One of the first expressions of transportation cycling culture in Canada was the appearance of two television shows in the early 1990s. They both featured a Vancouver bike shop owner who took it upon himself to get the bicycle onto the screen, and into the mainstream.
The first was a short-lived series for Rogers Cable called Freewheelin’, featuring local shop owner Alan Shiveral, and cable TV producer Gordon Inglis. That led directly to cycle!, produced for CBC Television, starring Alan and former Canadian Olympian Charmaine Crooks.
Alan ran a bike shop off of Oppenheimer Park, with another guy.
Bottom Bracket Bikes.
Low-end bike shop, serviced people on the downtown east side. And he put his heart and soul into it. Mid-eighties to the late eighties.
And beyond, he was still there when we started cycle!.
He came to Rogers and said we should do a bicycling show. I was the volunteer contact for cable.
The two of us worked on the show, and Alan brought Norco in, I think. Norco Bikes is a real pivotal part of this, because they sponsored us.
We produced six episodes of Freewheelin'. That was the peak of community television in Canada; it was really working, functioning well. These little community offices, lots of production going on, people were really committed to it. It was a really amazing time actually.
Even back then, Freewheelin' was about what is cycling, what does it mean to a city.
We had a repair segment where Alan was in the studio with his partner Rob. “Here's how you fix your hub, here's how you change your brakes”, and that was sort of the core piece of the show.
I was producing a noon-hour news program at what was then CKVU, now known as CityTV. Alan just walked in one day and said, “I think you need a regular bicycle segment on your news. I can come on and talk about how to change a flat tire, how to clean the chain, what to look for if you're buying a bike, what should the fit be, and all that.”
Okay. “Who are you?”
He said, “I run a bike shop on the downtown east side and I have a cable show.”
I said, “All right, let's do it.” So he became a regular guest
Eventually he said, “I want to introduce you to my producer Gord.” Did he start talking about going national right off the bat?
I think so, I can't remember now.
He probably said something like, “I think we should be on a national broadcast, on CBC. I probably went, “Uh-huh.” Then he introduced me to Gord.
Somewhere in there, my show got cancelled. The CRTC changed the amount of Canadian content that Canadian broadcasters had to put out — it was decreased. So my show, and a bunch of the other shows, got cancelled, so I was out of a job.
Suddenly I'm a freelancer looking for work. That was a big motivator. What have I got to lose?
We built the pitch for the pilot from scratch. We could see the potential. You could see there were so many things going on for cycling.
All across Canada.
We were pitching it at a national level. CBC asked us for a balance of different elements — because we were a national show, we had to shoot some of the segments in other parts of the country. The network had some influence over that.
There was a sense that cycling had been something that a kid would do to get around, and that was kind of it.
When we started producing cycle!, all of a sudden bikes were an urban force that could actually shape the way cities are designed. Bikes can be really crucial to your health. You can use bikes to explore mountains.
I juried for some film festival in Saskatchewan, and this guy came up to me and said, “Oh, you produce cycle! I just want to tell you how much that show changed my life. I watched your show, I lost 80 pounds, it just transformed my life.”
I was stunned to hear that. It was amazing. For him, bicycling was a route to health.
You could feel all these things going on. It's like bikes were coming out of this kid thing into the mainstream.
One I remember in Montreal — a bit of controversy about their bike lanes, because they had done a pretty aggressive and good job at putting in separated bike lanes. And then there was the debate about whether separated bike lanes is the way to go, or should they be a mixed use roadway more like our bikeways here.
There had been a couple of deaths in Montreal, so we went and looked at that issue from both sides. We would approach that more from journalistic way, which was to explore the issue, not to advocate for one over another.
That would be true with most of our coverage, it was generally from that perspective.
The advocacy part of it was more, "Hey, this is something that can be part of your life." We did a lot of commuter stuff, and it was really based around the idea that commuting isn't a big challenging thing. You can do it. You can get a bike, you can ride yourself to work, you're going to feel better, you're going to save money, and it's safe. And here's how to be safe.
So it was that reassurance.
We very quickly started connecting with people in the cycling movement. And mountain biking. We had a mountain biker named Joan Jones, who was really important to the show. And she brought us into the burgeoning mountain biking scene, and connecting us with people in that world. We did stories on couriers, activists.
After the first year or so, the CBC said, “Your show is a little too Canadian.” We're like, “What?”
They wanted us to make the show more generic so they could sell it in non-Canadian markets. They were saying, “We could sell this show if it wasn't so Canadian-specific.” Which we didn't understand. We didn't want to do it.
We didn't want to change. We couldn't really turn it into a generic show. The way we were doing it, it was very much the place.
We would go to PEI and Alan and Charmaine would ride around, and we'd do host links: “Hi, here we are in PEI, look at this amazing place.” And we'd dive into some of the different aspects of cycling culture there. Here's this bike shop that's really pivotal to people here. Here's this issue that people are dealing with. Here's this great recreational trail.
Alan was always the-
All of these great, wild ideas. Shooting off in a million directions. And we would try to keep it going.
It felt like there was this endless well of great stories we could tap into.
Because of all the forces that were coming together at the same time, it just felt like a lot of great stuff out there wasn't going to let out.
Except the sponsorship money ran out.
Then there was that, yeah. Getting sponsorship was always a struggle. That's not unique to us, of course. Any project that's dependent on annual sponsorship outside funding.
We were what's called a co-production; CBC would kick in facilities and a little bit of money. The bulk of the money for salaries had to come from sponsorship. We weren't selling ad time, we were selling sponsorships. Norco was our big sponsor.
Norco, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Health.
I think we went from 13 episodes to nine episodes to six episodes.
We did some repackaging. Again, that's not exclusive to us by any means. But yeah, we had that angst every year.
And CBC was also undergoing massive cutbacks. When we started there, people would go, “Oh, you should have been here in the good old days.”
Because half the staff was laid off. And you'd be walking through these empty floors.