This post is part of the WABA Women Bicycling Project, an ongoing campaign to create a community, share resources and develop strategies for getting more women on bikes. To read about the project so far, check out Quick Release, the WABA blog. To learn more and sign up to receive emails about this project, click here.
My mother recalls the great honor of being brought by her father on the donkey and cart into Boyle for her first new bicycle. She rode nine miles back on the bicycle that was purchased for the huge sum of ten pounds specifically so she could bypass the local national school and attend the better school further away. A generation earlier, a bicycle had been similarly bought for her mother so that she too could have access to better schooling. Those Raleigh and Royal Enfield bicycles allowed them to travel the Roscommon roads widely, riding between the hedgerows and small fields that hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. My mother talks of happy times riding with her sisters and collecting other girls en route to school in Elphin five miles away. Before the bicycle, the women and girls of rural Ireland had never had this freedom of travel and the options that brought with it.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting atop a cushion tied with twine on the back of Granny’s bicycle, my arms tight around her waist as she cycled down to the village shop in Ballinameen. My mother remembers riding on the back of that same black bicycle from when she too was a child. It had a lamp and wicker basket on the front and a rear mud guard painted white for night visibility on the back. Granny kept it operational through the war years by sewing patches on the rubber tires. Even in the late stages in her life, it was without remark that this was how she continued to get around and it allowed her to live independently on the now quiet farm.
Meanwhile, my mother’s scholarships had led to her leaving Roscommon and taken her to a new life and family in Dublin. By eleven, I was biking the four miles to school in Rathmines as the CIE bus strikes that disrupted the city for weeks at a time caused everyone to find new ways around. The joke in Dublin was that CIE stood for “Cycling Is Easier”. I rode frequently throughout secondary school and then full-time though my college years. Dublin of the seventies and early eighties was a place where the postmen brought all the letters by bike and none of us had much extra money in our pockets. We had just enough to pay 50p to watch U2 play in the Dandelion Market and although I can’t remember specifically how I got there, I must have cycled. Cycling in Dublin was very social with constant running into pals who’d ride with you a bit of the way, chatting and catching up on the news.
So that is a piece of the story of my upbringing and of the women preceding me who cycled in their time and landscape. By now, I have been living another life for twenty years in the northern Virginia suburbs. As a civil engineer, it is very clear how the design and layout of this community plays a major role in my limited options to get around under my own steam. When I can, I hop on my bike for local trips and I have the satisfaction of working to help create the infrastructure to enable such rides. However, in my suburban life, that most ordinary activity to get around is barely considered as an option. It’s also a pretty lonely act and I get excited to see anyone who even looks vaguely like me on a bicycle.
Education, bicycling and women have been inextricably linked since the earliest days of bicycles, paving the way to independence and choices for girls. While I apply my engineering background to design of facilities, I give a piece of the credit for the necessary education to the bicycles that run through my maternal lineage.
Fionnuala Quinn is a licensed civil engineer with over eleven years of engineering experience on environmental and land development projects. She has spent an additional five years advocating on road safety design issues. Her recent work focused on bicycle advocacy through commenting on proposed engineering projects. Fionnuala served as the manager of the Women Cycling Project, which included an on-line survey, webinar, project webpages, and reports. She is also the Vice Chair for Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) and was the recipient of WABA’s 2011 Advocacy Award.
Monday, December 12th
6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Large Meeting Room
DC Public Library, West End location
1101 24th St. NW
Sign up here to attend and observe the Forum. Space is limited!
Before the Event
If you would like to tell your story, you can fill out our Women’s Bicycling Forum Worksheet, and bring it with you to the Forum and your words will be included in the final project report. If you cannot attend the Forum, or would like to do things paperlessly, we have an online version of the Worksheet.