The Bicycle: A Tool for the Emancipation of Women

Although today in the West it seems natural for us to see women riding bicycles down the street, this hasn’t always been the case. Our ancestors fought for the right to ride. In 1896, American feminist activist Susan B. Anthony wrote that “[the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.” But what did she mean by that? Here’s a short history lesson!

***

A Symbol of Independence

The ”velocipede” appeared on the European market in the 1860s. Women from upper-class backgrounds were the first to take advantage of this new invention. It was considered a symbol of elegance and modernity because it was very expensive at the time.

By climbing onto a velocipede, women gained independence. For the first time, they had access to a method of individual transport that allowed them to distance themselves from the authority of their husband or father. Of course, this development in the emancipation of women was viewed unfavorably by certain men. They found this activity to be immoral for the women of the time.

Velocipede for Ladies by Pickering and Davis, New York.

Velocipede for Ladies by Pickering and Davis, New York.

 

 Cycling, Bad for Your Health?

Doctors began to publish “scientific” theories to prevent women from cycling. The velocipede was blamed for all ills. Dubbed the “sterility machine”, it was also accused of causing ulcers, hemorrhages, illnesses and inflammation in the “weaker sex”. Men also feared that the velocipede would distract women from their conjugal duties, as it was thought that mounting it led to sexual pleasure!

Despite public opinion, women were determined not to abandon this revolutionary practice. The scientific theories were quickly refuted.

Goodbye Corsets and Petticoats!

During the 1880s-1890s, the velocipede, which up until then had been used almost exclusively by the rich, was replaced by the modern bicycle. The new invention’s democratic price made it accessible to all social classes, and rates of cycling rapidly increased.

But women’s clothing of the day was not adapted for cycling. Women wore tight corsets, and their long dresses easily got caught in the wheels. To pedal more comfortably, female cyclists traded in these cumbersome garments for baggy pants called “bloomers”. At first, this new fashion was considered rather daring! Thanks to the bicycle, the female dress code evolved, and wearing pants caught on among women.

The bicycle clearly changed fashion, especially for women around 1895.

The bicycle clearly changed fashion, especially for women

 

A Still-Relevant Symbol of the Emancipation of Women

In certain countries, cycling is still forbidden for women, and the right to ride remains an everyday battle. In Cairo, female cyclists are accused of riding in an “indecent posture”, and are exposed to sexual harassment. In Iran, a woman on a bicycle is still synonymous with debauchery. In Saudi Arabia, women only gained the right to ride bicycles in 2013, and they are still required to be accompanied by a man.

***

At the end of the 19th century, the invention of the bicycle allowed European and American women to fight prejudice, discover new horizons, leave their homes and enjoy more liberty. The fight for the right to ride continues in the modern-day Middle East. Numerous initiatives have been created to support women in their struggle. My Stealthy Freedom encourages Iranian women to post pictures of themselves on bicycles on their Facebook and Instagram pages (see below), Women’s World Wide Web raises funds to support female cycling in Afghanistan, and Go Bike organizes bike rides around the Egyptian capital. The bicycle’s role in the emancipation of women is not yet over!

An overview of innovative bike solutions in cities

Part of the problem with biking in big cities like Montreal is that these metropolises have usually been built with cars, rather than bikes, in mind. But there are several solutions that can be implemented to ensure that these two modes of transportation can live together in harmony, thereby avoiding frustration and accidents.

Cars and Bicycles Living in Harmony: Yes, it is Possible!

According to Copenhagenize, an urban planning consultancy, the top five global cities for biking are Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Strasbourg and Eindhoven. These cities feature such amenities as bike lanes which are not shared with vehicles or pedestrians, roads with speed and vehicle limits, and plans which give equal importance to cars and bicycles. In Copenhagen, one such plan has revealed itself to be undoubtedly effective and quite simple: organize the streets so that the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B is via the bike/pedestrian pathways, and make the route for cars a real pain. The result? More people now choose biking or walking to get around the city.

Photo credit: Copenhagenize

Photo credit: Copenhagenize

Although Montreal has fallen from 13th to 20th place in the Copenhagenize rankings, the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood seems nevertheless to have been inspired by Danish planning. The borough has created many one-way streets, obliging cars to stick to the larger thoroughfares when passing through, and has also created several protected bike lanes, such as the one on Laurier Street. In Montreal and elsewhere in the province, several improvements have been made in the past few years to allow bicycles to circulate more freely, as evidenced in this Vélo Québec survey.

Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, New York and Seattle have earned the title of most “bicycle-friendly” cities in the United States. This is based on the improvements city governments have made for cyclists in 2016, the population of each city vs. the number of bicycles per head, the presence of amenities such as bike lanes and reserved paths, and the number of kilometers dedicated to bicycles throughout the city.

Innovative Bike Solutions

Several cities have come up with simple (and often cost-effective) solutions to encourage two-wheeled travel. This is the case, once again, with Copenhagen, the champion of “bike-friendly” cities. In the Danish capital, you will find metal ramps on certain roads so that cyclists can put their feet on them between traffic signals. Messages are written on these rest stops, such as “Hello cyclists! Put your foot up here, and rest your legs. Thank you for biking in the city.” This small, simple gesture shows cyclists that the city values them, and makes them smile!

Cyclists in Copenhagen

Biking in Copenhagen, where 45% of residents use bikes to move around. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Heb

In 2014, the Netherlands inaugurated the first solar-powered bike path in the world. Composed of solar panels laid out along a 70-meter stretch, which will soon be expanded 100 meters more, the solar-powered path produces enough energy to power three houses. The country plans to install more solar panels on bike paths in the future. Combined with electric cars, bicycles and traffic lights, this will eventually move Dutch cities entirely towards green energy use.

In 1993, the city of Trondheim, Norway introduced the “Trampe”, a cable on the ground that allows cyclists to climb steep hills effortlessly. Updated in 2013 and renamed the “Cyclocable”, this amenity had been used more than 200,000 times, and is now used every 12 seconds daily by Norwegian cyclists.

In Japan, it is still very difficult to find a place to park your bike when switching to another mode of transport. Kasai Station in Tokyo has found an innovative solution: an underground parking system for bicycles! All you have to do is bring your bicycle to an “Eco-cycle” station. The system “swallows up” your bicycle and takes it to an underground parking spot for you. When you swipe your personal Eco-cycle card, your bike will be returned to you at the end of your trip within 20 seconds.

Although cities still have work to do when it comes to making sure that bicycles have as many safe spaces as cars, cyclists are nevertheless becoming more and more present throughout the year. This is true even in Northern cities with harsh, snowy winters. That’s why in 2017 Montreal will welcome the Winter Cycling Congress, an opportunity to rethink city planning in sub-zero temperatures. The city plans to develop more “white paths” —cycling paths (or parts of paths) that will remain clear and car-free all year long.

***

While we’re still waiting for every city on the planet to be 100% bicycle-friendly, everyone, both cyclists and motorists, should do their part to respect everyone’s space. That’s the message of this viral video, which humorously explains the perils of urban cycling in New York. Its point will surely apply to many other cities around the world.

 

Get all the SmartHalo news!

 

Australians love their mountain biking

In Australia, mountain biking has been popular for a while. In the 1970s, mountain bikes for off-road use were introduced and in 1981, the first mass-produced mountain bike appeared, with a sturdy frame, wide tyres and a more upright seating position than traditional road bikes. Mountain biking (or « MTB » as aficionados often say) then received a boost when Australian  Cadel Evans won two MTB world championships and competed in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Since then, numerous trail networks have been established, and mountain biking has become a popular summer sport in alpine resorts. A fair number of competitions are now organized Down Under, such as the Convict 100, Australia’s most challenging mountain biking event held each year in St Albans Region, two hours north of Sydney.

But mountain biking isn’t only for professionals. Anyone who’s in shape can give it a go and the Blue Mountains near Sydney is a great spot for it. Are you in for a ride?

The Blue Mountains, a perfect spot for mountain biking

A trip to the Blue Mountains is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Sydney and combine sightseeing with mountain biking. Ready?

From Sydney, drive or take the train to Katoomba. If you have your own mountain bike, you’re good to go! If not, you can always rent one or participate in a common ride with Bike Minded, an expert shop that will also give you great advice on bike gear.

Once you’re in the Blue Mountains, you’ll have plenty of trails to choose from. Pay attention to the ride grades. I personally chose to try the “Narrow Neck Road” (moderate level) because it was said to be “A classic ride with excellent views”.  And it was!

The ride was not always easy –all the more as my partner had a flat tire half way through– but it was worth it! The lookout at the end of the trail was spectacular… Not a bad spot for a lunch break, isn’t it?

Lookout on the Blue Mountains

Photo : Fanny Laveau

Mountain biking in the Blue Mountains 101

To enjoy your day of mountain biking, you better be ready. Here are a few friendly reminders:

  • The mountains get their name from the blue haze that the numerous eucalyptus trees give off. Depending on the hour of the day and the weather, the intensity of the blue varies. Check the weather forecast before you hope on your mountain bike! It would be a shame that clouds and rain get in your way.
  • Grab plenty of water and snacks as you won’t find anything on the way.
  • I would definitely recommend that your day of mountain biking in the Blue Mountains be part of a two-day trip because… you’ll need time to recover from the physical effort! 😉 Book yourself an Airbnb apartment in Katoomba so you can have something to look forward to when you’re struggling on your mountain bike!
  • Mayday! Mayday! Massive hill ahead and you don’t think you can make it… If you’re struggling, avoid any injury by jumping off your bike and pushing it until you feel able to get back on.

F.A.Q about mountain biking

– Can everyone enjoy mountain biking ?

If you have a reasonable level of fitness, then you should be able to enjoy mountain biking. Be aware that it’s still quite physical.

Biker going uphill

Photo : Fanny Laveau

– Is wearing a helmet mandatory on a mountain bike ?

In short, yes. As it is stated on Transport for New South Wales’ website, « In NSW there are no exemptions from wearing an approved bicycle helmet. » Therefore, wearing a helmet is mandatory on road bikes as well as on mountain bikes. And forget about using your grandpa’s helmet even though it looks vintage and cool… You’ll have to buy yourself a proper helmet that abides by Australian legal standards.

– Is mountain biking dangerous ?

I would say it’s not necessarily more dangerous than riding in town. The risks are just different… You won’t come across cars in the Blue Mountains but you might slip on rocks and scratch yourself. The point is to enjoy the ride and the view while always remaining careful.

***

I hope this article inspires you for when you travel to Australia. The Blue Mountains are only a two-hour drive from Sydney so it would be a shame not to test your mountain biking skills there!

Cheers!

 

A window at cycling in Australia

We tend to picture Australians surfing rather than cycling. But believe it or not, they’re not too bad on two wheels! Let’s have a look at cycling in Australia.

Cycling is gaining ground

It would be a lie to say that Australians are all about cycling and that Sydney is like a Down Under version of Amsterdam. Nowadays, only 17.4 per cent of Australians ride a bike for recreation or transport each week. Are Aussie cities too spread out? Are Australians drivers disrespectful of cyclists? The fact is that when you have a close look at Sydney, it’s still a lot more about cars, buses and trains than pushbikes. Still, cycling in Australia is slowly becoming more popular, attested by the fact that this year will be the inaugural « L’Étape Australia », an amateur road cycling event held under the banner of the French organization Le Tour de France!

Trendy sub culture and cycling in Australia

Like in Montreal, cycling in Australia is definitely characteristic of a hip sub culture. Riding your beach bike around Bondi Beach (Sydney) or your fixie in Fitzroy (Melbourne) is cool and trendy. Cafés are exhibiting bikes as if they were pieces of art and clothing brands work hard to make cycling clothes look nicer than they used to.

Bondi Beach in Sydney

Bondi Beach, Sydney. Photo : Fanny Laveau

Rapha Cycle Club, located in Surry Hills (Sydney) went even further by opening a coffee shop inside their cycling store. Surry Hills, coffee and cycling… or the hipster triangle ! Have a ride down Crown Street on a weekend afternoon and you’ll be sure to find a group of bikers sipping lattes and talking about bike gear outside of Rapha Cycle Club.

sydney-rapha-cycling-club

Rapha Cycle Club in Surry Hills, Sydney. Photo : Fanny Laveau

Bike messengers return

Today, couriers aren’t as numerous as they used to. In the 1990s, there were very useful for delivering legal documents and getting cheques to the bank. Today, all this can be done online and the golden age for bike messengers has ended. However, the remaining bike messengers in Australian cities form a strong culture and these urban cowboys are now being solicited for food delivery! Modern services like Deliveroo and Foodora are sparking a revival of bike messengers.

Cycling events thrive all over Australia

Cycling events are getting more numerous across Australia. Some are for professionals but most are just for fun, like the Gears and Beers festival that takes place in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. After the cycle challenge that ranges from 9 km to 130 km –colloquially referred as The Dirty 130– the participants can enjoy craft beers and cider, locally roasted coffee and local food. Isn’t cycling way more appealing all of a sudden ?

In Sydney, Rapha Cycle Club organizes The Tour des Plages every year. It is not a race, it’s an adventure across the coast of Sydney’s beaches that aims at « bringing out the camaraderie and suffering of road riding » as Rapha Cycle Club puts it.

In Melbourne, cycling aficionados participate in the Melburn Roobaix event (named in reference to the French race Paris Roubaix). It’s all about discovering new parts of Melbourne in an original way.

Cities support cycling in Australia

Australian major cities are supporting cycling and trying to make it part of popular culture by implementing shared bikes. In 2010, Brisbane and Melbourne were the first cities to develop a public bicycle system. At first, Melbournians and Brisbanians were put off from riding by the inconvenience of providing their own helmet. Indeed, in Australia, wearing a helmet is mandatory while cycling and this law makes shared bikes less appealing than they could be. However, the number of users is on the rise and both cities are investigating options to improve their bike sharing systems. In Melbourne, helmets are now available for just $5 at many retail outlets and vending machines. Sydney hasn’t implemented shared bikes yet but it will surely learn from other cities’ experience. Although, in Sydney, bikers have to carry a driver licence so one can be identified should they break the road rules. Let’s hope it doesn’t discourage future shared bikes users. With such a nice weather, it would a pity that shared bikes don’t thrive in Australia!

***

In the end, cycling in Australia is definitely on the rise thanks to fun events and sub cultures. In cities though, cycling remains a bit of a wasted opportunity while it could really help reducing both traffic and pollution.

We’ll complete this overview of cycling in Australia in an upcoming article about mountain biking. Stay tuned!

 

Get all the SmartHalo news!

 

SmartHalo: Your Ultimate Travel Companion

Hi guys, Claire speaking! I am the SmartHalo UX Test Designer, one of the lucky people who gets to test SmartHalo out on the streets! Recently, I went to visit my parents in Europe and I brought a prototype of the SmartHalo to test abroad. I discovered that it made a great travel companion so I wanted to share an overview of my bike rides and some travel tips for 3 of the best cities in Europe.

SmartHalo goes to Europe!

The city of Leuven

Leuven, Belgium

The first city where I tested the SmartHalo to was Leuven, Belgium, where the Stella Artois beer is brewed. I was volunteering for a BEST Europe sustainability course at the university KU Leuven. SmartHalo took me onto new streets and to parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to explore. I biked through the beautiful KU Leuven campus, along the Sint-Donatuspark park and into the main square. I also went along the river and stopped at the Dijleterrassen, where the fire department pulls out an average of 500 stolen bikes every year! Maybe we should start looking for our stolen bikes in the St. Lawrence… Highlights of my time in Leuven were tasting Belgian waffles, eating fries with mayo and exploring Oude Markt, the longest street of pubs in Europe. Leuven has great bike paths and the students in this city are a blast to be around!

Enjoying summertime in Plzeň

Claire and her folding bike

My folding bike and me

Next, I tried out SmartHalo in Plzeň, Czech Republic, where my parents live and where the famous Pilsner Urquell beer is brewed. Europe actually has a lot of interesting beers! My friend Kari (check her blog Travelling Mug) came to visit and we rode my parents’ vintage foldable bikes around the city. SmartHalo held up well on the cobblestone streets and we went for a great bike ride along the river and into the main square. Plzeň has two free outdoor rock climbing walls and lots of outdoor rollerblading tracks and beach volleyball courts, all biking distance from the main square. In addition to having delicious beer, Plzeň also has tons of ice cream stands, cafes, restaurants and parks, making it a relaxing, refreshing and inexpensive side trip from Prague.

Bringing my travel companion to Prague

Lunch in Prague

Lunch in Prague

My mother and I took our bikes on the train from Plzeň to Prague on a mission to find bike touring bags. From the train station, we had SmartHalo navigate us to CityBikes, in a part of Prague that neither my mother nor I had been to before. We made it to the bike shop without any confusion or incorrect turns, and with extra time to look around at the buildings and people. From there we navigated to Domácí těstoviny, one of my favourite places to eat in Prague. On our way there we passed by the Zizkov Television Tower, a famous (and in my opinion, weird) transmitter tower with sculptures of babies crawling up on it. My mother even put the SmartHalo on her bike.

Some travel tips

The city of Prague

Prague

It’s really easy to bring your own bike around Europe by train, most trains have a car with bicycle racks that can accommodate for about 12 bikes. It usually cost between 10 to 30€ to bring your bike but the spots can fill up fast, so you need to book your ticket a few days in advance. If train spots are full you can usually take your bike on a bus too.

I also picked up a Use-it map at hostels or tourist offices for each of these three cities. The maps are made by locals and designed as a hybrid between a city guide and a map. They are free, targeted for young travelers, and help you get off the beaten path to discover what makes each city special.

In order to use most of your travel companion’s features, you will need data on your smartphone. I bought a sim card in Europe (there are lots of companies, I used O2 and Vodaphone), it was cheap and allowed me to use my phone both in Belgium and Czech Republic.

***

Being able to use SmartHalo not only made my trips more exciting and interesting, it also gave me the freedom to look around and see the cities. Since I didn’t have to concentrate at looking for street names, it gave me the opportunity to see new things and to visit new areas and neighborhoods. SmartHalo also took the stress out of planning and navigating, adding to the fun of adventure and exploration. Right after my friends and family, SmartHalo was my ultimate travel companion!

 

Get all the SmartHalo news!

 

4 perfect islands for your cycling vacations

Starting today, we will invite cyclist enthusiasts from around the world to post on our blog. Camille is the first one of them.

You have started to plan your cycling vacations but are still hesitating about the destination? We know it’s a difficult choice as you can have fun on two wheels just about anywhere in the world. Islands seem to offer particularly great conditions for biking enthusiasts that want to travel at the same time. Here are four of them we can’t wait to use our wheels on!

Living the dolce vita in Sicily

Italy is one of the most popular touristic destinations around the world for a reason: wonderful weather, excellent food, thousands of years of culture… and of course magnificent landscapes.

In the south of the country, you’ll find Sicily: the island at the tip of the famous ‘’Italian boot’’! It’s home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it’s the mafia’s birth place, and one of the best places for your cycling vacations in Europe.

The numerous roads on the island connect several archeological sites, castles and coastal towns (the biggest of which are Palermo, Catania and Messina).

It’s always better to avoid peak season while traveling in Italy, both because of the affluence of visitors and because of the heat. Crowded or not, you’ll surely appreciate the hills, volcanoes and gorgeous cities of Sicily. Oh, and you’ll eat well.

Lofoten Islands: your cycling vacations through fishermen villages

The Lofoten Islands, located in Norway, look like a group of fishermen villages straight out of postal cards. They are full of cycling routes, and if you don’t like the idea of biking through long tunnels on the side of the mountain (which sound like quite an adventure), there are alternate routes exclusively for cyclists (cycle paths or ferries).

Even though the scenery is dramatic, most of the cycling roads are generally flat, following the coastline. The islands are connected together by bridges and underwater tunnels.

Since the Lofoten Archipel enjoys 24-hr daylight in the summer, they decide to hold an Insomnia Cycling Race once a year. Check it out if you plan on visiting the islands during midsummer and get ready to sleep in cozy fishermen cabins!

Île de Ré: relaxed cycling vacations

The completely flat Île de Ré is located on the west coast of France and is a well-known destination for bicycle tourism. No need to fear bringing a neophyte: the roads are so easy to travel that lots of residents decide to run their errands by bike and just forget about cars.

Since the population goes from 20.000 residents during winter to 200.000 in the summer, you can bet there are camping grounds and hotels scattered all over the island. There are also loads of restaurants, ice-cream parlors and sweet meet up places to watch sunset in Saint-Martin. It’s a stress-free destination!

The car-free mornings of Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park will welcome you for your cycling vacations.

Acadia National Park – Bubble Pond, photo credit: William Brawley

This destination highlights a good idea that we’d love to see applied elsewhere. A few times a year, Acadia National Park (Maine, USA) holds “car-free mornings” on its Park Loop Road. Those mornings allow cyclists to ride in the beautiful scenery of Mount Desert Island, without worrying about sharing the paved road with automobilists.

That comes in addition to the carriage roads, always closed to motor vehicles, allowing everyone to take their time while discovering one of the most eastern points in the US.

We would take more of that everywhere! The next car-free morning is on September 17th 2016; you can check Friends of Acadia’s website to know more about any upcoming events.

•••

Cycling vacations are undoubtedly fun. You get to discover new places at your pace, connecting with unique atmospheres and people along the way. We wish you great bike adventures, either around the world… or just around the corner.

Featured image : Sicily, photo credit: Scott Wylie

Get all the SmartHalo news!