May 19, Bike to Work Day. Victorian bicycle speed demons were called scorchers

On Bike to Work Day, let’s remember the cyclist menace of the Victorian era – scorchers.

Some Victorians went extraordinarily fast on their bicycles, often to the point of putting those around them in danger.  These daring folks were popularly known as scorchers.

A Chief Constable, John Dunne, issued an order against scorchers in 1891.

The problem of ‘furious riding,’ was, he said, that the excessive speed of these machines caused accidents to other road users and frightened animals.

The police were told to charge cyclists who exceeded 8mph when passing other road users or animals.

The police seemed to have rolled with it. very few charges brought against scorchers in Cumbria

The B Word

One letter to The Times in 1892 complained how on hill descents:


It is the practice of a number of them, spread out across the road, to rush down at headlong speed, more like a horde of Apaches or Sioux Indians, conches shrieking and bells going; and woe betide the luckless man or aught else coming in their way.


 Cyclists (and, presumably, scorchers) responded strongly to this, with Cycling resorting to using the B-word:


We have all met the kind of garrulous cycle hater who would pen such spiteful words as these, and we will simply say ‘Booh!’ to it.



In 1896 the satirical magazine Punch mocked anti-bicycle feeling in “New Rules for Cyclists”.

Under the heading, “What some people would like”: 


Every cyclist to be presumed in all legal proceedings to be a reckless idiot, and on the wrong side of the road, unless he can bring conclusive evidence to the contrary.




Nobody to cycle without a license, issued by the Governor of Newgate, after a fortnight’s strict examination (on bread and water) in elementary mechanics, advanced hydrostatics and riding on the head down an inclined plane.




When a cyclist on any road sees, or has reason to believe that he might see if he chose to look, any horse, cart, carriage, gig or other vehicle, or any pedestrian approaching, he (or she) to instantly dismount, run the machine into the nearest ditch, and kneel in a humble and supplicating attitude till said horse, cart &c., has got at least a mile away.


Under things “All cyclists would like”, Punch described this cyclist’s ridiculous pipe dream: 


Cyclists to be given a special track on all the roads, quite half the width of the thoroughfare, and well asphalted.


Happy Bike to Work Day.  Don’t be a scorcher!

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