Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Literature, Rural Heritage

On Yer Bike! Cycling Tips From 1897


It will be seen that matters cycling occupy an important place in The Rambler. The cycle may be described as the key to the country. Certainly there is no way of learning and knowing the country equal to cycling. In fact without cycling we are absolutely at a loss to understand how the great majority of the dwellers in large cities in this Kingdom could see anything of the country except occasional flying glimpses of it from the train.

However, if a prominent position is given to cycling let it be distinctly understood that the paper will not be filled with cycle puffs and cycling advertisements, nor with accounts of runs by clubs of whom no one ever heard, nor with lengthy reports of the rulings of the various cycling associations.

Everything in The Rambler relating to cycling will be treated of only by experts. For example, in the first number will be found contributions by F. T. Bidlake, M. A. Holbein, and many other well-known writers. We need only mention that the paper will be edited by Mr Charles P. Sisley, the best cycling Editor of the day, and our readers will understand that any statements regarding cycling may be depended upon, as nothing will be allowed to appear on the subject which has not passed his very critical cycling eye.

(The Rambler magazine, Vol 1. No. 1, 22nd May, 1897)

Recently I got the urge to purge my vintage magazines and ephemera.  Sorting my collection always takes twice as long as it really should, I stop to read all the advertisements, articles and classifieds just in case there is a great story hiding in the column inches. I came across a rather dog-eared but nonetheless charming copy of The Rambler from 22nd May, 1897, Vol 1 No. 1, first edition. A penny weekly magazine devoted to outdoor life and articles about cycling in the countryside feature heavily.

By the 1890s cycling had become extremely popular in Britain, particularly with women, as it offered them an escape from house and husband. This was also the age of suffragism, socialism and the civil rights movement. Many female campaigners used bicycles as their preferred mode of transport. The bicycle represented, freedom, mobility and independence.

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  • Cycling, c1890. French illustration of a lady in ‘Rational’ cycling dress of knickerbockers and gaiters, giving her small daughter a ride on the saddle of her bicycle. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
The Rambler, 1897.


In my edition of The Rambler, all illustrations depict the female cyclist wearing long skirts, conservatively dressed, modesty preserved. However, in the 1890s, cycling for some women provided an opportunity to make a political statement via their mode of dress. In 1881, The Rational Dress Society was formed, spearheaded by Lady Florence Harberton (1843-1911), Mary Eliza Haweis (1848-1898) and Constance Wilde (1859-1898) (wife of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)). The Society’s mission statement read:

The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming….[It] requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.

 In 1892 free-spirited traveller and advocate of the outdoors, Miss Lillias Campbell Davidson, established the Lady Cyclists’ Association. Davidson was well-placed to head-up this new organisation and in 1896, her Handbook for Lady Cyclists was published. Previously she had written Hints for Lady Travellers (1889) in which she recommended the following dress code for ladies embarking upon cycling tours:

Wear as few petticoats as possible; dark woollen stockings in winter, and cotton in summer; shoes, never boots; and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel without loose ends or drapery to catch in your [bicycle]… Grey is the best colour, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains, and yet cannot lose its colour under a hot sun.

The Rambler, 1897.

Below are a few of my favourite quotes from The Rambler:

And she smiled sweetly: “How frightful I must look!” exclaimed the young woman cyclist who had fallen into a muddy excavation in the street. “You look,” exclaimed the panting but infatuated youth who had lifted her out, “like 150 pounds of extracted honey!”.

Queen Victoria and cycling: of the ladies in the Royal household Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Albany was perhaps the first to start the fashion of cycling, for in 1884 the Queen presented her with a valuable little tricycle, and displayed much interest in the course of instruction, which took place in the grounds. It is stated that Her Majesty, herself unable to resist the temptation, mounted in private and took a turn round her beautiful domain at Osborne.

A small but important matter: When having the bell attached to the handle-bars of a machine, be careful in seeing that it is within easy reach of your thumb without moving either hand from the grips. The bell should be rung without a moment’s hesitation if danger has to be avoided, and very frequently a second or two lost in reaching it, if near the centre of the bars, means a bad smash. A small bell again is not much good. It is better to purchase, within reasonable limits of course, a bell the clang of which can be heard without difficulty, instead of a tinkling little affair, the sound of which is drowned by the noise of ordinary traffic.

Formidable enemies of cyclists: The most formidable stinging insect in Britain is the hornet. Its attack is really extremely painful, but it is not very often encountered. Wasps are really more of a nuisance than hornets, for though less virulent they are more abundant, and will sometimes sting without provocation, being apparently subject to fits of bad temper.

Learn to ride with your mouth shut and breathe through your nose. To ride a long journey quickly and with comfort, eat beef steak and bread, taking no drink at the time. When very thirsty drink only hot tea, and take bread or toast with it. A good thirst quencher is to put the wrists in cold water.

Stock ties and collars are most invariably
Stock ties and collars are almost invariable with shirts for cycling. Two examples are here portrayed, the one showing the stock in bow form, while the other is simply crossed and caught with a pin. The latter is considered the better style. Many women are advocating skirt straps as shown below. These are of elastic, the loop passing beneath the instep, a method very distinctly advantageous in a high wind. The most useful chatelaine contains scissors, pin case, tablets, pencil and knife. A strap for these is now often found in lieu of a chain. A chronometer is now frequently affixed to the handle-bar. Smart park shoes for riding have Cromwellian flaps. (The Rambler, 1897)