It's high time television started to take cycling seriously... - Independent Online Edition > Features:
Pity the research team at Cycling England, the charity set up to promote
the activity. They've just spent four weeks watching Britain's leading soaps, in
an effort to track the way cycling is portrayed as part of normal life on television - or if it is portrayed at all. Their conclusions won't come as a great surprise to anyone who cycles regularly, since riders are used to being thought of as misfits who have taken up some weird obsession.
In four weeks of watching EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks, the Cycling England researchers identified 95 lead characters. Only two of them were shown to own bikes (Mickey from EastEnders and Amy from Coronation Street). Of the four times lead characters were shown with bikes, viewers were hardly given the most positive image of cycling - the most noticeable way in which a bike featured was when poor old Stacey from EastEnders was mowed down by a rogue rider.
Given that three of the four shows are set in city locations, where all the figures suggest that cycling is booming, the lack of two wheels on the streets of the shows seems odd. Emmerdale characters, given the hilly location of the show, might be forgiven for being less inclined to ride regularly.
Does the lack of cycling on television in general and the soaps in particular matter? Well, yes, if you believe that what people watch on television influences how they behave in their own lives. Soap operas are meant to feature characters with whom viewers can identify - if the characters never ride a bike, it's less likely people will think about this form of transport.
Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England, certainly takes this view. It's no coincidence, he suggests, that 50 per cent fewer children cycle regularly compared with a generation ago - or that the UK has one of the lowest levels of cycle use in the European Union, in terms of the average mileage covered by bike by each citizen."The more cycling is portrayed as an everyday activity for normal people - on television and throughout the media - the more likely it is that the rest of us will feel more comfortable riding. If driving is always shown to be the default mode of ransport for Britons, it will continue to be so."