Many aspects of cycling history and culture are accommodated: cycling as a sport is represented by the COI’s 1966 film “The Racing Cyclist”, a portrait of racer Barry Witcomb, and competitive cycling in general, through the eyes of a Caribbean artist. There’s an assortment of animated adverts from various manufacturers: “How a Bicycle is Made”, from 1947, does just that in remarkable detail, and there’s even an entry from the Open University, “The Moulton Bicycle”, with its creator explaining the development of the design – though somewhat dryly.
The centrepiece is “Skid Kids”, a highly polished and entertaining short feature from the Children’s Film Foundation, in which a London kids’ cycle racing club comes up against a gang of bike thieves (by the way, did real spivs all look like like Private Walker in those days?). It’s an outstanding example of kids’ matinee fare, notable for a high standard of acting from the young cast and lots of footage of postwar London, still riddled with bomb sites.
My personal favourites are the BFI films “Cyclists’ Special” from 1955, the days when British Rail laid on special trains to help city-dwelling explorers get out to the country with their bikes for a day, and “Cyclists Abroad” from 1957, which follows a cycling club out to Austria. To me these films are a timely reminder that cycling can be about getting out and seeing the country, or the world, with the added satisfaction of doing it under your own steam – not just about hardcore athleticism and lycra. This is the sort of thing that makes me want to dust off the bike – now where are my baggy shorts?
Review by Dennis Sisterson
On Yer Bike is out now on DVD