walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Bicycle Epistemology

Here's a blog post:


A man acquires a bicycle with a step-thru configuration, and is very excited about owning this bike in his collection. Here's a mysterious sentence:

"I always wanted one of those long swooping top tube ladies bike for my collection, to the dismay of my significant other (sorry babe)."

Why does this dismay his SO? Hmmm. I bet it has something to do with the erasure of women from bicycling history and the SO reacting to that, perhaps without knowing precisely why. But rather than speculate on that remark, I'll continue:

"Although built in 1950, the bike is a prime example of late Victorian era bicycle design built for ladies who wanted to go about in those nice big skirts."

Whoa. WTF? Words have in fact failed me, so I'll continue.

"Another feature that was found on those ear;y bikes was a net fixed to the rear frame and fender to prevent the skirt from ending up in the wheel spokes."

So, actually, those skirt guards don't just stop "nice big skirts" from landing in the spokes. They also stop your trench coat from winding up in the spokes. Which is why skirt guards (trench coats have skirts. Sorry, guys!) appear on men's and women's bikes that are properly fitted out for well-dressed folk commuting in cities to offices. Along with fenders and so forth.

And then the next paragraph talks about the bicycle and the emancipation of women in the 19th and 20th century. It turns out of you try to find anything out about the history of women and bicycles, it goes something like this:

Shortly after the introduction of the Safety Bicycle, women started riding bicycles. As a result, dress reform (which had been unsuccessfully bandied about for decades) took off like a rocket. Women! Able to Walk! And Ride! Wow! Big Deal! Suffrage! Yay! Then there's a bit of stuff about bicycling being cheap transport during the Great Depression and WW2, and then after the war, nothing until women's cycling events were added to the Olympics in the 1980s. You can find timelines that eke out some additional news to get to about 1958 or so, and then restart in the early 1970s or so mentioning that bicycle sales took off.

Now, I realize I grew up in a time warp. Really, I do! And I did. But I also do in fact realize that a lot of women did not get cars to drive, nor did they have driver's licenses to drive them during the 1950s and 1960s. And even when they did get the license and/or car, they were fairly hesistant drivers. And I have been doing a whole lot of asserting that those women who weren't (collectively) driving very much were, in fact, riding their bikes (and, as it turns out, using those bikes to take their kids to preschool, according to my friend on fb, W., who put his toe in the spokes. And to commute to work, according to my stepfather in law).

This poor blogger (sorry!) I have picked on as an example of a rampant trend in the blogosphere and online (Ask.com kinda crap). And most if not all of the authors of these essays _bicycled with these women_.

So they _don't_ know something that they experienced. And they _do_ know something that has very little to do with anything.

And from there, it gets worse. The bicycle advocates are uniformly in agreement on the following principles (with the exception of unrepentant enthusiasts who continue to follow the precepts of John "The Great Satan" Forester):

(1) We need to get more people on bikes.
(2) To get more people on bikes, we need short trips. We need safe, easy routes. We need easy to ride bikes.

The bicycling housewives of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s were US bike culture. They are what we should be reproducing (at least in suburbs filled in prior to 1970 or thereabouts). They are our goal. And we are collectively going LA LA LA LA LA I CANNOT REMEMBER YOU. And Mapes is saying we need safe and boring and easy and something we don't think about and telling story after story about heroic bike commuters and Critical Mass and Naked Biking and blah blah bleeping blah.

Not to get all Rumsfeld or anything, but someone should be taking a big ole step back and asking some questions about how we know what we know and what the fuck. And someone needs to go out there with a Flip Mino or something and collect the oral history, because these women are now in their 70s. And I honest to goddess don't want to do it because I hate my mother and her generation irritates me.

But at least I didn't forget about them.

ETA: I wish I could scream online. I know, all caps, but it seems so wrong.

My fb friend, W., speaking about the bike seat reminds me of the real reason for the step-thru configuration. SO YOU DON'T DECAPITATE THE KID DISMOUNTING! It is not all about the clothing.
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