Fancy Cycling by Isabel Marks

Fancy Cycling

Circa 1900 the world was in the grip of a bicycle craze that inspired athletic feats and social change. And yes, what would a bicycle craze be, without a few tricks?

Fancy Cycling: Trick Riding for Amateurs by Isabel Marks was published in 1901 and brought a peculiarly Edwardian sobriety to something that might have been a lot of fun. Thankfully, Old House Books in the UK have re-issued this fine work in a beautiful cloth-bound hardback for our edification and entertainment.

Isabel Marks was the author and she aims to “give an account of the many graceful, daring, and altogether fascinating feats which may be accomplished by any rider possessed of an ordinary amount of nerve”. From the marvellous photos throughout the book it is apparent that besides an ‘ordinary amount of nerve’ a poker face was also required. Divided into chapters addressing basics such as coasting, riding hands-free and the track stand, Fancy Cycling then moves on to more complicated tricks such as balancing on the saddle, skipping on the bike, riding backwards and balancing a poirot from a bar between two riders. Because who wouldn’t?.

It is interesting to note the number of women engaged in tricks in preposterous skirts and corsets. If you thought the trackstand belonged to the impatient roadie or urban messenger then think again. Here it is the domain of a little girl in petticoats. Modern bike polo players may well recognise some of the swings practised to slice heads from posts and could there be anything more practical for winter riding than the ability to knit and ride?

We’re looking forward to mastering everything in Fancy Cycling, especially the Butterfly Dance, and expect to see a complete renaissance in ‘fancy’ tricks out on the roads any day now!

Fancy Cycling 1901 by Isabel Marks is published by Old House Books June 2013.