THE COUNTRY LEGALIZED CYCLING FOR WOMEN IN 2013. THIS MONTH, SAUDI WOMEN LINED UP FOR THEIR FIRST RACE IN PUBLIC.
Earlier this month, 47 women stood with their bikes on the starting line to make history in Saudi Arabia. Five years after the country officially decreed that women could legally ride bicycles—albeit only for recreation, in parks, if dressed modestly, and with a male guardian present—an intrepid group of riders lined up for their first-ever public race: a 10-kilometer circuit in Al Jawhara Stadium in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The event, which corresponded with World Health Day, was organized by Be Active, a women’s cycling advocacy and training group. The modest field size belied a swelling interest in the sport among Saudi women. A larger turnout than expected prompted the race committee to raise the field limit from 30 to 47. But organizer Nadima Abu al-Enein estimates that 100 women would have toed the line had everyone who wanted to race been allowed to join.
“All the ladies were very happy and excited for the race,” Abu al-Enein told Bicycling over Instagram.
Though the public response appeared largely positive, not everyone was supportive of women racing bikes in a nation that only recently lifted the ban on women driving. A few critics took to Twitter. One tweet, which was reported by the BBC and Stepfeed and has since been deleted, argued that women on bikes are too seductive and revealing to be allowed in public.
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