Don't Forget the Whisky!

Has cycling changed that much since the early days awheel? LES WOODLAND takes a humorous look.

“Pour a little whisky in your shoes and down your neck, back and front, and rub some in your knees, and you can then withstand any chill”. This advice  comes  from the Cyclists' Touring Club (C.T.C.) handbook of 1898.

Whilst I'm on the subject of essential liquids, don't forget to keep a careful eye out for ostlers (stablemen), carrying buckets of water. The caution from the C.T.C. was... 'Always warn ostlers not to wash your machine; it is only a carriage within the meaning of the Highway Acts, and not for the purpose of swabbing with a mop'.  I doubt if you'll bump into many ostlers at your overnight accommodation, but if you've any doubts about someone, take a look at what's sticking to their boots!

Talking of clothing, and touring wear in particular, when you're next sweating up a hill in your Lycra shorts and team replica jersey, be grateful we've moved on from ninety years ago. The recommended male garb then was '...an ordinary woollen shirt, collar, and tie, with an easy fit of waistcoat, preferably unlined, and an easy lounge coat, fitting freely across the back, and without tightness anywhere, particularly at the arm holes'. This was on top of 100% pure wool underwear of course. And you had to remind your tailor about the knickerbockers, '... they are chiefly for use when you are in a sitting position and are not primarily for walking or parade purposes'. Part of the problem was, as you've no doubt guessed, having your knickerbockers too baggy in the leg could rub the enamel off the top tube of your bike.

The women of the time faced different problems. They were told... 'a plain riding skirt should not exceed 2 1/2 yards in width, should be long enough to reach the ankles..and have elastic holders to the shoes or anklets'. Arguments raged at the time regarding female 'cycle attire'. People were easily shocked by the sight of a girl wearing a divided skirt or knickerbockers. Female tourists were strongly advised not to travel without a skirt for wearing off the bike, at least. As a pointer for ladies' wear, it is best summed up in this gem,... 'Touring is wholly different from park riding, parading, gymkhanas, or fancy dress balls'.

On the subject of 'essentials' for a tour in the late 1800's you were advised to take as a minimum, 1) A sleeping garment (jim-jams?), 2) A collar '...cuffs are hardly essential, and a dummy shirt front is not needed if the tie be fairly full and the waistcoat opening not extensive'. 3) Pocket handkerchiefs, and 4) Toothbrush. This already comprehensive list could be added to with such necessaries as a night shirt and spare stockings (?). Items one to four were recommended for transportation '...wrapped in several thicknesses of brown paper, securely tied and then fastened to the handle-bar or, better, on the back stays below the saddle, with a couple of straps. '...And you've just spent how much on a matching set of 'hi-tech' panniers and bags? If you haven't thrown the receipt away you may be able to get your money back. Finally, don't forget to check your bike over before setting out. The advice is much the same now as it was at the turn of the century, and you could probably set the following to music... 'Do not start without looking to your tyres that they are inflated properly; to your bearings that they are sufficiently oiled; to your chain, that it is correctly adjusted; to your brake, that it is in order; and to your head that it is not loose'. Loose head?! Ah yes! That brings us back to the whisky again. Happy touring!