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Tuesday 20th September 2016:

Speaker Bob Goodall Early Cycling 1869 to Present Day

Bob Goodall is a retired civil servant and a Member of Guisborough Probus Club. His talk was based on a dissertation he submitted for his MA at Teesside University. He gave us many interesting insights into social history in the North East.

In the early days of cycling, Greater Teesside, and Middlesbrough in particular, were hotbeds of cycling. The sport was enjoyed by all classes, with ironstone miners, teachers and butchers, for example having societies. It was very popular throughout the country. It was observed in London that 'no-one is so poor as not to be able to buy a bike'. In Dorset where agricultural wages were low, many labourers owned a bike. Although locally ironstone miners and railwaymen worked long hours, coal miners in Durham worked a 35 hour week and shop workers benefited from early closing days, giving them leisure time. The sport generated a lot of interest and race results were reported in the local and specialised press.

Early cyclists formed clubs in Liverpool in 1869, Bradford in 1874 and Darlington in 1876. By 1878 South Durham had 7 clubs. The membership of the early clubs was small. Middlesbrough started with 3 members in 1877 and Stockton in 1878 with 8. Clubs rules were standardised to a large extent. Typical were that each cycle had to have a bell and lamp, members should not bring the club into disrepute and there should be no intoxication. Club officers were the captain, his deputy, a secretary and a bugler. Clubs had uniforms which typically were grey with club badges. It was common for the subscription rates to be set at 5 shillings to keep out the hoi polloi. Most towns and villages had at least one club by the mid 1880s. By 1895, everybody seemed to be racing - Middlesbrough had 22 clubs.

Cycling was frequently in the public eye. Cyclists' appearances in court were reported in the press. Riding on footpaths was not allowed, but the roads were in a poor state, being dusty, muddy, covered with manure and potholed. Disputes between the police, farmers and cyclists were common. Innkeepers welcomed new guests who ate and drank heartily. Clubs sort acceptability and prestige by inviting local dignitaries such as ironmasters and mayors to be members. Road racing was discouraged. Guisborough, Eston and Stockton all held races in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Portable tracks were used in the early days. Many local councils did ban road racing, but they were allowed in Tyneside and Suffolk.

Betting was not allowed, but the ban proved impossible to enforce. Sunday cycling was also contentious. Races were for both amateurs and professionals, but amateurs were not allowed to race against the pros.

Development of pneumatic tyres altered the sport for ever. It was no longer the preserve of hardened young men. The respectable image of temperance and religious clubs attracted women members in the 1890s. By the end of the decade, 25% of Cyclist Touring Club applications were from women. The more conservative clubs resisted this change, but clubs did become more democratic with time. However, in the early 1900s, membership declined. WW1 killed off many clubs, but some survived. Stockton Wheelers are 100 years old this year. There was another boom during the austerity following World War 2, but by the mid 1960s, cycling was again a minority sport.

Technological change has continued with carbon fibre and titanium taking over from steel and aluminium as materials for the frame.