watch it for the next few days on ITV’s player.
Top Gear for bikes it certainly isn’t. The microbudgets of fringe TV see to that. No joshing MAMILs racing each other on butcher’s bikes down the Bolivian Road of Death here.
Instead what we got was a slightly awkward chat, filmed in the cut-price venue of London’s cool-cycle-cafe par excellence Look Mum No Hands, largely between affable presenter Graham Little and Nigel Mansell, F1-champ-turned-cyclist.
The world’s Second Greatest Living Manxman pronounced on the historic achievement of Sir Bradley, Team Sky, Cav (the First Greatest Living Manxman), and that wossname bloke who came second. He skipped through the gears of sofa-TV cliches - awesome, incredible, amazing... er... awesome – without ever managing to engage one of them.
Graeme Obree was also on the upholstery. I have a great affection for the clock-beating Scot, whose battle with demons - entertainingly portrayed on film - may be familiar to many of us.
His double-espresso exploration of the sofa space – often leaning forward to hear what was being said over the hubbub from the cafegoers behind – provided a nice counterpoint to Mansell’s instant-coffee blandness.
It was good to see footage of Obree’s latest speed bike, a contraption which looks frankly frightening. Though if you’ve stared down the abyss, as Obree has, then having mere high-speed tarmac two inches from your nose may feel relatively benign.
The special guest on the squashy seat for the second half was Gary Fisher, godfather of mountain biking, looking scarily like the magician-grandfather in a Disney flop.
He said some pleasantly positive things about not very much, and the programme ended with the bizarre sight of Obree and Fisher racing each other on sprint machines. Obree won, by a whisker, the way he glanced round near the end engagingly suggesting that he was ensuring victory over the plucky (and extremely fit) Mr F by only a small, diplomatic, margin. He’d even sported a pair of comedy Wiggo sideburns too: hats off, Graeme.
Their views on safety summed up the difference between Mansell and Obree. Always wear a helmet, said the now unmoustached one glumly. No: wobble a bit, suggested the animated Scot with a sly smile. Drivers will give you a much wider berth. Must say, I think that’s nearer the mark.
Anyway, two film reports complemented the coffee-table banter. A group of road bikers did the Box Hill circuit that’ll feature in the Olympics, half-heartedly giving us an idea of how basic racing tactics work; and a commuter gave us ‘safety tips’ for London. They were adequate as far as they went, which was just about up to the lights.
It’s easy to think of what they ought to be doing in the show. Where to go this weekend for a family spin; UK touring-route gems; news roundups on upcoming new routes, races, Skyrides and sportives; product reviews; a cycling YouTube top-ten each week, gathering up the best new helmetcam and other vids put up...
But such things need money, and the budget for producers Century TV must be as squeezed as a York cycle lane. Nevertheless, the first programme was like an energy bar when you need a sandwich: a well-meaning sugar rush that left an empty stomach.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that cycling is an outdoor thing; the opposite of sitting on a sofa and watching a telly programme with people sitting on a sofa. We got rather a lot of that and it didn’t always make for inspiring viewing.
I’m happy to give it another watch next week, it might well improve, and I’d like to think a weekly programme could become a must-watch for bike fans.
But cycling on TV is not an easy ask. The subcultures – commuting, racing, touring, weekend leisure etc – can have little crossover, and the only ad money is in flogging high-end road kit. Chain Reaction sponsor the series and good for them, but Century TV’s task in making the series is challenged by high expectations from a diverse and demanding audience, and tiny budgets.
But then, that didn’t stop Graeme Obree...