It is just before midnight, the Saturday before Christmas and I am sitting here in semi-rural Mid-Ulster, while Ugo de Rosa is on my television talking about the days of Merckx and Motta. In a few minutes a programme about cycling and surfing in New Zealand will replace the founder of the de Rosa brand and an hour after that, coverage of a four stage MTB race will fill my screen. This has been a revelation since my late night viewing in the (road) off season normally focuses on episodes of Family Guy repeated for the 90th time that month and BBC Four documentaries but an accidental discovery at work has changed things.
I happened to be on the Cycling Weekly website watching a video on the calories in various types of alcohol for an initiative I am doing as part of my job (it is a minor talent I have managing to shoehorn cycling in everywhere!) when I spotted a link to another story about a cycling channel being launched. Not expecting much, I clicked into the story, assuming you would have to pay extra for whatever they were offering. I made a quick note- "464" - on the back of my hand and got back to doing what I was being paid to do.
When I got home I was pleasantly surprised to see the channel "Bike" was there and broadcasting. Now I have an embarrassing thing to admit. I really detest Murdoch, his media outlets and the power he exerts in this world but Sky was the only option we had for TV and Internet when we moved into our house (note the semi-rural description at the start) so I have to hold my nose until a better option comes along- but I digress.
I first checked to see if this was actually 24 hour programming- even my favourite channel BBC4 only starts at 7pm and it has a wider scope than any cycling specific offering. But yes-any time day or night, flick on to 464 and there will be someone on two wheels in some manner or other. Of course it is all well and good putting our programming on a constant basis- but is any of it worth watching?
It is early days but it seems that all manner of velocists are catered for. "Cycling with Filippa" for example is based on a Swedish TV presenter who lives in Italy following cyclo-tourist trails and stopping off at various museums, factories etc. The bike in this regard is more a conveyance than the star, but I must say I am now better informed as to the processes behind how Italians make pipe organs for churches and cathedrals. It is kind of Wish You Were Here without an orange glow emanating from the presenter. However other shows have included ex-pros taking on some iconic climbs, documentaries from bike manufacturers such as North Shore, coverage of the Race Around Ireland and more. There are also the cheaply shot MTB shows which seem more made for You Tube than TV viewing- the ones where the same jumps and sections are shown from about twenty different angles, quick cuts and some inoffensive faux-metal music in the background- basically giving credence to Frank Lloyd Wright's "chewing gum for the eyes" comment. Yeah, some of the skills are impressive but this format is now so common it is almost a parody of itself- at least the likes of Danny MacAskill and ,previously, Martyn Ashton try to move it on a bit.
Overall the channel package does have a touch of the homemade about it-some of the dubbing (especially in the already mentioned "Cycling With Filippa") brings up memories of how 1990s cult Channel 4 show Eurotrash used to do it. But it kind of feels good not to be so polished- more a Conti team than World Tour in terms of production and the simple fact is we now have bikes on screen. Not just the few weeks in the summer where ITV shows "The Cycle Show" but any time we want. Will Bike be showing races live- especially those like Tro Bro Leon that don't get the coverage of other races? I don't know but would love to see that happening-it could help it really establish itself as the go to spot for cyclists, and the advertisers would then follow- Rapha already have a number of adverts running on the channel- will we soon be seeing Nibali and Basso cooking up Sidi shoes or having that music from the Tour d' Azerbaidjan running through our heads for the rest of the day?