Victorian Bicycle Slang

hurdling

A great article in the Atlantic today tells us that Presidents Day in the US was associated with the bicycle craze at the end of the nineteenth century. This late nineteenth-century craze also fuelled the women’s suffrage movement, as women cycled, “wheeled,” and “hurdled” their way across landscapes toward more independent lifestyles.

It’s not difficult to imagine how cycling looked like hurdling to eyes that were seeing it for the first time.

As with any culture craze, a slew of new words were invented to speak of cycling, cyclists, and the things with which they surrounded themselves. Here are a few of my favourites.

1. pedal pusher n. this word might be used to describe the pantaloons worn by early woman cyclists, or the women themselves.

pedalpusher

2. wheelman/woman n. a man/woman who rides a bicycle, or tricycle.

headache

3. century n. a ride of 100 miles in 12 hours, or less.

4. bicycle face n. the mythical and unpleasant physiognomy caused by cycling (also a bit of propaganda used to scare people off of bicycles).

BicycleFace

5. scorcher n. one who cycles furiously.

Scorcher

There’s so much more on scorchers and “scorching” here! Scorchers were also called “road hogs” and “sprinters.” The term “road hog” is still applied to cyclists today, usually by motorists, who occupy much more space on the road.

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