Posts Tagged ‘Wheelmen clubs’

New Yorkers wonder: Is cycling safe for ladies?

December 12, 2011

The new pastime of bicycle riding exploded in popularity with genteel New Yorkers in the 1880s and 1890s (like these Riverside Park riders below).

“Wheelman” clubs popped up in different neighborhoods, and riders took to city streets—especially the new lanes built just for cycling, like the one from Prospect Park to Coney Island along Ocean Parkway.

Still, a debate raged: Is the fad too dangerous for women? Finally, in 1893, a newspaper consulted the experts and got an answer: It’s safe.

“The use of bicycles by the weaker sex has been sufficiently long and widespread to make it possible to deduce conclusions from experience and the evident multiplication of women riders seemed to indicate that the matter had been decisively settled in the affirmative,” announced The New York Times.

One doctor thought it was good for “nervous affections.” Another said riding was “thorough exercise of muscles without undue strain.”

A third made the point that it offered a better workout that most women got at the time: operating a sewing machine.

Finally, according to one expert at Woman’s Hospital, a prestigious institution then located at Lexington Avenue and 37th Street: “[cycling] was better, as a rule, then to ride a horse, which is too violent for many women, and much superior to carriage riding, which, indeed, could hardly be called exercise at all.”

[illustration at left: from New York’s The Ladies’ Standard magazine, 1897, courtesy of the NYPL digital collection]