02 April 2010

Cycling etiquette, 1895-style

Debretts, the authority on etiquette and manners, published a book with Vauxhall this week about how to drive politely.

We don't know what it says about shouting at cyclists. However, it inspired us to look back through the Real Cycling archives to 1895, when this blog would have been published as a leather-tooled hardback book, price 21 guineas.

This is probably what we would have said about cycling etiquette then. It shows just how far society has declined in the last century and a bit.

• Should a Hackney-carriage or omnibus driver use the road inconsiderately, hold your temper. You may think he is 'a d— fool', but to say so, even sotto voce, is most uncouth.

• If out sketching watercolours, you may be approached a policeman enquiring after your activities. Be co-operative; he is only doing his job. By ensuring that you are not an anarchist, foreigner or other criminal, he is protecting the safety of the Empire.

• Correct clothing should be worn in case of an accident. A green Devonshire jacket, cap with stiff peak, boots of good quality, and soft necktie are recommended. A magistrate will take a dim view of a cyclist who is 'scruffily dressed'.

• Do not over-indulge in alcohol when riding. Six or seven pints of stout or porter, and no more than one bottle of good brandy or port wine, is a perfectly adequate amount.

• Do not smoke cigarettes while riding. It is most improper. Tobacco should be enjoyed at a rest stop, when cigars are recommended.

• Married women should not cycle. Single ladies may do so, but must ride side saddle. Skirts, not 'Bloomers' or 'rational dress', must be worn.

• Do not shout at, or behave impatiently with, other road users, unless you are reliably informed that they are of a lower class.

• When cycling abroad, treat its inhabitants with politeness and civility, however disagreeable their customs and manners may appear. Remember, it is through no fault of their own that they are inferior.

Fans of polite cycling can look forward to the Tweed Ride (pic) on 10 April. Happy Easter.


  1. 21 guineas?? you rate yourself, don't you?

  2. @Tim... ah, but things were different then, y'see. Education, breeding, class - all these things attracted a premium. A mere 21 guineas would've been a snip for most of my target audience.

    I'd have been an Edwardian gentleman-adventurer, living off my generous allowance, and writing Jerome K Jeromesque potboilers about travel among these amusing foreign countries, like Wales.

    Just a thought: wonder if there's any countries where where these quaint and old-fashioned notions of conservatism, prejudice and illiberality still reign? Maybe I could explore them by bike, say, next week...

  3. Now there's a thought.... now that those damn bolshy stokers and signalmen have decided not to impede the progress of their betters.

  4. I would have been a renegade cyclist outlaw !

  5. Excellent, excellent.

    Except for the date, I'd say. By 1910, cycling was decidedly for the oiks only.

    Toffs had moved on to automobilism by late 1890s. The 'renegade' London to Brighton run was in 1896.

    Bicyclists after about 1890 were "cads on casters". In Nov 1896, the Duke of Cambridge sent a letter from his brother, the Duke of Teck, to the Home Secretary complaining of the "roughs" in Richmond Park.

    In fact, it sounded like an early Critical Mass: "2000 to 3000 bicycles...not as if guided by thoughtful People, but by Maniacs, Persons in a state of madness...Many Groups, actually abreast, of from 10 to 20 or more, formed of Roughs and others apparently of members of Bicycle Clubs..."

  6. Ah yes, Carlton, you're right. I'll change the date to 1895 (it was 1910 in the original post).

    I think of my old chum Edward Elgar, who was still cycling keenly into the early 1900s, when he was in his fit mid-40s, and conjuring up pieces like the Dream of Gerontius during his country trundles. Then, alas, his missus Alice got much keener on going out together in the new 'motor-car', and it was with reluctance that Ted acquiesced.