Curator's Choice: Meg McHugh on Olympic bike racing stars and boneshakers

By Ben Miller | 21 July 2014

Curator’s Choice: Meg McHugh on Jack Sibbit, Victoria Pendleton and racing around the Manchester Velodrome at MOSI’s brilliant bike show

A photo of a large ancient bike with a huge front wheel and a much smaller back one
This Penny Farthing was made in Manchester in around 1885© MOSI
“We’ve got a Highlights gallery where we try to show off some of the hidden gems from our collection.

We started thinking about doing an exhibition on bicycles because we’ve got a fantastic collection of historic bikes but they were in our Air and Space hall before, sort of in a dark corner.

A Tandem in the show was made by Mancunian Olympic Silver Medallist Jack Sibbit in 1928© National Media Museum
It’s not really where people expect to find an exhibition of bicycles. The interpretation was a bit dated.

When we started doing a bit of research we realised this year was the 20th anniversary of the Velodrome in Manchester, so that was a great connection to contemporary cycling as well.

We wanted to show how Manchester doesn’t just have this fantastic, very current connection to cycling, but its links go back to the very earliest days of the sport.

What we wanted to do was bring out some of those personal stories to the people connected to the bikes.

That’s what brings them alive for people. One of my favourites is the Boneshaker. It dates from 1868: it’s a massive, very heavy piece of engineering, really.

Just imagining young men cycling around Manchester’s cobbles – that’s how it gets its name – is great.

Jack Sibbit was from Manchester. He was a really great bicycle maker but also a fantastic champion.

He couldn’t afford to go to the Olympics, which were in LA in 1932, because he couldn’t afford to close his bike shop. I think his shop was in Ancoats, which is now in the city centre.

The medals and badges we’ve got are from Wilf Higgins, who was another character. He was around about the same time as Jack Sibbit.

Bury-born Reg Harris, who was known as cycling's first megastar, with his Sportsman of the Year prize (April 2 1951)© National Media Museum
He won the British Empire Games gold medal in 1934, when they were held in Britain. Most of the events were in London but the cycling events were in Manchester, because even then Manchester was recognised as a bit of a centre for track cycling.

We’ve also got a bike that he road later in his career which is very similar to the one that he rode during those games.

This exhibition has coincided with the Tour de France coming to England and the Commonwealth Games. I went to see the Tour at Hebden Bridge.

It was really busy. Our exhibition is aimed at a family audience, and there were loads of families out there watching and getting excited about it, which is fab.

It’s quite an intimate space – we couldn’t show all the bikes we have in the collection, and we are really focused on it being about track cycling.

We’re trying to show how Manchester has this real heritage of track cycling. There was an outdoor velodrome here from 1892, which was very popular and used to draw crowds in their thousands on a weekly basis during the summer.

It’s been fantastic fun to put together. The best thing has been building a relationship with British Cycling.

Track cyclist Victoria Pendleton won nine world titles and Gold at the 2012 Olympic Games during a career full of glories© National Media Museum
We’ve recorded lots of films talking to stars of the team. Ed Clancy, Danny King, Becky James, Jody Cundy, Sarah Storey: all these gold medallists have given their time so that we can film them, talking about how kids can get involved with cycling and where they got their first inspiration from.

We’ve got an interactive time trial so people can get on a bike – it’s static, obviously – and do a lap of the track in the Manchester Velodrome and compare themselves to the best times ever.

One of the star objects they’ve loaned us is Victoria Pendelton’s bike from the 2012 Olympic Games, so that’s the star of the show.

It’s shown quite close to the Boneshaker so it looks completely different. It has the very aerodynamic shape that you’d expect, but obviously the basic shape of a bike has been in place since about the 1890s, so it’s the materials and the aerodynamics that are different.

It’s a carbon fibre bike so it’s very sleek. It’s black: all the British Cycling bikes are completely black. It’s quite stunning in its case.”

  • Pedal Power is at the Museum of Science and Industry until March 2015.

Made by William Harrison (circa 1885), this high ordinary bicycle would be used by young daredevils around a track. The larger the wheel, the faster the bike and the further there was to fall© MOSI
Sibbit made this tandem in Ancoats, Manchester in about 1928. A skilled bicycle builder as well as a celebrated cyclist, he won silver in the Olympics of that year, and withdrew from the 1932 Games because he could not afford to close his shop© MOSI
An international meeting at the Harris stadium (May 15 1956)© National Media Museum
International cycle racing at Fallowfield (May 29 1950)© National Media Museum
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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