Nowadays motorists just try to run us off the road. But as regular Carbon Addict, Donald, recently brought to our attention it appears in the latter 19th Century the community resorted to a far more intellectually abusive way of keeping cyclists off the roads, specifically female ones. According to the oracle of all online wisdom, Wikipedia:
“Bicycle face was a fictitious disease invented by the medical establishment of the 19th Century used predominately to discourage women from cycling.”
“WTF?” was my first reaction upon reading this, “Surely it’s all bogus?”. But further digging suggests it’s entirely true. While kids had the bogeyman to contend with, grown women with any interest in personal transportation, independence and healthy living offered by the bicycle lived in the shadow of contracting ‘bicycle face’.
It sounds truly laughable now. But many trusted doctors of the time bought into the sexism-based pseudoscience behind it hook, line and sinker, and reportedly advised their female patients they could suffer from permanent facial contortions if they persisted with riding their bikes, resulting from the continued strain to keep the device balanced while being ridden. The fabricated moral panic went even further, mind you. Apparently riding a bicycle was a sure path to sexual depravity, infertility and general exhaustion (no shit Sherlock).
Not surprisingly, plenty of bicycling exponents of the era thought this was total bollocks and before very long the ‘disease’ was consigned to the road side of history. Which, if you ask me, isn’t quite right. For anyone who’s ever ridden up a particularly strenuous climb knows ‘bike face’ most certainly does exist.
The faces we cyclists pull mid-exertion, both men and women, are surely some of the funniest things you’ll ever see?