ON YER BIKE: Using a bike to charge up an electric event 3-12 May

By James Styring.  Tues 30th April 2013 From Oxford Mail

They say that if you develop the cycling habit from a young age, it sticks with you for life. I recall learning to ride in a sunny Sydney suburb in the 1970s.

My teacher was our neighbour, the wonderfully named Durn Dart, a rough diamond who’d had a dozen brief careers ranging from car wrecking to mining to installing domestic air-con systems.

He was pushing me along the pavement with a hand on my saddle, one of many wobbly runs up and down our cul-de-sac. When he finally let go, I managed fewer than five seconds before crashing spectacularly into Mrs White’s rose bushes. Unfazed by this painful baptism, I embarked on a lifelong affair with two wheelers.

I remember my first, a red cruiser with no gears and a back-pedal brake. It was second-hand, lovingly restored and repainted by my father.

I will never forget my superb green racer and then the disappointingly dull Raleigh after that. The love affair was put on pause after I passed my driving test – first time – aged 17. I became an avid motorist overnight. I then got a motorcycle licence and spent my university years whizzing about on a trashy 125cc Vespa.

It was 10 years before my bum saw another bicycle saddle, in Oxford, and the rest you can guess.

Why this nostalgia? Well, I’ve just watched a rehearsal of Bicycle Boy, an Oxford Playhouse production running May 3-12. It’s aimed at kids aged five to eight and their parents, but take my word for it, anyone reading this column should go. I was seriously charmed by this witty story about the joy of cycling.

The play is set in a bicycle workshop closing down after three generations in the same family. The cast, a pair of exceptional actor/musicians, manage a down-to-earth tone that isn’t patronising to adults or children.

They slip back through time to their childhood, when they played at super-heroes, and one of them was … Bicycle Boy. No spoilers, but I can say it is imaginative, fun and at times moving.

The musical starts off acoustically and as the plot builds so the music gets amplified. But because in the play the bicycle workshop’s electricity has been cut off, our protagonists need the audience to provide electricity using bicycle-generated power.

It’s a nice detail that the venue, Osney Mill Marine Garage, is actually off-grid. There really is no alternative to the bikes, two for children and two for adults, hitched up to generators. The play’s writer-director Helen Eastman explained that the bikes can generate enough for music but you couldn’t boil even a pot of tea.

I had a go. Pedalling is easy, but as soon as you hitch up an amp to play music (especially bass), pedalling gets instantly harder. The extra drag when electricity is being used took me by surprise. Actually feeling in your legs how much power things use will make a big impression on the young audience.

The idea is that Bicycle Boy should form part of a family day out on bikes. There are free drinks for those arriving by bike. Cyclox will be there for chats about family cycling, and the Broken Spoke Co-op is offering bicycle crafts, games, races and bike-mending after certain sessions.

Bicycle Boy is a joy and is all about developing that cycling habit from a young age. Tickets are £8.50/£5.50 on 01865 305305 or web. Do yourself and your family a favour and ride on down from Friday until Sunday, May 12.

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