Bicycling for Ladies is the trailblazing book that introduced women to bicycling and shocked a Victorian culture on its release in 1896. Today it remains comprehensive and useful, but also celebrates women’s advancement in the sport and offers an inspiring, and amusing, look back.
Maria E. Ward let the social norms and gendered expectations of the nineteenth century eat her dust when she wrote the groundbreaking guide to bicycling for women. In chapters such as Women and Tools, Dress, and How to Make Progress, Ward explains the function of wheels, gears, and spokes, gives instruction on how to safely and efficiently ride, and discusses optimal attire (layers and a stretchy corset, of course).
Ward’s detailed mechanical and physical instruction, paired with helpful images and charts, makes daunting ordeals like hill climbing, navigating traffic, and bike maintenance a breeze. In modern times, when so much is outsourced, automated, and unreliable, Ward’s approach to transportation is refreshing. But while bicycling is rich with health and environmental benefits, male bicyclists still outnumber female riders, most competitive cyclists are male, and women are more likely to report feeling unsafe on a bike. Ward’s text gives women the tools they need to claim their stake of the road. For seasoned cyclists or those just starting out, it is a timeless and relevant directive—ideal for today’s woman who’s ready to take the world by the handlebars.
The photos and instructional images throughout Bicycling for Ladies are the result of a collaboration between Ward and Alice Austen, one of America’s earliest and most prolific professional female photographers. The volume has an elegant new design and is small enough to ride with.