The golden age of female cycling (in Hungary)
Written by: Lindistyle 2009 / 11/ 15
Translated for Waffenradforus.net by BikeInfantry 2018.10.08.
Original title: A női kerékpározás hőskora
In the early 1880s bicycles became commonly known throughout Hungary, by 1882 the first club was formed called Budapesti Kerékpár Egyesület (Bicycle Association of Budapest). The evergrowing popularity of bicycles (by 1900 there are over 150 cycling circles around the country) only reached out to men in the begining. By the 1890s female cyclist were still a strange sight.
Women mounting the „vasparipa” („steel steed”) were wearing traditional dresses, quikly realising that these outfits, which fit short walks are highly uncomfortable while riding a bike. Not to mention beautiful silk shirts, hats, all the skirts made of fine textiles, and a big variaty of ribbons, decorative lace could easily decay during a swift fall. Women started to knit led weights on the bottom of their skirts so they don't end up between the spokes; their hands were protected by soft deer leather gloves; some even took off their corsettes to be able to perform during workout.
Pants prooved to be a much more suitable cycling outfit. Trousers at the time were abundant pants reaching till the knees, which were extended by stockings or knee high leg warmers (called kamásli). The sight of a lady wearing such a costume has been captured in a poem from around the time:
„Bristol wheel, Helical pipes, Adria…
Oh, how nicely her calf curves, Lady-my!
Steel ankles pressed on snarring pedals
As she’s moving in the saddle
Swinging herself delightful side to side!”
It sounds funny to say, but once this sport performed by women was concidered an act of braveness.
Althought society starting to realise the importance of cycling as a matter of healthy excersice, doctors would advise women not to „overdo” cycling; on average a distance of 50-60 km with an average speed of 15-18 km/h was conidered to be allowed. Bicycle races were stricktly forbidden. (The first female bicycle race in Hungary was held in 1896, where ladies attended the start line in bright silk shirts and dark abundant pants.)
Female cycling was accepted by the public very slowly, but since even members of the royal family in England started mounting bicycles, so did ladies as part of the international aristochracy and of course young ladies in Hungary coming from noble families. In the countryside ambicious wives of the land agent (ispán) of several the counties, as well as daughters of county and city officers with excentric young actresses not far behind. This is how cicyling further gained popularity, thus due to snobism.
According to etiquette of the epoch nobel-women are not allowed walking around on the streets by themselves, they went for outings accompanied by husband, male siblings, relatives and friends. These occasions also presented a good chance for flirting a bit and toy around with each other. They even came up with a game, which consisted of couples chasing each other, usually men chasing women first, and after each rush they had to roll across the finishing line hand-in-hand. What a splendid opporunity!…
Cycling, just as anything ladies performed, became part of the complex and intricate collective behaviour of the established classes: to catch a husband and to marry your daughter to someone. Out in fresh air the mood to get married increases – said by mothers having daughers waitong to be married, letting their girls go out in the woods accompanied by the right people only.
Girls-boys, what do you think?