This Darlington Media Group project started with a question: “Why do British girls stop cycling?” The resultant film, Beauty and the Bike, goes some way to answering this.
A group of teenage girls from Darlington in County Durham are given Dutch cruiser-style bikes, then filmed over a period of months as they become more used to the idea of riding as both a casual and regular pastime, rather than something sporty and fundamentally un-girly.
They’re taken to Bremen, where some 25 percent of daily journeys are made by bike, and meet their German counterparts, for whom bicycles are much more a way of life.
The exposure to contemporaries who ride and yet still look ‘cool’, and to well planned and executed cycle paths, gives the girls confidence and a glimpse at what riding could be like. Sadly the reality of cycle paths and routes back home in Darlington, and the attitudes of car drivers, make for much harder work.
The general message of this easy-to-watch film is that the main hurdle in encouraging young women to stay cycling as they grow up is the failure of the infrastructure that supports urban cycling.
While this is clearly an important issue, it isn’t the only problem. One concern that is voiced time and time again is that cycling just isn’t perceived as ‘cool’, accessible or appealing by 16-year-old girls.
Cycling needs to become sufficiently commonplace in Britain for it not to be considered ‘sporty’ or ‘hardcore’. There’s an element of taking ourselves too seriously and removing the fun from the sport.
It’s quite telling that none of the girls in the film refers to herself as a ‘cyclist’ and yet each and every one of them speaks fondly of her bike and the riding experience, even in the challenging environment of home.
Maybe a combination of improved cycle paths, better road safety and a more relaxed and nonchalant view of cycling, more akin to that on the Continent, will get more girls out on bikes. We can but hope.
Beauty and the Bike is available from Darlington Media Group and www.BikeBeauty.org on DVD for £14. You can watch a teaser below. A book following the project is also being released.