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.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.