I was reading this article
today about the history of cycling in the 19th century. As many people would know, bicycles did not really take off until the mid 1890s with the invention of the modern safety bicycle... as opposed 'ordinary', 'penny farthing' bicycle which was largely built for the purpose of racing and was considered anything but 'safe'. Anyway, public attitudes towards cyclists were often extremely negative. Bicyclists were referred to as "Scorchers
" because of their blazing speed. In an attempt to reshape public attitudes towards cyclists and ensure more civility on the roads the idea of "the bicycle gymkhana" was invented to give cycling a respectable public image (sound familiar?). I guess the gymkhana was like an ancient form of bike-ed and possibly a prelude for modern forms of driver education. Here's a little quote from the article:
"the bicycle gymkhana, a bicycling tournament based on the equestrian form and organized around the idea of the bicycle and bicycling as both ornament and responsible recreation. The domestic civility of the bicycle gymkhana contrasted vividly with typical urban and anti-domestic uses of the bicycle, notably scorching or speed-riding, a supposedly careless form of bicycling that made the bicycle a delinquent contributor to the traffic snarls and accidents of the modern city, rather than a potential alleviator of urban chaos. With flowers, parading, music, polite behaviour and mannered athleticism, the gymkhana domesticated a modern technology inclining toward public irresponsibility.
... good reasons were believed to exist to warrant the domestication of the bicycle, a major one being the anti-domestic tendencies of bicyclists, usually male, to treat the bicycle as a medium for conspicuous machismo and careless public behaviour. Irresponsible male bicyclists scorched thoughtlessly and without constraint through city streets. In contrast to the anti-domesticity of street bicycling, domestic bicycling demonstrated responsible – domesticated – bicycling to a city and society perceived to be losing its bourgeois way. Boosters of domestic bicycling chided unthinking women bicyclists for fashion miscalculations that putatively rendered their appearance on bicycles culturally dangerous. However, the relatively genteel and affected bicycle gymkhana could counterbalance indecorous riding in the streets."
'Bicycle Gymkhana' from Getty Images