Two wheels bad, four wheels good? Cyclists in peril on the roads of Victorian England


Today we are used to seeing Lycra-clad cyclists weave through traffic queues or clog up country lanes riding two abreast. I have been shouted at whilst riding my bike and cut up by impatient motorists to the extent that now I rarely venture out on two wheels. However, it seems that  road rage towards cyclists is nothing new.

In August 1876 members of the London Bicycle Group were heading off for a race when they passed along a  stretch of road near the Welsh Harp in Hendon. The St Alban’s stage coach came along beside them with several passengers sitting outside (as was normal).

As Mr Gee (the secretary of the cycle club) went past the coach one of the gentlemen on board swung a rope with an iron ball attached. Gee swerved, to avoid the ball hitting his wheels, but instead got the force of coach driver’s whip across his shoulders.

Another member of the cycle group was no so lucky. As the coach went past the man again swung his rope and caught Mr Mitchell’s bike in the wheels. The bike and rider were dragged along for a few moments before the rope snapped. Mr Mitchell’s ‘clothes were torn, his leg injured, and his bicycle was damaged. This occurrence provoked laughter from the coach passengers’.

The cyclists pursued the coach to Edgware where it was stopped and they went to find a policeman. However the constable was less than helpful, refusing to act as he hadn’t seen the incident himself and ‘no marks of violence were visible.

Mr Gee had come before his local magistrate at Marylebone Police Court to ask his advice.  Mr Newton told him that Mr Mitchell could ‘bring an for injuries and damages’ against the man on the stage and Gee could apply for a summons from the local authorities. The cyclists thanked him and left.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 30, 1876]

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