The Man Machine

It seems that everyone is riding a bike these days. I read recently read that Alan Sugar has been seen on a £9,000 Pinarello equipped with the new 11 speed Campagnolo Super Record groupset, seriously I’m not pulling your leg! What with George Bush, David Cameron, Boris Johnson and even Philip Glenister (out of Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars) taking to two wheels it seems cycling is finally catching on. I didn’t really know what to make of this though, after all cycling is cool and I’m not sure that Sir Alan and David Cameron will encourage people to pop a leg over a top tube and take up our beloved sport. For proper coolness we should be looking to the world of music.

For those who have been around for some time like me they may remember the German band Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk were the pioneers of electronic music, and arguably modern dance music, they were certainly cool, well at least cooler than Sir Alan Sugar. It is often said that cycling is the perfect combination of man and machine, both aesthetically and bio mechanically, I don’t know who often says this, me probably. Anyway I digress; Kraftwerk released an album called the Man Machine in the late 1970’s. It was often assumed that they were talking about men being consumed by technology and ultimately becoming mechanised. This may well have been true and their live performances at the time certainly suggested this as they pioneered electronic music and even replaced themselves with robot replicas on one tour. What they may have been talking about though was bikes. They later released a track called Tour De France which was used by Channel 4 for its coverage of the tour in the 1980’s. They even formed their own cycling club called Radsportgruppe Schneider and sometimes refused to give interviews to music journalists unless they agreed to talk only of cycling. Their obsession grew and grew and this eventually led to two of the band leaving as they were fed up with sitting around the music studio doing nothing while the others preferred to concentrate on riding the major climbs of the Tour and the Giro. It nearly ended in tragedy when founder member Ralf Hutter ended up in a coma after a pretty bad crash, his first words when he came round were famously ‘how’s my bike?’

As you may have guessed I have just read a book on Kraftwerk. The bits on cycling got me thinking about other bands and musicians who are cycling obsessives. Scottish Indie band the Delgados removed all doubt of their influences by releasing albums called Peleton and Domestiques. I also remember liking a band in the late 1990’s who were called Campag Velocet, when I went to see them live the singer was wearing a cycling top. Although impressed I did wonder about the dangers of naming yourself after a groupset, Shimano 105 or Campag Centaur really doesn’t work, although Campag Chorus clearly has potential in a musical sense. Other bands who also wore cycling attire were Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and the Age of Chance. The problem here is that they are relatively minor bands who most of you have never heard of, so I looked further. How about Duffy? In one of her recent videos she rides in on a retro single speed, possibly fixed, machine looking quite fantastic. Never looking fantastic, at least I don’t think so, is Mick Jagger. However credit where it’s due, Mick is a famous and long term cycling fan and rides a Condor apparently. Another notable mention goes to Sheryl Crow, who as well as going out with Lance became a keen cyclist while doing so, saying that neither Sheryl nor Mick let cycling influence their music, shame on them.

Sadly there are also two cycling rock deaths and both female at that, Mary Hansen who was guitarist and singer out of cult 90’s band Stereolab and Nico who sung with Lou Reed’s band the Velvet Underground both died as a result of cycling accidents.

I will end though with Jimmy Savile, not a pop star as such but a rather scary figure who hosted Top of the Pops as well as ‘fixing it’ for people during the 1980’s. Before he started to run marathons in gold lame suits he actually rode the Tour of Britain in 1951. As if this were not enough one website entry credits him with holding a roller racing record although it doesn’t go into any more detail, Bryan Bevis would certainly approve!

Paul Christon – May 2009

Posted on May 10, 2009, in Article. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Man Machine.

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