women traded skirts for bloomers and were cautioned “don’t wear clothes that don’t fit” and “don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes.” Being a woman wheeler these days, as in the 1890s, doesn’t mean trading in your femininity for your freedom.
What kind of freedom does you bicycle give you?