Do You Suffer from Bicycle Face?


by Cayley James

Curious about the history and inspiration of Marc Bernhard's photo essay BikeFACE?

For time immemorial men have been overly interested in trying to prevent women from doing most everything. From work, to health, to the democratic process there is a long history and on going battle for women’s equality and autonomy. So it’s no surprise that in the 19th century, as the bicycle was taking up its mantle as one of the world’s most popular pastimes, that some doctors came up with the fictional disorder known as “Bicycle Face.”

The key characteristics of the affliction were as outlined by The Springfield Republican:

  • usually flushed, but sometimes pale,
  • often with lips more or less drawn,
  • dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness.

These symptoms were caused by, “over-exertion” as, “the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one's balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted 'bicycle face,'

There are a number of excellent resources about the bizarre history of this condition online. Vox published a very comprehensive look back. On one blog I found a helpful list of “DON’Ts” for women considering riding a bike from an 1895 New York World newspaper. But they more or less repeat the same line: it was a fear mongering tactic that was designed to try and curtail the empowerment the bicycle gave to the modern woman.

18th and 19th century historian Geri Walton notes that a Dr. E B Turner claimed bicycle face was a sham and stated:

The bicycle “hump” also known as “‘kyphosis bicyclistarum" need but provoke a smile, provided only that the reader observe the good old cycling rule: Sit easily upright and keep your eyes well in front of you.

So ladies let's get back in the saddle and fight the good fight against bogus misogyny.

Check out the BikeFACE! series here. We'll be posting each portrait individually throughout Bike Month on in celebration of women and cycling.


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