In the wake of International Women’s Day, there is no better time to take a look back at the women who have spearheaded the female charge in cycling. The progression of this list is testament to how much the role of women in cycling has evolved over the past century; from the women who have proven themselves pioneers of cycling itself, to those who are continuing to drive the sport forward.
Annie Kopchovsky, more famously known by the pseudonym Londonderry, was truly a pioneer of female cycling as well as an astute entrepreneur. She adopted the name Londonderry in return for $100 worth of sponsorship for her goal of circumnavigating the globe from New Hampshire’s Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company. In 1895, she became the first woman to cycle around the world.
What is most impressive about Londonderry’s accomplishment was her apparent lack of suitability for such a monumental task. Her own great-grandnephew Peter Zheutlin admitted that “if a mother of three children, ages like five, three, and two, were to suddenly disappear for 15 months on a bike trip it would raise eyebrows today. In the 1890s it was practically unheard of.”
Whilst her dubious retelling of her wild exploits on her trip have marked her as somewhat of a fabulist, there is no doubt about the credibility of the physical aspect of her global endeavour and subsequently, she will always be remembered as someone who pushed the boundaries of human capability.
Beryl Burton is another example of the sheer determination and will women required in order to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that female cyclists faced. In between working shifts at her rhubarb farm, Burton managed to win the Road Time Trials Council’s British Best All Rounder for 25 consecutive years from 1959 to 1983, the last of which came at the remarkable age of 49 in 1986.
Incredibly, that is hardly her crowning triumph. Burton set a new 12 hour time trial record of 277.25 miles, 0.73 miles further than the men’s record at the time. It took another two years for the record to be bettered by a male counterpart, and the women’s record remains intact to this day, over half a century later.
Laura Kenny (née Trott)
Carrying the torch for female cyclists today is Laura Kenny. She is Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian ever, as well as the most successful female track cyclist in Olympic history. With Olympic golds in the omnium, you could say Kenny is the cycling equivalent of British hero and heptathlete Jessica Ennis. She also won consecutive Olympic golds in the team pursuit in addition to her omnium golds, which should put Kenny’s esteemed status as a British and global athlete firmly into context.
Have these women made you desperate to get out and into the saddle? No matter your experience, if you do fancy having a go at cycling, getting your hands on a Giant mountain bike is a great way to start. Bear in mind that you will already have a huge technological advantage over Annie Londonberry and Beryl Burton, both of whom are considered two of the most influential cyclists of all time. No pressure!