Trending: 'It's like Top Gear... without the tossers'
Last night ITV debuted a show dedicated solely to bike culture. It's further proof that we're in the midst of a 'cyc-geist', says Will Coldwell
It truly is a glorious time for cycling in Britain. Tour de France extraordinaire Bradley Wiggins is a national hero, Chris Hoy is a household name and Team GB's flag carrier at Friday's Olympic opening ceremony and the sport even has its very own poster girl in Victoria Pendleton.
And in this case the revolution, or rather revolutions, will be televised. With impeccable timing, and a touch of luck in the form of one particular yellow jersey, ITV4 last night launched a new bicycle magazine show, hoping to ride the wave of popularity the sport is currently enjoying.
The Cycle Show has a little bit for everyone. Those invited for chit-chat last night included Formula One racing driver Nigel Mansell, mountain bike pioneer Gary Fisher and Graeme Obree, "The Flying Scotsman" who is hoping to break the human-powered land-speed record. With TV-regulation friendly banter, mini-features and a regular "roller sprint challenge", this week between Fisher and Obree (who drew on Wiggins-style sideburns for luck), the producers have gone all out to take the niche to a wider audience. Yes, cycling is going mainstream and it seems those involved couldn't be happier.
"I keep telling people it's like Top Gear without the tossers," says Lewin Chalkley, one of the owners of Look Mum No Hands, the Shoreditch-based cycle café where the new TV show is set. "We're so excited about it."
One of the reasons Chalkley established Look Mum No Hands was to provide a café and bar environment for people to watch pro-tour cycling in the UK, something that has been common in countries like France and Belgium for decades. Now, he points out, they are showing it in pubs and the newly opened Rapha Cycle Club in Soho is yet another addition to the growing number of dedicated venues to watch the sport. With cycling as one of the most likely medal winners for Great Britain's 2012 Olympic team, ITV seems confident this trend will continue. With The Cycle Show on the air, there will now be a popular forum to discuss it. "This is something we've been working on for two years," Sharon Fuller, the show's executive producer, says. "We've been looking at a way to make cycling more accessible, so we've got guests on a sofa, mixing it up with celebrities with a side interest in cycling, as well as pro-cyclists themselves. There's such a nice community feel to cycling. In fact, since starting work on this programme more people in our office have started cycling to work than ever before."
But it isn't the first time ITV have produced a cycle chat show. Back in 1994, when cycling was going through its mountain bike boom, the channel ran a short series with a far punkier name; Chain Gang. So what's changed? "Ten years ago if you asked someone to name a cyclist they wouldn't be able to," Carlton Reid, executive editor of BikeBiz.com and a former presenter of Chain Gang, says. "Now they could probably reel off about three or four. The fact that Britain is so crap at other sports is also probably a good thing for cycling – it's one thing we're actually great at. There's no reason why it shouldn't get more popular."
As for the view that only cyclists watch cycling, Reid is confident that this will change. "There's much more to it from a spectator's point of view than watching skinny guys going fast in shorts – you can be a couch potato and still like cycling." Chalkley agrees: "I've only been watching it in recent years but there's so much to like about Tour – there's scandal, there's sex, there's everything. "
As for the presenter of this Top Gear for cyclists, Graham Little will be taking the lead, alongside Olympic medallist Rob Hayles, and cyclewear designer Anna Glowinski. "I'm nervous of comparisons with Top Gear," he says. "I'm much shyer than Jeremy Clarkson."
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