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Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Cyclists Special’

Cycling Blog

Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Cyclists Special’

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Cycling special

August 25th, 2015

A charming public service broadcast from 1955 which now acts as a time capsule showing that despite technological developments, our motivations for cycling have hardly changed.

The film begins with cyclists converging on Watford Junction station to catch the Cyclists’ Special, a train promising to whisk them away from London to an area more suited to scenic cycling:

Rugby Midland station


“Rugby? Who wants to go to Rugby?!”, the narrator aptly asks, before explaining that it’s the perfect hub for a ride visiting “Wooded Warwickshire, Sturdy Leicestershire, or Historic Northamptonshire”. 

Luggage tickets are distributed to the riders – “half to go on the bike, half to go in the pocket, so that there’ll be no arguments when the bikes are collected” – which they then appear to eat:

eating the ticket

It’s from a lovely era of film-making. Not only does the narrator celebrate the British character, but he also delves off on tangents into English history – at one point explaining the strained relationship between Charles I and Cromwell, and worrying what Cromwell would think of the cyclists’ casual, then-modern attire.

Incidentally, on the cyclists’ arrival our suspicions were confirmed: the riders stayed in their britches and shirts. Not a piece of lycra or specialised cycling gear in sight!

Cycling outfits


Amongst the twee commentary are insights into cycling that still hold true today. As the cyclists load their bikes into the train, the narrator explains that “a properly equipped touring cycle can be quite an expensive piece of machinery” and notes that “the owner of such a machine is inclined to be fussy about how it’s carried”, before listing the gear:

  • A special lightweight tailor-made frame
  • Aluminium rims
  • A dérailleur gear system, giving as many as ten different gears
  • Cantilever brakes
  • Dynamo lighting
  • Luggage panniers

We’re then shown the dining cart, which some thoughtful soul has including in the train. The narrator again quips that “most people, as soon as they get anywhere near a railway are suddenly attacked by pangs of insatiable hunger, or unquenchable thirst, or both. Especially if they’ve been up since seven o’clock. Especially on a Sunday morning. Especially if they’re cyclists“.

The relationship between cyclists and food is mentioned again later, where the obligations of the CTC’s earliest incarnation are introduced: “inducing hotel proprietors and other public caterers to study the requirements of the wheel-men, and to deal with them in a generous spirit”. This while the tired cyclists are all enjoying a pint:

Cyclists drinking a pint

Speaking of safe bikes and being well fed – these are the two concerns that are raised most on Ride25 cycling holidays!

The appeal of cycling remains the same. There is no city racket, you can rediscover companionship with all demographics, enjoy camaraderie (“the puncturee may get a ragging, but also gets help”), and discover new places on the way which “set you simmering, like home never could”.

And the film’s philosophising on cycling concludes with this nugget that we’re prone to sometimes forget:

“we cycle for pleasure, not penance”

The train is the natural companion to the touring cyclist. That said, it’s vaguely depressing that transport infrastructure was so much more receptive to cyclists 60 years ago than it is today!

The best thing about this film? You can watch it yourself, for free, on Youtube.

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