Lest we forget cyclists were active members of our armed forces

Plaque reading: The Great War 1914-1919William Clarke a keen cyclists and War Historian assisted in finding this ‘Journal of the Royal United Service Institution’ ‘1901 vol. 1’ – The Cycle in Warfare – a lecture given by Capt. A. H. Trapmann. Hope you enjoy the read (as only part of the lecture notes).

During the ensuing decade cycling became general amongst the civilian population throughout the country, and was no longer considered a sign of crankiness or misplaced enthusiasm. The cycle, however, was still an expensive luxury; it had not yet become an economic necessity to the masses. The result was that men with means or leisure invested in cycles. Many of these happened to be members of Volunteer Infantry Regiments; thus cycling sections sprang into existence throughout the Volunteer Force. But the cycle was still too expensive an item to be indulged in by the men of the Regular Army. The hire – purchase system had not yet come into vogue.

I want you to consider the case of the class of men from whom our Territorial Cyclist Battalions are recruited. The vast majority of them are well educated clerks with a fair percentage of skilled mechanics and tradesmen. These men in every -day life practically live on their cycles. Wet or fine they cycle up to business from their homes. In London the distance is generally a matter of five or six miles each way with plenty of traffic to contend with. Consider that to them expertness in cycling means so many extra minutes in bed of a morning; so much additional time to themselves on their return at night.

Not only is their cycle their principal means of conveyance, but in most cases it is their chief source of relaxation. In my own Battalion we have scores of men who average 40 or 50 miles a day a – wheel; men who, when they go away for a week – end to the sea in Essex or on the South Coast, never dream of going by train; men who think nothing of taking a spin round Windsor Park before they start off to business in the City, just to keep themselves fit.

The average gentleman only uses his bicycle as a means of transit for short distances, and is usually content to go round by the road; but the man who looks upon his bicycle as other men look upon their horse is not content to confine his cycling to the roads–he rides it over all sorts of country. Consider the value of this man when he is especially trained to ride over rough country, as is the case when he becomes a Territorial Cyclist. Personally, I can assure you after eighteen years’ experience in many countries, including the mountains of Wales and Spain and the delta and deserts of Egypt, that there are uncommonly few spots on the face of the earth where a good cyclist cannot ride. Even ploughed fields are rideable if you go with the furrow, and fields of standing grain, maize and clover invariably have negotiable tracks through them. It must be remembered that a track five or six inches wide is amply sufficient.

Not only does this question of expertness a-wheel affect speed and render cross-country riding possible, but men who ride continually acquire great mastery over their machines, great rapidity in mounting and dismounting; facility in finding cover for themselves and their cycles. But I have not yet completed my definition of the trained cyclist.

Drawn as he is from the best of the middle classes, he is very quick at assimilating information. An endeavour is made to teach every man at least as much about scouting as is learnt by the trained scouts of infantry battalions; in addition to this, special men are chosen to undergo further instruction of a more advanced and technical nature. Add to these qualifications the fact that the great majority of the men are athletic, and when not cycling are wrestling, boxing, rowing, or playing football, and you will have a fair idea of my definition of a trained cyclist.

It may also perhaps be of interest to note that the great majority of cyclists are practically teetotallers. As an example I may state that the battalion to which I belong, during the fortnight it was in camp, although there were 340 men under canvas, only managed to consume 18 gallons of beer.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing


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