The Bicycle – the complete BBC series, David Taylor (1990)

A well-made and insightful series of television programs on all aspects of cycling

York Films/BBC six programmes of 20 minutes £15.99

For years I have wondered why no one had thought of making a television programme about cycling. As it turns out, they had, and missed it. Not only that, but it is a really well-considered piece of television, that is worth watching even 20 years after its original broadcast.

The story of each programme is narrated over archive, stock and specially made-footage from Europe, the US and the far east. The division of material is imaginative – history, new developments, the free spirits involved in cycling, manufacturing, advocacy and the Tour. And there is some great stuff here.

Interview footage includes: Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly, Greg LeMond, Mike Burrows, Bob Rodale, Beryl Burton, Richard Ballantine, Samuel Abts, Stephen Roche, Lucien Van Imp, Eddy Merckx and even Jacques Chirac – then mayor of Paris, . Unsurprisingly, some of it looks dated – but even where it does, it simply adds to the charm. The Merckx vs. LeMond ding dong is particularly entertaining.

Just occasionally it throws up a puzzler. LeMond, for example, earnestly explains that drugs in professional cycling is a thing of the past and that: “the riders are all for very strict drug controls.” Can he really have been so out of touch with the peloton?

It is also full of nice British touches. Marin County mountain bikes are the big story of recent developments, but the programme tips its hat to earlier rough-stuff riders. There is a clip about Sturmey Archer. And, a significant number of human powered vehicles and recumbents. The recreation of scenes of nineteenth century cyclists in the first programme are also very good. Perhaps because it is so steeped in British cycling activism, there is a slightly strait-laced air – but this is a small price to pay for the programs being so consistently on the money.

It is the work of any number of well-considered experts. Jim McGurn and John Pinkerton are cited as series consultants. Several other familiar names from the UK cycling scene have production credits. The main author, David Taylor, is a highly regarded film maker.

Copies are readily available from, and it can be rented from

If it left me with one question in my mind, it is this. What is it about the bicycle that so captivates, a certain proportion of the population – myself among them. There are plenty of stabs at answering this here, none of them, however, shook my feeling that there is something in some of our DNA that links us cyclists that is beyond rational explanation.

PS June 09

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