British Pathé, which traces its roots back to 1896 and through its newsreels documented all aspects of life throughout most of the 20th Century, has uploaded 85,000 films to YouTube this week – and many of them are to do with cycling.
Here’s a selection of some of the ones we’ve been looking at. Be sure to look at the ‘about’ description of each clip for background and in some cases a link to the British Pathé website where you can find longer versions of some of the clips.
We'll start with a topical one. Over the holiday weekend, the SCCU Good Friday meeting, founded in 1903, was held not at London’s last surviving venue from the 1948 Olympic Games, Herne Hill Velodrome, but for the first time at one of the iconic structures from 2012 – the Velodrome at the Lee Valley VeloPark. Here’s some footage of the Good Friday meeting at a packed Herne Hill in 1952.
Here’s a couple of films about bikes that were innovative when they were launched. Moulton has stood the test of time, the Donkey Bike from Germany less so. You’ll note that even back in the 1960s, bikes were seen as a solution to traffic congestion.
Remember that video from a couple of weeks ago shot by a York cyclist who took riders to task for riding through red lights, undertaking cars, and other examples of what he saw as irresponsible riding? Well, here’s a film in a similar vein from 1936 – all of 78 years ago. Even back then, it seems that cars were seen as ruling the road, even though "road tax" would be abolished the following year partly to disabuse motorists of that notion.
There’s plenty of videos on YouTube these days of cyclists doing stunts, but not many from the 1940s. Here’s Marie Wilson performing at the London Palladium in 1941, including squeezing herself through her bike’s frame (we haven't seen Danny MacAskill do that) plus a priceless voiceover line as she spins the handlebars – “She must be thinking of Hitler’s neck.”
There’s a wealth of race footage in there, too. Here’s Tommy Simpson winning the 1963 edition of Bordeaux-Paris. At 560km, the latter half of the race was motor-paced behind a derny. It was the first British victory since 1896 - the year Pathé was founded in the French capital.
If you find any other cycling-related films on British Pathé's YouTube channel that you think deserve a wider audience, please let us know in the comments below.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.