Rule-Breaking Women, Ride On

We've come a long way! Tour de France Femmes is an exciting step forward for women's cycling. And it got Janeen thinking about how things used to be for female cyclists, long, long ago.

"Rules" for cycling are made to be broken

Written by
Janeen McCrae

Published on

Posted in

Illustration by: Eleanor Davis

Of all my fears — clowns, owls, triangles, telephones — my biggest fear is that one day I’ll be pedaling up some glorious mountain pass, and whoopsie! My uterus explodes. That happens to some women who dare to ride bicycles, right? (I don’t fact check anything). Anyway, with Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift fast approaching, I’m beset with worry.

Not about my uterus — that’s what tire boots are for, amirite? No, I’m worried that these women aren’t aware they shouldn’t dare to pedal. It’s like they haven’t even read the “List of Don’ts for Women on Bicycles!” That’s right, I’m talking about the ludicrous list of rules for ladies on bikes, circa 1895.

There’s no shortage of lists on how to ride bikes. No one asked for them, but they exist. Apart from your state and federal laws (the only ones you should certainly heed), the Velominati’s “Rules” are probably the most well-known diktats. While I could devote time to pushing back on some of those, let’s take on the classic from the dawn of the Industrial Era. I read this list of rules, and if I may be indulged — which according to some, women should never be — I have notes for my fellow female cyclists. 

Bring me my high horse! I’m galloping into this fight from 1895!

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1. Don’t be a fright

BOO! As in scare, and Booooooooooo! As in this is dumb advice. Women should be bloody terrifying on their bikes. Go ahead — snap unsuspecting legs off all challengers like twigs from a bar stool. Startle onlookers with your fitness and scare the absolute chamois cream off ALL rivals. While we’re at it, go ahead and cultivate that ‘bicycle face” (another dumb thing they tell you not to have) like a professional visage gardener. Pump up your quads of iron to an intimidating level. Steal QOMs and Local Legends wreaths with reckless abandon. Invite people on early morning rides that scare them. Remember: It’s not Fight or Flight. It’s Fright and Flight. Fightin’s for the birds. 


2. Don’t attempt a “century.”

I agree with this one. To paraphrase Yoda, “There is no attempt, only do.” A century is just four 25-milers stitched together, and if you’ve followed another rule in their stupid list about always bringing a needle and thread on your rides, you should be able to easily do this. Are centuries hard? Yes. And that’s exactly why women do them all the time because women do all the hard things. There is no feeling greater than finishing your first century — or any century for that matter — so don’t attempt; just pick a route, train for it, and go.

3. Don’t boast of your long rides.

You’re not the boss of me, dumb list! You know this is the kind of rule they made to ‘leave space’ for dudes to brag about theirs. EVERYONE should brag about their long rides. Equal opportunity braggarts, that’s my motto. When I do long rides, someone’s gonna hear about it, trust me. Skywriters are too expensive, but there’s Strava, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All free! The flipside to this is to let your ACTIONS speak for you. Lay traps like the black widow spider you are. Don’t let on that you ride long, go for that long group ride, then let your legs do the bragging. Either way works.

La Course by the Tour de France
Photo: La Course by Le Tour de France | ASO

4. Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

Vinyl is sacred. Never destroy vinyl. Oh, not those sorts of records? In that case, how will I know what time to beat if I’m “not up on” records and “record smashing?” Should we not have ambition? Goals? Things to aim for? Newsflash: We’re going to the Supreme Court of Strava Segments and Land and Speed Records Hall of Fame, and you cannot stop us. The end 

5. Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.

This is a metaphor, right? They mean ‘shut your mouth’ and keep your jabbering opinions to yourself, lady. But it’s OK for big-mouth blokes with wrongheaded and magical thinking to vomit their thoughts and screeds all over the airwaves and socials like they know what’s good for us? Or maybe they just mean don’t chew gum because you could accidentally swallow it during an interval? In that case, that’s a good one. Don’t chew gum while doing hill repeats or intervals, in private or otherwise.

La Course by Le Tour de France | ASO
Photo: La Course by Le Tour de France | ASO

6. Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.

What the chainring …? Do they mean don’t Superman? Is that what that means. I’m half on board with this, but only because I can’t Superman on my bike, and my brother can’t either. But it says don’t emulate the “attitude,” not the ability. What would his attitude be exactly? “Hey, Sis, look at this!” Are they saying don’t be a showoff? Actually, that’s good advice. Stay humble. Unless you’re boasting of a long ride. (See #3.)

Don’t get me wrong, this list does have some good advice. “Don’t forget your toolbag,” for example, and “Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.” That one might be a lifesaver. But seeing this list again highlights my general problem with it and arbitrary rules in general—these “don’ts” could be for anyone, not just women. And before you say, “Janeen, this list is from 1895!” yes, I realize I’m arguing with the antiquated thoughts of some madman. But is the spirit of it so antiquated? Because for all the advances made since this list appeared — including finally throwing us a bone for some Tour de France action — it sure seems like, when it comes to women in cycling, there are still plenty of madmen about.

Things moves slowly, but a woman on a bicycle ain’t one of them. I look forward to the women in the Tour de France Femmes proving it.

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