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What's the deal with girls' bikes?

Dear Matthew Alice:

Why are there men's and women's bikes? If the center bar was originally placed to accommodate "ladies wear," then what gives? I saw a newer design this week, and it was not gender specific.

-- P. Granger, San Diego

For the first hundred years or so of bicycling, women were smart enough to avoid the bone-braking, dangerous (wooden!) vehicles. They let men work out the kinks in the machinery. But in the late 1800s, when mechanical and design enhancements made cycling a saner sport, women took to it immediately. "Chief of all the dangers attending this new development of feminine freedom is the intoxication with comes with unfettered freedom," one sourpuss wrote in 1896. Acrobats, performers, and other shady women rode bikes for shock value and attention. Serious women riders and racers wore knickerbockers ("bifurcated nether garments"). But in the late 1890s, when the diamond-shaped tubular bike frame came into wide use, the modesty problem for the average woman recreational rider was solved by the drop-frame bike; the top bar was removed to accommodate ankle-length dresses. This required that the frame be made heavier for strength, and chain guards and rear-wheel dress protectors were added. To further guarantee they'd be adequately covered, women often weighed down their cycling-skirt hems with buckshot. I guess if you buy your kids Ken and Barbie bikes today, one will have a bar, one won't. These days there's no need for two styles, of course, except to keep your kid from being teased on the playground. Designers of serious machines go for strength, lightness, and efficient energy transmission, all unisex qualities.

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Dear Matthew Alice:

Why are there men's and women's bikes? If the center bar was originally placed to accommodate "ladies wear," then what gives? I saw a newer design this week, and it was not gender specific.

-- P. Granger, San Diego

For the first hundred years or so of bicycling, women were smart enough to avoid the bone-braking, dangerous (wooden!) vehicles. They let men work out the kinks in the machinery. But in the late 1800s, when mechanical and design enhancements made cycling a saner sport, women took to it immediately. "Chief of all the dangers attending this new development of feminine freedom is the intoxication with comes with unfettered freedom," one sourpuss wrote in 1896. Acrobats, performers, and other shady women rode bikes for shock value and attention. Serious women riders and racers wore knickerbockers ("bifurcated nether garments"). But in the late 1890s, when the diamond-shaped tubular bike frame came into wide use, the modesty problem for the average woman recreational rider was solved by the drop-frame bike; the top bar was removed to accommodate ankle-length dresses. This required that the frame be made heavier for strength, and chain guards and rear-wheel dress protectors were added. To further guarantee they'd be adequately covered, women often weighed down their cycling-skirt hems with buckshot. I guess if you buy your kids Ken and Barbie bikes today, one will have a bar, one won't. These days there's no need for two styles, of course, except to keep your kid from being teased on the playground. Designers of serious machines go for strength, lightness, and efficient energy transmission, all unisex qualities.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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