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Why do we like the things we like? The mechanisms that activate our affinities are often inscrutable, and part of the fun lies precisely there. It goes without saying that another positive aspect of our affinities is that most of them are not exclusive, but cumulative; there is usually an evident relation between them, but some times not quite so. Nevertheless, under seemingly distant fields, with ones having nothing to do with each other, we can find underlying common characteristics prone to particular sensitivities. In my case, and I’ve been told in many others as well, two predilections coexist in my day to day and I suspect they are not entirely unlinked. On the one hand, bicycles, cycling; on the other, songs, pop music. These days, with the Tour de France on-going, the balance should be inclined towards cycling. But far from being communicating vessels, one philia seems to encourage the other, so I’m quite at a loss here.

“Bicycles are a straight line towards childhood”, affirms French comic book author Didier Tronchet. Although the way in which we relate to this vehicle at 25, 40 or 60 can seem very different from when we were kids or teenagers, there is an essential side to it that connects them all: its enormous potential as an instrument to grant us freedom, its capacity to give us back a sense of playfulness that adults are deprived of between obligations and responsibilities. In other words, we are allowed to be children again. Another evidence of the link between childhood and bicycles appears when one ask non-cycling fans what does the Tour de France represent for them: their answers usually refer to the past, to childhood summer afternoons, to kids trapped in their houses after lunch, not allowed to get out on the streets and play on midsummer dog days.

On its part, pop or popular music also has, for good and for bad, a very strong link with the past. It finds inspiration on it to such an extent, at least in the last few years, that the most important trends are directly imported from past aesthetic movements. But the aspect I’m more interested in nowadays is the same I was referring to when talking about the bicycle world: the by no means irrelevant capacity of songs to resort to the past, to activate or generate memories, real or fictional. To act as a kind of Proustian madeleine, let’s say.

Bicycles, songs
and memories

by Borja Barbesà

Yves Montand dreams of bicycles

Thus, by fusing both fields, if what we try to do is to recover or at least evoke childhood and early adulthood’s paradise lost, then it isn’t strange that bicycles, cycling and its champions might be used as a recurrent song subjects. When Paolo Conte named one of his hits Bartali, the Italian champion had been retired for twenty-five years: he was, with Coppi’s exception, Conte’s childhood hero. Moving on to France, Yves Montand’s legendary song La Bicyclette tells the summer adventures on two wheels of a group of friends in love with the only girl in the gang: the bicycle as key object in relevant coming of age experiences. On a different note but with an eye and a half on the rear-view mirror, Les Poulidoors are a satirical punk-rock combo, with lyrics almost entirely devoted to cycling, named after good old Raymon Poulidor, eight times on the Tour de France podium during the sixties and seventies, but never on the first place. Their songs, which could be related to those of Los Nikis if we take their intentions into account, bear names of cyclists from different periods such as Virenque, Landis, Moncoutié or Indurain.

Bicycles, songs and memories – O Productora Audiovisual

Bikes and puberty: Mes petites amoureuses by Jean Eustache

Bicycles, songs and memories – O Productora Audiovisual

Top: Los lagos de Hinault Carlos Ynduráin and Matilde C. Tresca
Bottom: Bernard Hinault circa 1983

Miguelón (Indurain’s nick name) featured on many songs after his reign during the first half of the nineties. In this discussion, I think it might be relevant to highlight his appearance in the band from Barcelona Manel’s song Boomerang. In that song, his collapse in the Tour 1996 is used to contextualise a teenage memory of a time in which there was only one girl in the gang, like in the song by Montand. The name of the band of Carlos Ynduráin (yes, it’s a real surname, and yes, it’s well-written) and Matilde C. Tresca is a play on words with another childhood cycling hero: Los Lagos de Hinault refers to the lakes of Enol de Covadonga, in Asturias, which were first ascended during the Vuelta a España of 1983, won by Bernard Hinault.

It’s impossible to talk about the relationship between bicycles and music without mentioning Kraftwerk. If they published iconic 1983 single Tour de France was because Ralf Hütter in particular was (and is) a big fan of cycling and even capable (so the legend says) of asking their tour bus driver to leave him one hundred miles away from their destination to cover them on bike! This cycling fever humanises a musical project characterised by its penchant for robots and also proves that its members were too children once.

Bicycles, songs and memories – O Productora Audiovisual

Kraftwerk ‘s Tour de France live

If we travel now to the Anglo-Saxon world, we’ll see that although their fondness for cycling is relatively new, we can still find some cases of fandom in its pop tradition. From Motherwell, Scotland, were The Delgados, a notable band from the mid-nineties whose name paid tribute to Perico Delgado. By that time, Delgado was already retired, but maybe the Scottish youngsters had him inscribed on their minds since 1985 when he beat Robert Millar, the Scot who’s ever been closer to winning the Vuelta a España.

However, in Great Britain we should refer more to a tribe than to any band in particular: the mods. OK, if one thinks of them on two wheels, the first thing that comes to mind is a Lambretta, but lots of mods adore cycling. It might have to do with the aesthetic possibilities a bicycle and all its accessories (jerseys, caps…) can offer, but the truth is that they have promoted contemporary urban cycling, between retro and stylish. This topic has nothing to do with pop music and would undoubtedly need a whole different article by someone more versed on the topic than myself, but we cannot leave the subject without mentioning Bradley Wiggins: a self-confessed mod has won the Tour de France, set a new hour record and won gold in the time trial at the road world championships, while hanging around with Paul Weller or the Gallaghers in the meantime.

Wiggo’s case might leave us wondering the following: we talk about pop’s preference for bicycles, but what happens the other way around? Are cyclists interested in pop music? Well, I’m afraid that except on very rare occasions, not really, if we understand “being interested” as going beyond the mainstream. If someone still has any doubts as to the average aesthetic and cultural inclinations of elite sportsmen, they should read a magnificent article on the subject published on issue 40 of Mondo Brutto. It should be quite depressing, but it’s really hilarious.

Bicycles, songs and memories – O Productora Audiovisual

Top: the scottish band The Delgados
Bottom: Perico Delgado circa 1988

Bicycles, songs and memories – O Productora Audiovisual

Top: Paul Weller and Mike Talbot cycling in The Style Council My ever changing moods music video
Bottom: Paul Weller and Bradley Wiggins, mod fellowship