I love cycling: riding in races, training or commuting, watching it standing by the side of a road, somewhere muddy or at the track. I’m also passionate about women’s sport; how can we get more women active, enjoying the brilliant benefits of movement, community and sweat that exercise gives. When I saw Hannah Ross had combined both loves and written Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels I was genuinely excited. Her book is full of all the things you would love to know about the history of cycling but would never get round to researching. It is a brilliant history of the bike, but for once told from the perspectives of the women riding them, not the men.

The research is phenomenal; not just offering up facts and figures but wonderful stories – these stories highlight the culture, the stereotypes, the adventures and the historical events in which they sat – all this makes it super easy to read and you feel like you are learning far more than just cycling.

I loved the stories of what women could wear on the bike. Even now there are frustrations that cycling kit doesn’t get designed for women, instead many manufacturers take their mens’ kit and ‘shrink it and pink it,’ completely ignoring that female bodies are differently shaped to male ones. At least now padded shorts and tops are the norm. When cycling started Ross describes how women were expected to wear their regular clothes; floor length, many layered, flowing dresses; highly unsuitable for staying upright when pedals and wheels are involved. Those women who were brave enough to embrace the ‘rationals’ (basically bloomers that would allow movement) could be ostracised and remarked upon.

Speed was similarly looked down upon – even from within. I loved the phrase Ross includes from Lillias Campbell Davidson, the author of the Handbook for Lady Cyclists, in 1896 when she implored her fellow female riders to maintain dignity at all times: “if she looks loud, fast and simply a fright she is doing women’s cycling infinite harm.” And talking of women behaving badly I loved the pieces on how the suffragettes used their bikes to cause trouble.

Ross covers not just the depths of sexism in her book but also racism and homophobia; highlighting the other groups also pushed away from this sport described by Nicole Cooke within the book as ‘a sport run by men for men.; The lack of parity in races, salaries, prize money and prestige is also covered as is the way that women’s cycling in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi could be considered to be around 130 years behind in terms of myths, acceptance, laws and clothing.

The reports of those female riders who have set off on round the world cycling attempts was fascinating. Relating stories of the Kangaroos and Bears which can knock a rider off course make you realise danger and excitement when riding come just as much from nature as the men they were told they should fear.

The biggest surprise in the book was that women’s cycling wasn’t let into the Olympics until 1984 – 88 years after the men got to join in. That is in my lifetime and makes me so angry. And angry it has taken almost 40 years and still such inequality exists in cycling.

Revolutions is just as much a history book as a cycling book. It is rammed full of the stories of amazing women. It is a brilliant way to learn about the last 130 years through a subject we all love; bikes. As a result of reading Revolutions I have so many more heroines. All of them women who stuck two fingers up to the patriarchy and pedalled off to explore their neighbourhood, the world and most of all their dreams.

Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels a book by Hannah Ross. (bookshop.org)