Most women who ride a bike don’t need Susan B Anthony to tell them how liberating the bike can be – and yet far too few women in Scotland cycle today, a pattern that is repeated pretty much everywhere outside the Netherlands and Denmark.
We know why. They’re the same reasons most men in Scotland don’t cycle, but in spades: hostile roads, complicated journeys, fear of traffic and the extra layer of harassment that comes from not just being female in public – but putting yourself out there on a bike. Unlike some parts of the world, a woman in the UK may no longer attract criticism for how she dresses, at least not openly – until she puts her leg over a bike and then suddenly everything from what’s on her head to the colour of her jacket and the height of her heels seems to be fair game.
The Fancy Women Bike Rides are a truly global phenomenon and they have spread pretty much by word of mouth from their start in Izmir in Turkey to across the world. They are first and foremost about women getting out there and making themselves visible not through fluorescent yellow jackets and reflective stripes – but by being in-your-face ‘fancy’: fierce, fabulous and fun. It’s about women reclaiming their own cities, riding together and not apologising in any way, shape or form for taking up space on the streets.
For some of the women who joined us outside the Scottish Parliament on a drizzly Sunday afternoon for Edinburgh’s edition of the Fancy Women Bike Ride, the novelty was riding a bike in the city centre. For others, the novelty was riding one in a dress (or even wearing a dress at all). Either way, none of us was used to being greeted by smiles and waves from passers by, or indeed cycling with our own personal press-photography pack. Drizzle and a dreich grey sky didn’t dampen the effect – this wasn’t just cycling through Edinburgh, it was taking it by storm.
There are many initiatives out there to encourage women (and men) to cycle more – indeed many of us who organised the Edinburgh FWBR have been deeply involved in them and have seen how they can change lives. But the FWBR is not about encouraging women to cycle – it’s about inspiring them, and not just to ride a bike but to see their city differently. It’s about having fun – and then going home and working out how we can change our streets so that we can (if we want to) cycle like that every day of the year.
With thanks to Andy Catlin for the use of his photos – you can see his whole album of the day online here.