Direct Link to article: Revolutionary Road http://www.smh.com.au/news-and-views/-1yoku.html
If you were to jump on a bicycle and ride with me to work and back, you would pass a riot of purple wildflowers bursting out of a disused drainpipe. You would see a theatrical skyline and dew spackled grass. Following a cycle-path that ribbons its way through the city, you would grin at other cyclists as you whizz down hills. If you’re like me, you might sing loudly to yourself as you do languid loup-de-loups on empty backstreets. Blankets of sunshine would warm you when you slip past the shadows of overhanging trees.
And when you arrive you would feel giddy and giggly and blissfully in love with a world made beautiful through cycling.I would like to say that I ride my bicycle for environmental or health reasons. But it wouldn’t be true. I am an unrepentant hedonist, a voluptuary and lover of leisure. The fact that cycling is also good for the planet, the city, the body and soul is a very happy coincidence. But before anything else I ride my bike because it thrills every sense in my body.I’m not the first woman to be romancing her bicycle. Around the 1890s middle-class women around the western world cycled their way out of domestic incarceration dressed in bloomers, fitted coats and jaunty hats. They did so amidst a shrieking chorus of patriarchal outrage.
Firstly there was the problem of women having legs. Cycling stimulated a revolution in female clothing resulting in the startling revelation that their bodies were ‘forked’. Prior to bloomers, women tended to glide more than they walked; their legs concealed beneath a cloud of muslin and ribbon. For the first time it became clear that women did indeed have legs, which meant that they also had the potential to step beyond their sphere. Without a chaperone and outside of male control, ladies who cycled, according to historian Kylie Winkworth, were ‘Fast, Loose and Liberated.’
And then there was the delicate problem of the area between the legs. Women whooshing around the city with legs astride a phallic object provoked grave medical concern. Dr E. B. Turner reassured detractors that cycling was unlikely to ‘lead to the practice of masturbation.’ But some doctors were unconvinced. The British Medical Journal announced that the ‘friction’ between a woman’s ‘sensitive external genitals’ and the saddle may lead to bruising, ‘and short of this, in women of certain temperament, to other effects on the sexual system, which we need not particularise.’ Cycling exposed fears of women’s sexuality. Women cyclists presented an image of autonomous female pleasure now capable of riding far from the virtuous path.
While the debate around the salacious effects of a bicycle seat died down, I reckon that many of the thrills that women cyclists experience today would have been shared by our knicker-bockered forebears. The city, particularly at night, is still experienced as a place of danger even if the statistics tell us that we’re more likely to be attacked at home. But when I’m atop my set of flying wheels, there’s no alley too dark, no figure too shadowy. My deadly treadly makes me fast, safe and strong. Bicycles give us back the freedom of movement that our fear of violence psychologically denies us.We also have a dreadful habit of denying ourselves the right to mobility. Sure, we’re not fainting from corsets or tripping over bustles but we are maiming our feet with high heels, binding our bodies in tight dresses and sacrificing our freedom to move on the alter of feminine beauty. Bicycles do not judge us. They still let us hobble in our heels if we must. But they also remind us of the pleasures of unconstrained movement and the delights of moving confidently through the world.
And if we choose to move slowly, bicycles reward us with a panoply of sensory indulgences. I understand that some lycra it hot, but personally I see no point in riding a super-fast bicycle dressed like a superhero with my nose lodged under my armpit. On a sit-up bicycle our senses are alive to the world. Women, accustomed to feeling watched and judged, can now be the ones to survey. Our noses, otherwise held hostage by Proctor and Gamble, are set free to experience the perfumes of the city. And as traffic screams along beside us we hear an alternative urban symphony: the crackle of autumn leaves, the desultory chatter of passer-bys and the rush of wind against our bodies. In the screen-centric sloth that defines our lives, cycling invites us into a world of sensory splendour.
If I am currently in the delirious heights of passion with my bicycle then Clover Moore has been my cupid. When I decided that I might try cycling to work I wrote to the City of Sydney Council asking for advice on a suitable bike route. Two days later a map arrived in the mail. The bike route was highlighted and post-it notes were attached with hints about hills to avoid. EXTRAORDINARY! I gushed. Yet another example of how cycling can foster cheerful civic relations.
At a time when Australia’s cycle-ways are under threat from purse-lipped, mean-spirited politicians, we would do well to remember how the humble bicycle battled for women’s liberation. And we should pay homage to its continued commitment to advancing our freedom of movement and sensory pleasures.