From The Vault: Getting The World To Change Gear

Two wheeled and ready for speed.

This week we celebrated both National Bike To Work Day, and the week before, National Bike Month (as we’ve done for years). We admit it – when it comes to the human-powered, pedal-driven single-track marvel known as the bicycle, we’re biased. But it’s not just about machine-worship. As these 6 stories from our archives demonstrate, bicycles can make our world a better place…

The goal for Asha 2012 is to provide bicycles to girls who have endured and transcended similar situations of slavery and abuse, in turn empowering them to take part in their communities, attend school and grow as strong women.

“We’ve found that girls tend to appreciate the bikes more and demonstrate greater maturity [owning the bicycles]. Women and girls deal endure and transcend tremendous abuse and unequal rights, especially in the developing world. We believe focusing on girls has the greatest overall impact on the community. We want to do everything we can to foster leadership and healing among heroic girls who’ve risen above challenging circumstances beyond their control,” says 88bikes co-founder Dan Austin.

88Bikes’ Asha 2012 Program: Empowering Girls With Bicycles


So why aren’t more of us riding? In many places, cycling for women is affected by a serious gender gap. But women have been riding through the ages, changing gender stereotypes along the way.

As Susan B. Anthony once said, “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

From the first woman to bicycle around the world, to using the bicycle to promote cultural change, biking has been an empowering tool for women throughout the ages. In honor of female cyclists, here’s a visual look at women on two wheels from the last century.

Cycle Chic: Female Cyclists Through The Ages

One way you’ve broken barriers is by mountain biking across dangerous regions of Afghanistan. Can you talk a bit about the cultural implications of an act like that?

Well, Afghanistan is one of the few places in the world where women are not allowed to ride bikes. Around the world the bike is used as an effective vehicle for social justice and it was frustrating to realize that it just wasn’t something we could utilize in rural communities for school transportation, or for midwives and teachers. After working in Afghanistan for a couple of years I realized that I was constantly challenging gender barriers as part of my daily routine. When I’m in Kabul I like to walk as much as I can and interact with the Afghans I met in a more natural way. I ride a motorcycle which I bought in Kabul to avoid the traffic snarls that congest the city at rush hour, thanks to the lawlessness that permeates the country it means that you can ride on the sidewalk, or weave backwards through oncoming traffic, it’s all about the shortcuts. Being a foreign woman means that I find myself in a unique position as a hybrid gender. Men that still treat Afghan women as second class citizens will treat me as an equal and let me challenge gender barriers like riding my mountain bike because they are curious or intrigued but not threatened. It’s a little thing, but I also wanted to show another side of Afghanistan, the beauty, the adventure, and the possibility that what was once a tourist destination, could perhaps be again in the future if peace was ever achieved.

We Heart Our Readers: Shannon Galpin, Mountain2Mountain

The new Google feature delivers information about bike trails that have no motor vehicles, and the streets and routes recommended for cyclists, avoiding motor vehicle traffic, and steep hills. So far, the green and bike loving blogosphere has reacted with mixed reviews, deeming Google Maps for Bikes a good start, but not quite there yet.

We hope that Google’s Bike Maps feature will encourage car commuters to go green and get fit. Biking where you might have driven before can prevent tons of carbon emissions each year, while burning hundreds of calories an hour.

Ecomeme: Cyclists Get Google Maps Love

…bikes tend to appendage themselves to the foyer – hopefully,one with exposed brick. If you fit the demographics jimmied above, your bike has prolly become as elemental to your décor as that aviator chair from Restoration Hardware. Speaking of prolly, the hub of bicycle porn Prolly Is Not Probably takes an optimistic view of the bicycle cum purse rack: “[there’s] nothing like pristine track bikes in pristine apartments.”

Correction: that is, if – and only if – your track bike is sexy. That goes for your dirt bike, too. Here are 20 hot wheels that could be for display only.

Fashionable Bikes You Can Also Use For Home Decor

In early October, 10 miles of roads in East Hollywood, Downtown L.A., East L.A. and in between were closed down for regular traffic. Instead of cars and SUVs, cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians took over the streets for a day of clean, fossil fuel-free fun. An estimated 130,000 people hit the streets for this third edition of CicLAvia, which has become a day of celebration for Angelenos from all walks of life. Even the city’s Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, put on his helmet and pedaled along, calling the event a good break for a city that’s “addicted to the single-passenger automobile.” All along the now-expanded course was music, food and games, like dodge ball and street chess. That certainly sounds like more fun than being stuck in traffic behind an angry SUV driver, don’t you think?

CicLAvia Gives Bikes & People The Right Of Way For A Day

Images: ClickFlashPhotos/Nicki Varkevisser88bikes, Mountain2MountainToronto HistoryKnife & Saw, CicLAvia and Pixel Addict.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.