Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01The Most Civilised Conveyance2011020720180528 (BBC7)
20180529 (BBC7)
The 19th century velocipedes were heavy, slow and expensive before an English engineer James Starley developed the high bicycle or penny farthing which overcame the difficulties of gearing and weight. Although these 'high bicycles' were dangerous and unstable they were eagerly taken up by fashionable young men who formed cycle clubs and took to the open road with gusto.

In the 1880's the safety bike arrived, it was very similar to the bikes of today, with a chain drive and smaller wheels anyone who could afford it could easily ride. The women who defied the dress codes of the day to ride in culottes or bloomers contributed to the emerging movement for women's suffrage and liberation.

Artists, musicians and writers found inspiration on two wheels and the socialist Clarion Cycle Club cycled to spread their message. Then, in World War One, cycle battalions went to France with bikes adapted to carry kit and rifles to the front. Between the wars mass production delivered bikes cheap enough for everyone and fuelled by the outdoor and fitness movements cycling entered into a golden age, the working classes now had the freedom of the open road.

After the war people once again took the road in freedom on the only transport available in the years of frugality. The 1960's brought prosperity, mass car ownership and a fascination with modernity and speed that didn't include cycling and bikes were left unused and rusting in garden sheds. Then a group of young people in California developed the mountain bike and again cycling became fashionable. A fashion for fitness was back on the agenda and there were the added incentives to reduce pollution and congestion in cities and seek more environmentally friendly ways of getting about. Today the bicycle is once again in the ascendency.

Presenter: Martin Ellis

Producer: Simon Evans
A Pier Production for BBC Radio 4.

From the beginning the bicycle has been far more than just a means of transport.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

02Faster Than Legs2011020820180529 (BBC7)
20180530 (BBC7)
Martin Ellis explores how Victorian ingenuity allowed the evolution of the bicycle.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

03British Genius2011020920180530 (BBC7)
20180531 (BBC7)
The development of the safety bicycle allowed the wealthier classes to take to the road.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

04Politics, Liberation And Emancipation2011021020180531 (BBC7)
20180601 (BBC7)
How the bicycle became a tool for political pioneers, from suffragettes to socialism.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

05The Open Road2011021120180601 (BBC7)
20180602 (BBC7)
Martin Ellis catches up with famous early cyclists Edward Elgar and Vaughn Williams.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

06Cycling Soldiers2011021420180604 (BBC7)
20180605 (BBC7)
How the bicycle was used in war, when thousands signed up to join cyclist battalions.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

07Between The Wars2011021520180605 (BBC7)
20180606 (BBC7)
How mass produced bicycles brought freedom of the road to the working classes in the 1930s

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

08Frugal Years2011021620180606 (BBC7)
20180607 (BBC7)
How the bicycle thrived during wartime, leading to a golden age of cycling in the 1950s.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

09Rise And Fall2011021720180607 (BBC7)
20180608 (BBC7)
How increasing prosperity and car ownership challenged the bicycle's popularity in the 60s

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle

10Renaissance2011021820180608 (BBC7)
20180609 (BBC7)
How innovations in design and changing social tastes mean the bike is back in fashion.

Martin Ellis presents a history of the bicycle