The People’s Transport
The popularity of cycling increased from the 1890s as Ballarat’s roads improved and bicycles became more affordable. New developments in bicycle technology also made cycling accessible.
Riders who did not want to perch themselves on top of a penny-farthing now had the option of riding low on a tricycle.
The safety bicycle was introduced in the late 1880s with its chain-driven mechanism, pneumatic tyres and smaller, equally-sized wheels. Cyclists now had increased speed, safety and ease of riding.
Ballarat’s bicycle manufacturing industry also raised cycling’s profile. Ballarat riders could choose from a range of vehicles produced locally, including the Davies-Franklin models sold from the company’s store on Sturt Street.
Cycling gave women in particular greater freedom as they could go whenever and wherever they pleased. Women were exposed to new social and employment opportunities as they were able to travel with ease.
Ballarat women took to cycling immediately, participating in competitions as early as the 1860s. They were initially met with resistance as cycling was seen as a male pursuit. One Ballarat Star reporter noted the absence of women during a ladies tricycle race in 1869. ‘For the sake of decencies’, he wrote, ‘I am happy to say there were no entries’.
As gender norms relaxed, so too did people’s perceptions of female cyclists. Increased numbers of Ballarat women joined the cycling movement. By the 1930s, they established the Ballarat Women’s Cycling Club and organised the first female regional road race in 1936.