Tag Archives: Victorian cycling

A Race with a Phantom: 1892

bicycle racer 1888


A Wheelman’s Story of an Effort to Overtake a Phantom Who Rode an Old-Fashioned Wheel

“I used to ride in races and only last year I spun around the track at my home in the east, but I was cured of the sport in a rather remarkable manner,” said a visiting bicyclist at the races of the Garden City Cyclers to a San Jose News reporter.

“The story is a strange one,” he continued, “and I have never told it to any one yet that I think really believed it, but so firmly am I convinced of the reality of an incident that was frightful in some of its details, that for fear of a repetition I have not had the courage to ride in a race since. “The races were run on a half-mile horse racing track that had been rolled and otherwise partially prepared for the purpose. I had never been especially fast, but just before the event I had bought a new pneumatic tire racer, one of the first seen in that part of the country. The machine was a beauty, full nickeled and with the object of making a display more than anything else, I entered for the five-mile race with a fifteen-minute limit, the conditions being the same as those of the last race in San Jose yesterday that Wilbur Edwards won.

“There were seven starters in the race and we had ten laps to make. I thought we were making rather slow time, and from some remarks that I overheard from the judges’ stand when we passed on completing the eighth lap I was certain that it would be no race, as the winner would not make the distance within the time required. By this time I was well winded and was sure that I would not come out first, but I did not feel in the least disappointed, as I had not expected to win the race when I started.

“In the beginning of the ninth lap, however, as I was tolerably well in the lead, I thought I would spurt a little, so I forged ahead and was allowed to make the pace for a while, each of the riders having done this in turn before me. I had been in the lead seemingly only a second when to my surprise I saw just ahead of me a strong-looking rider on an old-style solid-tire wheel. I had not seen him pass and did not know that any such man had entered the race in the first place.

“The stranger was well in the lead and I felt so much ashamed of myself to think that I was plodding behind on a new style racing pneumatic while he was making the pace at a swinging gait on a solid tire that I just dug my toe nails into the track, so to speak, and did my utmost in an attempt to pass him. It did no good, however. I could not decrease the distance, although spurred on as I was, my speed, as I afterwards learned, became something terrific.

“When I passed the grand and judges’ stands at the end of the ninth lap for the finish there was tremendous cheering. I could not understand what it was all about as I did not consider that my efforts on a pneumatic flyer to catch a man on a solid tire with a spring frame were worthy of much applause. I did not have time to look around and see what the rest of the riders were doing.

“On I flew like the wind, every muscle strained to the utmost in my endeavors to catch the stranger, who kept swinging along about ten feet in the lead. I felt that he must tire out at last, so I did not relax, but rather increased the immense strain to which I was putting every fibre of my being. When we neared the grand stand I could hear thunders of applause rolling up to greet us, and when I was within fifty yards of the scratch I made a last desperate effort to pass the stranger.

“In the strain that was upon me I shut my eyes and paddled like lightning. When I was certain that I had crossed the tape I looked up just in time to see a terrible spectacle. The wheel of the rider ahead struck something. He was thrown forward and struck on his head. I was sure his neck was broken and blood gushed forth from his nose, mouth and ears. The sight was horrible and in my exhausted state I could stand the strain no longer. I fainted and fell from my wheel.

“The next thing I knew I was stretched out on a blanket in the rubbing-down room with a crowd around me. As soon as the boys saw that I had recovered consciousness all of them began to talk to me at once. They congratulated me on my wonderful victory, all declaring they had never seen anything like it before. They all wished to know, however, why I had exerted myself so much when I was so far in the lead. I had left all the rest of the riders far behind, and yet I swept forward and saved that race, coming in just inside of the fifteen-minute limit.

“When I spoke of a rider that I was trying to catch all were dumb with amazement. They had seen no such wheelman and the judges had given me the race. When I described the man I saw and his wheel he was recognized as being identical in appearance with a man who was killed under similar circumstances several years before in a five-mile race on the same track. It is scarcely necessary to state that I almost fainted again when I learned that I had been urged forward by a spook. I have never had the courage to get in a race again for fear that there would be a repetition of my former terrible experience. I had before heard of ghostly riders on horseback, but it was my first and I hope it will be my last experience with a spook on a bicycle.”

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 24 October 1892: p.6  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Wilber Edwards [1872-1951] was a record-setting speed-demon from San Jose, California who set the “paced” world speed record for one mile on a bicycle: 1:34 minutes, on 9 February, 1895. This story, in a chapter of ghosts haunting the roads and the out of doors, appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past. That free-wheeling person over at Haunted Ohio has also told of a dead cyclist who won a race and wonders if this story somehow inspired that legend.

Mrs Daffodil has written previously on ghosts who ride velocipedes.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Bicycle Lingerie: 1896

Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the grammar.

Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the grammar.


The woman who desires to appear well dressed, should give attention to the selection of underwear. A recent bride paid $500 for her wedding veil, which came from Worth’s, and her trousseau contained many imported gowns, but her lingerie was little better than that worn by a woman in a tenement house, the garments being made severely plain, many of them of unbleached muslin, and unadorned with trimming of any kind.

It is useless to wear a stylish tailor-made gown over a last year’s out-of-date pair of corsets. Then, too, different styles of lingerie should be worn with décolleté gowns, with promenade gowns, &c.

When attired for athletic pastimes, for example, a young lady should by all means discard the corset, and wear a corset waist instead. For bicycling she should wear an entirely distinct set of undergarments, which may at the same time be dainty and pretty. The silk undervest should be a size larger than the one worn upon other occasions, to permit of freer action of the arms. The approved bicycle corset should be worn by all means. It costs but $1, is very narrow, almost like a belt, yet very close fitting. It is not heavily boned, and is cut very short on the hips, elastic being inserted so as to permit of freedom of motion. Some bicyclists prefer the silk lacing, others the elastic.

A combination of short petticoat, and drawers, fastened together at the waist, is in vogue for bicycling. The skirt falls several inches below the drawers, and may be finished with lace. The two garments have one drawstring, thus doing away with the discomfort of a band at the waist.

The "hipless" bicycle corset

The “hipless” bicycle corset

The majority of lady cyclists consider the above-mentioned lingerie sufficient for warm weather. Many wear an additional skirt, slightly longer than the first. Others prefer the new combination called the chemise skirt, which may be of silk or linen, the first being very pretty and effective, the latter cooler. The chemise portion of the garment is short-waisted and trimmed elaborately with lace, little flounces passing over the shoulders. It may be worn over the corset, serving as a corset cover, and the lower part forms an under petticoat.

Bicycle stockings of silk are popular, many, however, preferring those of fine lisle thread for ordinary wear.

There are many novelties in bicycle stockings. They should harmonize with the suit as its groundwork, and may be clocked or striped with white. If tan shoes are worn, they should match the hose. No garters should be used by bicyclists.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 June 1896: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The question of cycling costume was a matter of highly public debate, arousing feverish passions on all sides. One of the most vital issues was the “corset or no corset” controversy. This advocate was adamantly anti-corset:

The fundamental principal of comfort for a wheelwoman lies in the underwear. Corsets should never be worn under any circumstances. Neither is it desirable to ride without any support for the body, especially if the rider is inclined to stoutness. An equipoise waist from which the bones have been removed is the best substitute for the corset, as then the muscles are allowed to have full play   and are not constricted in any way. Union underwear is now so universally worn that it would seem almost unnecessary to recommend it, but upon the wheel it becomes almost a necessity, doing away with much unpleasant thickness around the hips.

A pair of full Turkish trousers, made of black India silk, will be found an admirable substitute for the petticoat.

If preferred, equestrian tights are also extremely comfortable. Leggings are stiff and uncomfortable adjuncts, and are not necessary. They interfere with the “ankle motion,” which should be cultivated by every woman who wishes to ride gracefully. Bay City [MI] Times 3 June 1894: p. 9

While this author offers a sensible opposing viewpoint:  (Mrs Daffodil would challenge the notion that “golf hose” are “extremely English.”)

The discreet wheelwoman knows that gauze wool underwear is the safest choice, as there is always danger in cooling off too suddenly, says Godey’s Magazine. The union suit or the two-piece wool suit is best, as it causes the costume to fit snugly and neatly to the figure, and does away with all unnecessary weight.

Corsets for the wheel should give freedom to the hips; the short empire corset is a good choice, as while it supports the bust it is sufficiently short to be comfortable. Another excellent corset has several elastic gores let in on the hips, which give when mounting, and yet hold the figure firmly. Another corset, designed for summer wear is of coarse substantial net. The corset should never be tightly laced, as it renders the breathing difficult and causes fatigue.

Side-view of the elastic gores of the corset above.

Side-view of the elastic gores of the corset seen at the head of this post.

Stockings are of many kinds, but the woman who wants to be extremely English affects golf hose; the clumsiness which has already been so objectionable has been eliminated by making the feet of four-ply wool, which is almost as thin as lisle thread. Checked wool hosiery is also used, and cotton and lisle. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 23 April 1897: p. 11

Knickers to be worn under a cycling skirt. Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 28 May 1899: p. 17

Knickers to be worn under a cycling skirt. Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 28 May 1899: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



The Awful Horseless-Carriage Face: 1897

The dreaded "motor-car" or "horseless-carriage" face.

The dreaded “motor-car” or “horseless-carriage” face.


Awful Visage That Will Surpass the Bicycle Face.

The “bicycle face” will now yield the palm to that awful visage known as the “horseless-carriage face.” That expression known as the “bicycle face’ is caused by anxiety, apprehension and actual dread lest the owner run over somebody.

It is brought about by anxiety lest some bad accident occur, apprehension that the rider may be the victim, and positive, downright dread that some one else may be injured. These varying and powerful emotions constantly playing upon a sympathetic soul are reflected through ocular and nervous lines in the countenance technically known as “bicycle face.” This cast of countenance, brought about by the most humane emotions of a sympathetic soul and reflected through the mirror of eyes and expression, is the opposite of that glare, soon to become known as the “horseless-carriage face.” It is as the dimpled smile of the puling infant is to the maniac’s stare.

When the modern moloch is in full operation the face of the rider undergoes an awful change. The lines of the mouth become set, rigid, immovable, and stonily grim—just the opposite of the sympathetic bicycle face, in that it reflects a determination that if anybody is killed it won’t be the owner of the ‘horseless-carriage face.” There is also a look of fear—not fear that he may run down somebody, but fear that he won’t. The eyes have a fixed and steely glare, while over the whole saturnine face is the impress of horror, a faint but ever-present shadow that shows the modern moloch is impelled to pursue his work of devastation by some potent hellish power. Once seated on this powerful engine of destruction, with a firm grip on the lever, even the fairest countenance takes on some attributes of this “horseless-carriage face.” And all else in Gotham flee for their lives. Pittsburgh Dispatch

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 14 April 1897: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That memorable phrase, “bicycle-face,” was coined by a Dr Shadwell of London, who wrote alarmingly about the perils for lady cyclists including appendicitis, internal inflammation, heart-trouble, and—not least—the expression of anxiety and nervous tension he calls “bicycle-face.”

The condition was also termed “motor-car face” and “automobile face,” and is described vividly by French racing driver, Henri Fournier.


Henri Fournier

The most careful chauffeur cannot avoid being shocked every time he takes a spin. I do not think that any other sport known to man affords so much excitement. One needs a stout heart and a strong nervous system as well as keen eyes to indulge in this most modern pastime, for I do not believe that navigating a flying machine brings a man into contact with more perils.

The automobile face is no joke. It is the startling presentation in the human physiognomy of the record of thousands of dangers passed, or, rather, close escapes from danger. I have never been in but one accident that was really serious, and in that case we were wrecked and bruised almost before my mind had time to form a picture of what threatened us. I refer, of course, to the time when my machine was run down by a locomotive on the Long Island Railroad. \Ve were caught like animals in a trap by reason of the lack of protection at a blind grade crossing. I had barely time to whirl the steering wheel in an effort to get off the track when the engine was upon us and tossed us and the heavy machine into the adjoining field like so much chaff.

Serious as this accident was—for three of my companions were so badly mangled that they narrowly escaped death-—I still think that it did not leave so much impress on my mind and nervous system as the thousands of hairbreadth escapes through which I have been. It is the constant flirting with death that gives the automobilist his characteristic face. Strangely enough, it is not the fear of death for himself that shocks him, but the dread lest he may be the cause of death or injury to others.

When a man begins to run an automobile he is timid—that is, assuming that he is a man of sound and normal mind. Only fools do not know the meaning of the word fear. But every ride the chauffeur takes adds to his confidence in his machine as a good yachtsman is of his yacht or a cavalryman of his horse. He goes flying along the road, exhilarated with the sense of swift motion, feeling like a greyhound or a swallow in full flight. The idea that he may be hurt never occurs to him any more than it does to the greyhound or to the swallow.

Only one fear haunts him—that he may possibly run down some other vehicle or run over a pedestrian. The greatest source of danger lies in small boys at play, especially in suburban cities and the outlying districts of this city, where boys play at will about the streets with no thought of being run down.

I know of no other shock in automobiling that is equal to this. One’s heart becomes constricted by fear until it feels no bigger than a marble. Every nerve in the body seems tied in a knot. The eyes protrude and the chauffeur in his mind contemplates the awful spectacle of the mangled and bleeding little body on the dusty roadside. The chauffeur’s hand flies to cut off power, to apply the brake, to swing the reverse lever. As if by a miracle the boy escapes. The rush of air with the machine perhaps blows off his hat. He has been within one-fiftieth of a second of a horrible death.

This is the sort of experience that produces the automobile face, which the doctors are beginning to write learnedly about. Of course the constant attention one has to pay while automobiling to the road, to the machine, and all its parts, and to the distances which separate the machine from dangers of collision, must tend to produce a tension of the muscles about the eyes, the mouth and even the ears, which, upon becoming fixed, produces the characteristic automobile face. But it is the horror one feels that he may be the innocent cause of destruction to others that is the most potent factor in evolving the automobile face.

The Automotive Manufacturer Review, Vol. 43, 1901


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.