When recreational cycling rose to popularity in the 1880s, the Victorians took to bicycles like ducks to water. But even on the freedom of two wheels there was no escaping proper manners, and thus a world of cycling etiquette was born.
If you want to be a true gentleman cyclist, here are the rules you simply must follow.
(And if you believe that cycling should be free and fun, get on with you, you modern rascal!)
The clothes maketh the gentleman
Of course, it is unthinkable that one should leave the house without first looking the part. Fortunately, the proper cycling gentleman has many options for his attire.
A green Devonshire jacket or a woollen sack coat are both excellent choices, but you will look at your most dashing in tweeds. For the feet, choose low shoes or high-quality boots, and if you are feeling a chill you may add a jumper. Of course, a cap is a must to keep your hair looking fine and to tip at the ladies.
This may all seem like unnecessary preparation, but as the cycling etiquette of 1895 reminds us, “A magistrate will take a dim view of a cyclist who is ‘scruffily dressed'”.
When with a lady
Always dismount and give a lady your full attention
For a gentleman, there is a great weight of responsibility when cycling with a member of the fairer sex, as he must always be able to help if disaster strikes.
John Welsey Hanson’s Etiquette and Bicycling for 1896 informs us that a man in England must always ride on the right side of a woman, to give her the safer place on the road and to assist her with his left arm if necessary. Where there isn’t room for two to ride abreast, the woman must go first so that the man can keep an eye on her, in case she should need any help.
If a gentleman encounters a lady cyclist on the road and the two decide to stop and talk, he must dismount from his bike and remove his cap. Remember, “Never is a man better able to show for what purpose he was made than upon a [cycling excursion]”.
When on the road
Doffing a cap whilst riding is the only acceptable trick for a gentleman cyclist
The freedom of the open road might be exciting, but a true gentleman never forgets his manners.
According to the etiquette of 1895, smoking whilst riding is “improper” and should be reserved only for rest stops. You should also take care not to fall victim to road rage – ringing your bell too loudly or too frequently is considered bad form, and cursing at somebody who has cut you up, “even sotto voce, is most uncouth”.
In the company of appealing ladies a man might find himself tempted to attempt a trick, such as a ‘wheelie’, with his bicycle. He must curb that impulse. “Fancy and trick riding… should be confined to riding schools, “says Wesley Hanson.
Now that you know the rules of gentlemanly cycling, you need not fear the social pitfalls of the road. Go forth and ride, Sir!