Advice for women cyclists, circa 1895

It’s always nice to have a little advice and guidance, particularly if you are starting something new – taking up cycling, for example. When you’re getting more involved, or as you progress, questions will invariably crop up.

The word ‘aero’ doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Image via Michael Neubert on Flickr

Some are easy to answer, such as ‘should I wear knickers under my padded shorts?’ – A resounding no! Others are more a question of personal taste – like how much pro-team kit to wear, what bike to buy or whether or not to opt for that pink jersey.

In fact, open most magazines aimed at pretty much anyone, and guaranteed somewhere among the pages there’ll be an article or checklist on what to wear, how to achieve a certain look, and dos and don’ts on various topics and activities.

This phenomenon certainly isn’t new. Digging through the archives of the sport can bring up gems such as this list; ‘Don’t for women riders’. Published in the New York World in 1895, and syndicated to several other publications like the wonderfully named Oswego Palladium Times, it puts forward advice – sometimes useful, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes shocking – for female cyclists of the time.

  • Don’t be a fright.
  • Don’t faint on the road.
  • Don’t wear a man’s cap.
  • Don’t wear tight garters.
  • Don’t forget your toolbag
  • Don’t attempt a “century.”
  • Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
  • Don’t boast of your long rides.
  • Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
  • Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
  • Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
  • Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
  • Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
  • Don’t neglect a “light’s out” cry.
  • Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
  • Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
  • Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
  • Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
  • Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
  • Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
  • Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
  • Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
  • Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
  • Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?
  • Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
  • Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
  • Don’t without a needle, thread and thimble.
  • Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
  • Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
  • Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
  • Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
  • Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
  • Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
  • Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
  • Don’t ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
  • Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
  • Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
  • Don’t cultivate everything that is up to date because you ride a wheel.
  • Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
  • Don’t undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
  • Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

But there’s more!

If you ever thought your cycling club’s uniform rules were too strictly enforced, spare a thought for the two women mentioned in the article above the list, who had the temerity to wear skirts over their cycling bloomers at a club ride, and paid the price.

In case you thought your cycling clubs kit rules were harsh!

You can view the original Oswego Palladium Times article here. This article was inspired by a post by Maria Popova on the Brain Pickings website.


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