Women, Biking and Freedom

The Bike Affair

To me, it was freedom

I started biking 5 years back - on a slightly old, less used bike that my sister left behind when she moved. During that period of no-employment, I had decided to try one new thing ever week to build patience. The patience never built, but cycling caught on.

I remember taking the bike out to a local cycle-mechanic since I did not even know how to fix the front wheel. Starting with a few little rides with the Hyderabad Biking group, I visited The Bike Affair to pick up a pair of biking shorts. I remember the store as a lot of cardboard boxes placed next to each other and Krish picked out a large pair of men's biking shorts & told me that would work well. When I asked him if my bike would be ok, he serviced it and told me that it would work just fine!

So, started my journey. That year, I religiously took the bike out every Sunday to Gachibowli Stadium from where we would do rides. What started as an extremely tough 12 km ride through the University of Hyderabad, I moved on doing 50 km rides in just 3 months. On the rare days when I did not have a car, I would bike 20 km from home to the stadium and then continue the rest of the ride. Back in those times, the bike was an addiction. However, as my strength improved I realized what the bike eventually meant to me.

To me, it was freedom. Being brought up in India meant I could not freely go everywhere I wanted to and at all points in time. I never walked on a street alone after 11 PM. However, armed with a bicycle, I could be alone, yet not afraid. I could wake up to dark mornings and see the sun come up on my bicycle. The bike was empowering in way I never felt before and by default I started incorporating the bicycle into my travels as well. I biked on the world's highest motorable road in Ladakh and biked 75 km to see the rarely-visited Being Melea temple of the Ang Kor ruins in Cambodia. On my first solo international trip to Thailand, the moment I rented a bicycle I knew that the rest of the 2 weeks would fall in place.

However, what I had not realized was that the cycle had been a constant companion through my adolescent years. I went to school on a bicycle and went to tuition classes on a bicycle. I also went to watch a few movies on a bicycle!

The cycle is not just a sport, it has been the source of freedom to several women especially in smaller towns and villages. It helps girls get to school and women get their household groceries. In fact the bicycle played a HUGE role in the Women's Suffragate Movements as well. In the 1890s, the bicycle moved away from being the rich-people fad and more women started enjoying the pleasures of cycling. And this cycling led to women being liberated from the complicated dress codes of the 19th century to the more comfortable trousers or bloomers.

In those times, social reformer Susan B Anthony famously said, 

"I think it has done a great deal to emancipate women. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of freedom, self-reliance and independence. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm while she is on her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood..."

These lines hold true even today as the 10-member Afghan women's cycling team is eyeing the 2020 Olympics. They are fighting their regressive society and their aim for the Olympics is to get more Afghan women on bikes. Getting up on their bikes is an everyday fight for them, since their battle is not just physical, it is also social. They put up with a series of lewd remarks, insults and stares because to them "the bicycle is a symbol of freedom."

Closer home, several state governments initiated giving bicycles for girlstudents to ensure more educated and employable women. History shows that it was never cars that offered freedom, but the cycle that truly gave wings to imagination. It is simple, affordable and exceptionally useful.

More recently, I have been following the series of arguments for including a Tour De France category for Women. For a sport/ activity that has offered so much to women world-over, it should also be offered in the form of a much-coveted world championship. It ll be a huge step towards real equality. Here's hoping that a women's category gets included next year and one of our present-day school girls goes on take part in it!