ITV’s The Cycle Show has been getting a hammering on social media. Some cycle advocates take the programme to task for featuring too many “niche” events, such as L’Eroica Britannia, and author Simon Warren labouring up Winnats Pass. Likewise, at Q&A screenings of Bicycle, the 90-minute film documentary, audience members have taken a pop at the director for including a greal deal of “niche” cycling (for “niche” read “sport”) and not enough “mainstream” cycling.
One person’s “mainstream” in another person’s “niche”, of course, and it’s pretty much impossible to please everybody. At the end of the day, programmes like The Cycle Show and films like Bicycle, are forms of entertainment, they’re not party political broadcasts.
There were similar gripes aimed at the Yorkshire Grand Depart of the Tour de France, with complaints that TV coverage of men in Lycra wearing polystyrene lids and riding lightweight carbon bikes would do for transport cycling what Formula 1 does for driving to work – diddly squat.
I’m not entirely sure what the complainers want from the broadcast media. A TV series featuring wall-to-wall die-ins and demands for separated cycle infrastructure? OK, I’d watch it, but would a car-driving audience? Populist, lowest-common-denominator TV tends to pitch supposed polar opposites against each so – instead of nuanced arguments about why cycle infrastructure would be win-win the usual slop we’ve given is along the lines of BBC’s “The War on Britain’s Roads” which pitched motorists and cyclists against each other as though they were two tribes.
I’ll watch anything with bikes in it – BMX, DH racing, bicycle polo, Joff Summerfield’s penny farthing descent into Death Valley, the road national championships, John Bishop’s Australia, messenger races, a programme about Beryl Burton, a business profile of Brompton.
I’m a roadie who tours on a mountain bike and takes my unicycle to Go Ride taster sessions on a cargo bike. In the 1980s I used to (cheekily) slipstream behind Mike Burrows in 10 mile time trials when he was testing out his first carbon monocoque aero frames. Mike might be a go-faster guru, responsible for Giant’s Compact Road concept that everybody else copied, but he rides to work on his heavy, un-aero, utilitarian 8Freight.
Cycling is an incredibly broad church and, just like with any religion, there are schismatic sclerotic individuals who will try to tell you their particular position is the One True Faith. It’s great that they’re zealous about their speciality but, really, claiming primacy may impress acolytes but it isn’t very accommodating to pluralism.
My academic background is in the study of religions (early Christianity to be exact – I don’t just look like the Archbishop of Canterbury I can debate like him, too) and I reckon there’s an awful lot of religiosity knocking around in cycling, with those who espouse moderate positions often damned as heretics. (Earlier this year, one of the most single-minded of the eschatological thought-leaders told me I was “in the way of mass cycling in the UK”.)
Apparently, the Christian God will forgive murder, incest and rape but won’t forgive non-belief: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus is reported to have said, “people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” There’s another part of this paragraph in the Gospel of Mark that’s more rational, and more practical: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Instead of knocking TV programmes and film documentaries that feature certain cycling specialities but not others, let’s celebrate cycling in all its glorious and myriad forms.
Pic is crop of a stained glass roundel of the Canon Walter Herbert Marcon on his bike in the St Peter & St Paul’s Church in Edgfield Norfolk, by Evelyv Simak.