A dramatic look at the history of bicycles can be found in an excerpt from Victorian Cycles, Wheels of Change. It is particularly interesting to see the emphasis on safety (versus horses).
…this controversial machine forged roads into society that revolutionized politics, fashion, and social policy as well as paved the way for the mechanized world of motion to come. Victorian Cycles, Wheels of Change is a fascinating documentary about the bicycles coming of age and its tremendous impact on society.
I suspect the growth in numbers of women who rode bicycles had more to do with the cost of horses and the inability of women to operate and own them without assistance than the need to protect women from harm. In other words, if women were able to independently earn wages to afford the lifestyle of a horse-owner then they would have been less likely to need or want to try to adapt to the new and unknown risks of bicycles.
The simple economics of transportation make horses a no-go option to any low-income group. And that is not to mention the many other drawbacks of horses; it was said in the 1800s that New York could be smelled from a hundred miles away. No one ever complained about the urban odour of bicycles.
Ok, so maybe some men really didn’t want to allow their women to ride horses for fear of injury. That perspective just seems slightly off to me, however, given the other high-risk tasks that women were “allowed” at the time.
Working conditions for women, as well as for children, were awful and exposed them to life-threatening dangers (as depicted in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South; Life of Charlotte Bronte, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, etc.) . Many lived tortured lives and suffered greatly during industrialisation.