Cycling music tour de france

Tour de France theme

Yes – this one!

If you were into cycling in the UK in the 1980s you’ll be very familiar with the theme music to Channel 4’s cycling coverage. Their daily half hour dose of the Tour de France was what got me, and many others, into watching cycle racing – a love that persists almost forty years later.

Hearing that theme music still instantly slingshots me into a nostalgic reverie for those days, sending a corticosteroidal shiver down the back of my polka dot jersey and filling my oakley shades with emotion.

Everything about the theme music fascinated me. The insistent, driving rhythm. The beautifully poised synth sounds. The weird bendy bit at the end which magically transmogrifies into ‘Frėre Jacques’. Catchy, futuristic, clever. Brilliant.

Back in the days before the internet, I had no idea who was responsible for it. I don’t think it even crossed my mind. Later into my teens I got into ‘alternative’ music, in particular the Manchester post-punk scene which had originated in the 1970s with bands like Buzzcocks.

Years later I started hearing the rumour that Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks was responsible for the theme music. What the fuck? No way! Shelley’s wikipedia entry contains very little information – it just says: “He composed the theme music for the intro of the Tour de France on Channel 4,”

Here’s a fuller version of the tune in all it’s Fignon pomp and Le Mond glory:

It’s hard to piece together the story of exactly how the track came to be. But it definitely evolved somehow from the original Buzzcocks track ‘Give it to me’, via a much more synthy/New Order-ish version by Zip, a short-lived Shelley band/project.

The track remained a cult obscurity for years until recently, when pro cyclist Mitch Docker brazenly resurrected it as the theme for his wonderful Life In The Peloton podcast. The combination of Mitch’s disarming Aussieness and Pete Shelley’s theme makes for a very special show.

If you haven’t yet experienced the joy of Life In The Peloton, I can particuarly recommend the Svein Tuft episode.

Cycling music

Music for cycling through a dark tunnel

Cycling charity Sustrans have done a lot of incredible things, but top of the list has to be the Two Tunnels cycle route in Bath. It goes through, yes, two disused railway tunnels, one of which is so long that at times you will begin to wonder if you’re ever going to get out the other end (it’s actually about a mile long).

As if this incredible experience isn’t enough in itself, as you cycle along you will find yourself passing through a subtle but strikingly original music and light show, provided by United Visual Artists in collaboration with Warp recording artist Mira Calix.

This is an installation called Passage, consisting of interactive orbs that pulsate with light and sound as you cycle past. The music is vaguely modern classical in nature, which is all very middle-class Bath/Sustrans – but then I can’t imagine chart R&B or hip hop would work as well, and would probably result in lots of glue sniffing yoot hanging out in the tunnels, which is not what Sustrans or the local council would want at all.

That aside, Passage is a great work. The light and sound complement each other, creating a surprising and intriguing atmosphere to ride (or run, or walk) through. If you haven’t been yet, put it on top of your list.

Cycling music

Kraftwerk at Manchester Velodrome

You won’t find anything more Cycling+Music than this – Kraftwerk at Manchester Velodrome back in 2009, playing tracks from the ‘Tour de France Soundtracks’ album.

And those aren’t just any old cyclists doing laps of the velodrome as Kraftwerk play – it’s the British Olympic Team! Ed Clancy, Jason Kenny, Jamie Staff and Geraint Thomas.

Thomas went on to win the Tour de France nine years later, and I think we can all agree that this is where it all started.

Cycling music

Cycling Music Etape. 1

At the intersection of Music and Cycling, there exists a thing called Cycling Music.

1 Tour de France – Kraftwerk
2 Galibier – MJ Cole
3 Ventoux – Kamera
4 Tour de France – Telex
5 My White Bicycle – Tomorrow
6 Bicycle – Memory Tapes
7 Happy Cycling – Boards Of Canada
8 Bike – Pink Floyd
9 Bike(Sid Sings Syd) – Fortran 5
10 Beatles v Kraftwerk – Soulwax
11 Ventoux – Tim Hecker
12 Extremadura – Greg Merckx
13 Bicycle Riders (Harps of the Ancient Temples) – Vangelis

If there’s anything cycling music-related you think should be featured in this blog, however obscure, get in touch with me on Twitter or Instagram.