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Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Bicycle’

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Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Bicycle’

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Vintage Bike Rider

December 2nd, 2014

I admire the creation of this film. Cycling is a fantastic pastime and method of transport, as I’m sure readers of this blog will agree. Bringing together the various elements and aspects of the entire history of cycling is no small undertaking, nor is presenting it in a digestible 90 minute format.

Bicycle was made possible by an Indiegogo campaign which was successfully funded in January this year. To my knowledge this is only one of a few crowdfunded film I’ve seen, and it’s an interesting facet of the viewing experience. The implied support of the 167 funders (including cycling clubs and educational trusts) as well as the sponsors and supporters below is phenomenal: this is a cross section of the forefront of cycling promotion and engagement across the country, which speaks volumes about the film’s mission.

BicycleBicycle sponsors

The film starts with some lovely quotes about cycling.

It lets you “go where you damn well feel like”, “adds colour and fun to life”, let’s you “feel part of a place” and is “beautifully elegant”.

Evocative language that brings forth imagery of freedom and pleasure: feelings that most people watching the film will already associate with cycling (probably one of the reasons they have sought it out).

Various aspects of cycling are explored: the development of the machine, its impact on social attitudes, policy accompanying the spread (and later reduction) in its popularity, competitive events, and as a utilitarian tool. Racers, gardeners, inventors, mayors, commuters, parents and children are interviewed. Numerous stories are told concurrently and there’s a lot going on to the point that sometimes the flow feels interrupted: a clip of a gardener pulling her bike up to a house and starting work is never addressed again, nor is a clip of a young lad whose three wheel bike gives him the freedom to explore. It seems like perhaps the creators felt obliged to leave them in without exposition, which is a shame because their stories were no doubt interesting.

This leads me to wonder whether Bicycle would have worked better as a series of shorter documentaries, each focussing on one aspect of the history and development of cycling. (I caught myself clockwatching at some points).


Bicycle’s main strengths are its ability to extract the most interesting parts of the stories people tell and to raise some intriguing questions about the future of cycling. An example of the former is learning of the reasoning behind Sustrans’ initial request for £42 million in funding (“it’s the answer for the meaning of life, the universe and everything in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”); the latter when Mike Burrows explained that before his, no major developments had been made in bicycle design for 100 years. It is an interesting state of affairs that a field can become stuck in a collective rut that people do not realise there are still developments to be made. That the ‘safety bicycle’ design was so strong that most of its elements persevered untouched for 100 years blows my mind. It makes you wonder which potential improvements the future holds.

Also of interest is the imagery that the stories conjour up. “Weaving in and out of traffic [on a bike] is like surfing”, we’re told. “When I’m holding my handlebars, I feel like I’m holding my best friend’s hand”. These poetic snippets are a welcome takeaway when the overarching narrative of the documentary can be hard to digest in one go.

The film ended with footage of a kid learning to ride, complete with the iconic first fall after daddy letting go: an image seared into the brain of every cyclist as a vital and formative part of the cycling journey. I can’t decide if its inclusion is cliché or charming (although I’m leaning to the latter).

As “a humorous, lyrical and warm reflection on the bicycle and cycling and its place in the British national psyche”, which the film describes itself as, it performs excellently. It had initial support and has since received rave reviews from an incredible range of people and organisations. A personal niggle though, is that as a piece of positive propaganda for cycling to win over the non-initiated, it may fall a bit short.

Don’t take my word for it though, check it out for yourself:

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