The Proper Gentleman Cyclist – Bicycle Etiquette from 1896

I must warn my gentle readers that in this post “we are not dealing with the new woman…we prefer the good, old-fashioned kind, the gentle woman, in fact, although we have mounted her upon a pair of wheels. She has broadened her intellect, but we want the same sweet, coquettish feminine woman just the same.”

That’s right, because “it is not customary at this period of the nineteenth century to indulge in the ceremonious chivalry of the knights of old, but the attitude of a gentleman toward a lady is still founded upon the same old-fashioned notions. Let the new woman prate as much as she please about her independence of man, but she is the first, nevertheless, to rise up in indignation if any of the same old time chivalry is omitted…Therefore, the man will do all in his power to make the ride pleasurable for the lady.”

And we all know every sweet, coquettish lady loves a pleasurable ride! So, thank heavens for John Wesley Hanson’s Etiquette and Bicycling for 1896! Ladies, I’m sure after reading this excerpt, you’ll want to grab your bike (and your chaperone) and run over some chivalrous gentleman cyclist.

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It is not strictly correct for a young lady to ride unaccompanied. There appears to be a growing tendency among people of refinement in this country to be more rigid in the matter of chaperones, although as yet we can hardly be said to have approached the strict rules of the French, who do not allow a young woman to cross the street, to say nothing of shopping or calling, without being accompanied by a woman of mature years.

The unmarried woman who cycles must be chaperoned by a married woman, but as ever one rides nowadays, this is an affair easily managed. Neither must the married woman ride alone. If unable to provide herself with a male escort, she must be followed by a groom or a maid. In this latter connection a woman is very fortunate if among her men or women servants one knows how to ride a bicycle. Women occasionally go to the expense of having a servant trained in the art.

In mounting, a gentleman who is accompanying a lady holds her wheel. She stands on the left side of the machine and puts her right foot across the frame of the right pedal, which at the time must be up. Pushing the right pedal causes the machine to move and then with the left foot in place, the rider starts, slowly at first, in order to give her cavalier time to mount his wheel, which he is expected to do in the briefest time possible. When the end of the ride is reached the man quickly dismounts and is at his companion’s side to assist her, she in the meantime assisting herself as much as possible.

A few hints…

Never pass by an accident without dismounting and inquiring what the trouble is, whether you can be of assistance; but bear in mind that any service you may render to a wheelwoman does not entitle you to her acquaintance without the usual form of introduction. It is always proper to speak to a wheelwoman who may be in need of assistance— humanity requires it.

Of course a gentleman will always remove his cap when making inquiries of a woman in reference to repairs or assistance if she is not one of his own party. Do not hesitate to leave your party temporarily to give assistance to a man or woman rider who really needs it. In following a path where there is not room for two abreast, let the woman go first, and be on the alert to dismount at a moment’s notice to help her in case of trouble. If a man were to go first on a bad road he might get a long way ahead of his companion without knowing that she was in distress.

A man always rides on the left side of a woman, because he can then have his right arm ready to give assistance. When riding in single file, a good distance should always be kept between riders, in order that those riding behind will not be upset in case of accidents to one in front. It is an imperative rule of good behavior that all women, handsome or otherwise, should receive the same attention; the latter are more than appreciative, and this fact is some recompense to a man doing his duty.

When coming up behind a rider going at a slower pace you should ring your bell until an answer is received, then swing off to the left. The rider in the lead will turn his wheel slightly to the right when he hears your signal to pass.

When riding past a vehicle going in the same direction always ring your bell. It is not good form to ring too frequently or too violently, except when exigencies of the case require it. To use a shrill whistle or a calliope is bad form at any time and indicates the novice.
When coming up behind a rider if you notice that his or her hind tire is flat, do not fail to call attention to the fact; it is a point of courtesy that is especially appreciated. It may happen when you go to the assistance of a woman rider who has had an accident you will have to take her wheel some distance to be repaired; it is then well to leave your wheel with her.

Always preserve your dignity and pay no attention to small boys or dogs, both of which are perfectly harmless to the average wheelman. Fancy and trick riding are not proper on the road; that sort of thing should be confined to the academy and riding schools.

What to wear…

Loud dressing is as much out of place upon a wheel as elsewhere, and, indeed, nowhere is refinement more apparent than as displayed in the cycling costume. The dress question for women is not yet settled by any means, but no self-respecting woman will wear a costume that is hardly distinguishable from a man’s, or that is otherwise conspicuous. Modesty is becoming at all times, and especially upon a bicycle.

The bloomer is being fast superseded by the more rational short-skirted costume that rather adds to, than detracts from, a woman’s appearance. A prominent physician advises women cyclists to wear woolen clothing, the head covering light, low shoes, leggings, and no corsets. A practical costume is designed to allow perfect freedom of movement. The Alpine hat is considered the proper head-gear for women.

Men should wear a short loose-fitting sack coat of some light woolen material, with knickerbockers to match, woolen stockings, cap, low shoes and a negligee shirt, or if the day is cold, a sweater.

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And always remember…

In balancing a bicycle the body must be kept erect and in a direct line with the frame of the wheel, bending and swaying with its motion. The eye should be kept up and looking straight ahead. It takes three lessons to enable the average man to learn to manage a wheel, while a woman usually needs five.

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