It’s a common claim of cycling historians that women didn’t ride the high-wheel bicycle, the so-called “ordinary” or “pennyfarthing” that was, hands down, the most popular bicycle from the mid 1870s to the late 1880s. The high wheel, so the story goes, required too much athleticism for women and was wholly incompatible with Victorian women’s fashion. So female cyclists rode tricycles until safety bicycles revolutionized the market in the late 1880s. High wheelers, so the theory goes, were the exclusive domain of men.
Edmonton author M. Ann Hall debunks that theory in her latest book, which tells the story of women who not only rode high wheel bicycles but raced them, often against men, more than holding their own. Muscle on Wheels: Louise Armaindo and the High-Wheel Racers of the Nineteenth Century (McGill-Queens UP, 2018) focuses on the exemplary racing career of one woman in particular, French Canadian Louise Brisbois, who competed under the name Louise Armaindo, and who was the first “highly successful woman high-wheel racer.” Armaindo was based in Chicago for a lot of that time and raced all around North America but especially in the midwest.