The Safety Bicycle had barely been invented in the late 1880’s and available for purchase when the Cycling Girl became a timeless icon. The Safety bicycle is the design of the bicycles we still use today and their invention was nothing short of revolutionary. They provided the working classes with cheap, reliable transport and made them independent of public transport, in addition to allowing them to broaden their radius when looking for work. The bicycle also served to liberate women, by providing them with independent transport and an identity of self-dependence.
There is no other country in the world with so many songs, poems and literature featuring the bicycle. The song in the film above is Cykelsangen – The Bicycle Song – written in 1935 by Poul Henningsen for his documentary film, Danmark. Like many of the other songs, poems and literature, the Cycling Girl features prominently. “Cykelpigen… sweet shoes on pedals” are among the lyrics.
Indeed, high above the city hall square in Copenhagen, a golden statue of a cycling girl surveys her two-wheeled kingdom in the Richs Building. Erected in the 1930’s, the cycling girl is paired with a women with a dog and an umbrella and they form a barometer. If the weather forecast is for sun, the cycling girl rotates out. If it’s rain or snow, the other girl rotates out.
Unfortunately, they haven’t worked since 1996. They weigh literally a tonne so repairs are a massive undertaking.
“Bicycle posters flatter the liberated woman and her beauty and independence compliment the product’s quality. In addition, the artwork shows how easy it is for the feminine sex to handle the bicycle, just as the women pictured are a testament to the femininity that isn’t lost, but rather is increased, by cycling.
“The era’s modern man, in sporty outfits, also features on bike posters but he is often given the role of the unlucky cyclist with a broken chain or a puncture. More often than not he rides behind the woman, who either overtakes him or is in front of the peloton.
“At the moment the concept of the Danish Cycle Girl was created, the bike poster visualised her more convincingly than any other medium.”
So wrote Lars Dybdahl in his book “Den danske plakat” – The Danish Poster.
The iconic cycling girl was used on these tourism posters from the late 1940’s, as well. The word ‘Gay’ meant ‘Glad’ back then, but even to this day, it is appropriate. Not least because of Copenhagen’s thriving gay & lesbian community but also because the city is hosting the OutGames this year.
The tradition of the iconic Cycling Girl lives on in the iconic Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog.