Yorkshire Festival pays tribute to Tour de France with Bicyclism exhibition

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The North of England is in the midst of a cycling craze that shows little sign of abating – at least for the next few weeks. Yorkshire has gone cycle crazy to celebrate this year’s Tour de France Grand Départ – the opening of the annual three-week-long, multiple-stage bicycle race – which starts in Leeds on 05 July.

It is not the first time the Tour de France, which dates back to 1903 and takes a different route each year, has come to the UK. In fact, the world’s largest and most famous cycle race has visited Britain three times in its 111-year history; the last time was in 2007, in a route that extended from London to Canterbury in Kent.

A number of events are due to take place across Yorkshire in the run-up to and during the Grand Départ, including an exhibition that celebrates the history of photography and cycling in Leeds.


Bicyclism, which opens today (24 June) at Leeds City Museum and runs until 06 July, brings together archival images with contemporary photography around the theme of cycling. It is the work of Leeds-based photographer Casey Orr, musician and writer Boff Whalley (formerly of British band Chumbawamba), and events producer Jenny Harris. The project was funded by Leeds Inspired, the Arts Council England and Yorkshire Festival.

Among the works on show are new portraits of Leeds cyclists, specially made short films, and photographs from the family albums of local residents. Some of the images date back to the late 1800s and offer a glimpse into the social, cultural and historical uses of “this humble but transforming means of transport”.

The team also created a free newspaper, featuring images from the exhibition. Published by London-based printing company The Newspaper Club, the 44-page tabloid-style publication beautifully combines full-page reproductions of archival images with colourful, vibrant contemporary images. The newspaper also features an essay by Whalley that considers cycling in its different cultural and historical contexts.

“We wanted Bicyclism to celebrate cycling as a world before, and apart from, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – the world of a northern English cityscape, where the bike is for shopping, for getting to university, for going on long Sunday rides with the local club, for taking the kids to school and for exploring the countryside,” says American-born Orr. “Leeds has a long and fascinating history of cycling, and much of it springs from the city’s access to the Yorkshire Dales.”

The idea behind the project, she explains, was to engage with the people and landscapes of Leeds, and “to try to capture that collective cultural romance with this most democratising of inventions [the bicycle]”.

“It was important to the narrative of Bicyclism to place my images alongside old photographs from Leeds peoples’ photo albums,” says Orr. “Hopefully the old and new photographs together speak to a world drenched in technology of how the bicycle, for so many people, is heralding a return to simplicity, independence and freedom.”

Orr neatly sums up the ethos behind Bicyclism on the project’s website, saying: “Essentially, Bicyclism is about a city and its people – on two wheels.”

Bicyclism, part of the Yorkshire Festival, runs until 06 July (admission is free). A live performance of a soundtrack created for the exhibition by Whalley using sampled bicycle sounds takes place at Leeds City Museum on 26 June from 5-7pm, and at 5.30pm on 03 July. There is a free film screening of new documentary film, Velorama, directed by Daisy Asquith, as part of Sheffield Doc Fest’s Tour de Cinema, commissioned by the Yorkshire Festival.

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