The litmus test of a livable town is the amount of women on bikes. So said cycle campaigner and film-maker Richard Grassick at the end of the premiere of Beauty and the Bike, a 55 minute documentary on a cycling project in the north east town of Darlington.
An eight minute clip from the film is a hit on YouTube, with 21,000 views in less than a fortnight. Bicycle advocates across the world have been tweeting and blogging about the clip and interest in the DVD of the movie came in from campaign groups in America as soon as the premiere was over.
The movie follows a group of teen girls as they rediscover cycling via an exchange programme with German teen girls from Bremen.
With a grant from the Department for Transport’s Local Motion project, and other sources including from the EU, the two groups of young women were able to spend time in each other’s towns.
The Darlington girls couldn’t believe how many people cycled in Bremen (the movie interviews a cycling judge who said she wasn’t unusual for cycling to court each day, her colleagues did so too) and the Bremen girls couldn’t understand why British drivers were so aggressive and wanted to go so fast near vulnerable road users.
Directed by Richard Grassick and Beatrix Wupperman, Beauty And the Bike (a name borrowed from a Sustrans project) followed the Darlington girls as they trialled a bike pool made up of Dutch style sit up and beg town bikes.
Heels were very much in evidence. In fact, local newspaper journalist Lauren Pyrah said it’s was far easier to cycle in heels than walk, so cycling was a practical way of getting about in heels.
The Dutch bikes were shown gliding through Darlington, which is one of Cycling England’s Cycle Demonstration Towns.
Next step for the project is to scale up the bike pool. 60 bikes are being supplied via cash provided by Bike Hub, the UK cycle industry levy scheme.
Velodarlo, the campaign behind Beauty and the Bike, was one of the winners of the New Ideas Fund, a Bike Hub funding project.
At the end of the premiere a Q&A session was held. One movie goer wanted to know why British bike shops didn’t stock the kind of Dutch bikes shown in the documentary.
Grassick fielded this question to bike shop owner Andy Shrimpton of Cycle Heaven in York.
"We sell those kind of bikes, so we’re not guilty," said Shrimpton but he ackowledged that most UK bike shops have been slow to offer bikes other than road bikes and mountain bikes.
A DVD of the movie – and an accompanying book – can be bought from the Beauty and the Bike website.