Cycling Etiquette, circa 1901

The following is from "Twentieth Century Etiquette" by Annie Randall White, copyright 1901 (Totally without permission, though I doubt Annie or the publisher really care anymore):


"If those who are the enemies of innocent amusements had the direction of the world, they would take away the spring and youth - the former from the year, and the latter from the human life."

Etiquette for lovers of sport is as essential for guidance as it is for the young debutante in society. Among the sports so general, and so faithfully followed, we must first class cycling, for it has taken such a firm hold upon all classes and all ages as to demand recognition. To the hundreds of men and women the wheel is the greatest benefaction of the time, not only affording rapid transit to and from places of business, but is also a delightful and healthful recreation. Etiquette on Cycling is imperative, and although of necessity many of the rules thereof, being deduced from individual opinions and the customs of certain localities, are extremely elastic; others are the same the world over and will be observed by all who respect the best "form." Here we wish to record a protest against following English or French form. If there is one thing of which more than another the American woman should be proud, it is the independence accorded to her in matters of this kind, and the confidence in her womanhood, the faith in her uprightness this independence implies. The saying that, as a rule, "A woman receives no attention (desirable or otherwise) which she does not invite," is as true of the woman cycler as the one who travels by steam car, street car or the simple pedestrian. On account of the lower estimate placed upon womanhood in foreign countries, the constant attendance either of an elderly woman or one of the other sex may there be needful, but

In America

the woman who minds her business may go wherever duty calls her.

Of course, the first essential in cycling is a perfect wheel, safe, easy-running, with saddle built high and wide in the back, sloping away and downward in front, and fitted out with a clock, a bell, luggage carrier, and if the rider cares for records, a cyclometer.

A lady can be as reserved upon a wheel as in her parlor. No lady will permit a stranger to accost her, even if she is riding alone, unless an accident or mishap to herself or wheel occurs, and then a true gentleman may offer his assistance, which may be accepted or not, without misconstruction or familiarity.

The etiquette to be observed in cycling is to be civil to all; assist the timid, and do not mock or laugh at awkwardness. If you have an appointment to ride with a lady, be punctual, and accomodate your pace to hers. A good rule to be observed in this respect is to never go faster than you find it possible, and breathe through the nostrils. The moment you are inclined to open your mouth you may know that you are over-exerting yourself. Of course this advice would fall numb on the ears of a "scorcher."

Costume for the Wheel

Bloomers have been proven so inartistic, so ugly and so "loud" that few ladies can be induced to wear them. The most quiet costume, consisting of a skirt, two-thirds from the knee to the sole of the foot, a jacket, either tight-fitting or blouse, makes a modest outfit. The boots should be high, or leather leggins should be adopted. Never wear low shoes on the wheel. An outing hat of rough straw, the Tam O'Shanter, or a felt walking hat, are all pretty and tasteful. Some like sailor hats. The colors for the suit should be gray, brown, dark blue, or black, although the latter shows dust and mud sooner. An invitation to a ride on the wheel needs no formality, and may always be verbal. Have an ammonia gun with you, for the benefit of barking dogs who are bent on running in front of you, and giving you a "header." Always carry an extra wrap or a loose jacket to guard against those obstinate inflictions termed summer colds. Don't wear a yachting cap, chew gum, or bend your back over the handle bars. Either of these things is far from ladylike.

A Gentleman Escort

The gentleman who accompanies ladies must be ever watchful to assist his companions in every way. He should be capable of repairing any trifling injury to their machines which may occur on the route, and be at all times provided with the proper tools for so doing. His place on the road is at her left, that he may the more carefully guard her when meeting other cyclers, teams, etc., he risking all danger from collisions.


The gentleman accompanying the lady holds her wheel; she stands at the left, places her right foot across the frame to the right pedal, which at the same time must be raised; pushing this pedal causes the machine to start, and then with the left foot in place she starts ahead very slowly, in order to give her companion time to mount his wheel and join her. When their destination is reached the gentleman dismounts first and appears at his companion's side to assist her, but if she be a true American woman she will help herself as mush as possible.


To dismount in the most graceful form one should gradually slacken speed, and when the left pedal is on the rise throw the weight of the body upon it, cross the right foot over the frame of the machine, and with an assisting hand step with a light spring to the ground.

In meeting a party of cyclists who are acquantances and desire to stop for a little conversation the gentlemen of the party dismount and sustain the ladies' wheels, the latter retaining their positions in the saddle.

How to Ride

Above all else a lady should at all times maintain an upright position, and on this account should be provided with a machine on which the handles turn upward rather than downward. The stooping posture assumed by so many ladies on the wheel is not only coarse and decidedly ugly, but exceedingly harmful, and will, in a very short time, tend to curvature of the spine, compression of the lungs and their consequent diseases. Many riders claim that one rides much more easily, when facing the wind, to bend forward, and thus break its force, but it were far better to ride a shorter distance than to risk the ills of which we have spoken. Indeed, no woman should ever ride after a feeling of weariness is experienced; the strain on the nerves and muscles is great and should never be protracted after Nature gives the warning.

The limit of speed is only a little less important than the limit of distance, which is designated by the feeling of weariness. No man can ride at full speed for long distances and still retain health and perfect vigor, and it is certain that no woman can maintain a high rate of speed for one mile without laying the foundation for future suffering. There is no relaxation of the tension of either muscles or nerves between the revolutions of the pedals. Many ladies complain, after riding for a time, of a stinging sensation in the limbs and feet. The heart forcing the blood into the arteries more rapidly than the veins can return it, and incipient paralysis or apoplexy may result.

Tandem Wheels

are very popular, for they give a sense of nearness and protection. Still, the genious who invents a double wheel providing for sitting side by side will have the blessings of many who like to see the face of their fair companion. Properly used, the bicycle is considered a promoter of health, developing, as it does, muscles which are otherwise seldom brought into play. It secures for women that highly desirable condition of flesh, a firm, solid tissue, when muscles are flexed and a velvety softness with muscular relaxation.

Reminders for the use of Cyclers

Don't try to raise your hat to a lady passing you until you are an expert on your wheel.

Don't wear a red or gay-colored cap, under the impression that it is stylish.

Don't laugh at the figure other riders present, for it is not given us to "Sae oorsel's as ithers sae us."

Don't neglect to turn to the right in passing another wheel or a vehicle.

Don't ride fast down a steep hill with a curve at its foot.

Don't ride fifteen miles at a scorching pace, and then drink copiously of water and lie down in the grass.

Don't carry your bicycle down stairs under your arm. Your shoulder is better adapted to it.

Don't leave your wheel in a dark hall for other people to fall over.