19th Century Doctors Warn Women About the Dangers of “Bicycle Face”

July 15, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

Men in the late 1800s were incredibly alarmed by the idea of women on bicycles. The new trend, facilitated by the rise in popularity of bloomers and encouraged as a method of liberation by suffragettes, understandably put them on edge. If they can ride bikes, who knows what else they’re capable of? Enter “bicycle face” — a “medical condition” that was promoted as a serious risk to female cyclists. Cycle Vintage quotes a 1897 newspaper on the phenomenon:

Usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness. Bicycle face is also characterized by a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes.

Because women were clearly not as good at cycling as men, it was assumed they’d be much more likely to fall victim to this terrible ailment. And of course, for a guy, a messed up face isn’t the biggest deal. But for women of the time, their physical appearance determined their value to society. Aren’t you glad times have changed so much? (Illustration: Frederick Burr Opper)