The role of the bike in women’s liberation

Lillybeth Melmoth will be among those celebrating the role of the bicycle in women’s liberation in the Frocks on Bikes Suffrage 125 Bicycle Ride tomorrow. Photo: Nikki South.

In 1893 there was no such thing as lycra. Probably a good thing some would say.

Women of that era rode their bicycles in their everyday clothing – ankle length dresses and stylish hats included.

Frocks on Bikes is a modern-day movement that encourages women to cycle in whatever they feel comfortable wearing. However, the vintage style is likely to make a brief comeback this weekend in a special ride to celebrate 125 years since women won the vote in New Zealand.

The Frocks on Bikes Suffrage 125 Bicycle Ride will depart The Elms in Mission Street at 1pm on Saturday, September 15 for a bicycle tour of the historic Te Papa area, followed by a shared picnic afternoon tea.

The ride will celebrate the invention of the modern bicycle in the 1880s and the key role it played in the women’s liberation movement.

Freed from the watchful eyes of chaperones, women were finally provided with an easy escape from the house – as well as their first opportunity to develop physical fitness – and many of them took up cycling with relish.

Despite the name Frocks on Bikes the group don’t normally ride around in dresses, says spokesperson Lillybeth Melmoth.

“It’s about riding in what you’re comfortable in, not necessarily dresses. It’s about encouraging women to cycle – getting women on bikes without the barrier of thinking they have to wear lycra or high vis vests – in whatever they are wearing as long as it’s safe.”

Lillybeth says the historic Elms and surrounds is the perfect venue for the ride and “old-school” picnic.

“We’ll put down a few crocheted blankets and have a shared lunch. Bring a thermos, tea or lemonade, and some home-baking, maybe from a recipe your grandma made or from the Edmonds cookbook.”

About 25-30 people are expected to take part in the ride.

Frocks on Bikes started in Wellington in 2008 after women participating in a Bike to Work Day noticed a distinct lack of women participating.

They discovered there were barriers preventing women from jumping on a bike, including the wearing of traditional cycle wear such as lycra.

The group was formed to help other women discover the convenience, money, time and freedom, and fun of a little cycling in their everyday lives.

The name Frocks on Bikes was chosen because a frock is the antithesis of what Kiwis tend to think of as cycle wear.

The Tauranga group was started in 2010 and offers monthly bike rides. For more information visit Frocks on Bikes Tauranga on Facebook.


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