This Saturday sees the fifth annual staging of the Tweed Run, in London. Riders will be entertained by the legendary, 1960s-vintage Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and judged on sartorial elegance by tailors on Saville Row, who come out en masse to watch the 500 riders roll by. This year’s chosen charity is CTC, which was once a very tweedy organisation.
In 1878, the uniform of the newly-formed Bicycle Touring Club – forerunner to CTC – was meant to consist of “dark green Devonshire serge jacket, knickerbockers, Stanley helmet with small peak, and Cambridge grey stockings.”
Not all members were in favour of this proposed colour combination. One critic wrote:
“I must say that grey stockings with green uniform will look absolutely hideous. Why not all dark green?”
All dark green was duly adopted and H Goy of Leadenhall Street, London, was appointed the club’s official tailor (there were also official CTC tailors in most towns and cities throughout the UK; today, of course, there’s Dashing Tweeds, as used by the always dapper Gary Fisher). However, dark green showed “every spot of dirt” and “looked shabby” so the colour was changed in 1882 to “fast-dyed all-wool grey cloth, washable without injury.”
Not all members liked the fact there was only one uniform. In the mid-1880s a member said:
“even in the CTC, class distinctions existed and no amount of Club feeling will annihilate them.”
The member did not think that “baronets should be called upon to wear the same uniform of bricklayers.”
In the 1880s and 1890s this was, largely, an irrelevant point. Most cyclists were middle or upper class, bicycles were for the rich. It was only after the end of the Bicycling Boom – at the very end of the 19th century – that a great many affordable bicycles came on the secondhand market, toff cast-offs.
The British Library holds a copy of Cyclists’ Touring Club’s Uniform rules & regulations, London, 1888. This small pamphlet – coincidentally produced in the ‘Year of Jack the Ripper’ – offers a chance to see and touch what kind of all-wool clothing members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club rode in. Eminently sensibly, the pamphlet remarks that none of the official garb contained cotton. Modern outdoors people know that cotton absorbs and holds sweat, chilling the wearer.
However, the CTC’s E.R. Shipton, club secretary and who wrote the uniform guide, described the act of perspiring and the advisability of use of wicking fabrics far more prosaically: “cotton [is a] material which is a fatal stumbling block to the proper discharge of the bodily functions when undergoing fatigue.”
The uniform – complete with official “helmets”, would you believe – was officially abandoned by the Cyclists’ Touring Club in 1907.