Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bike Safety 101: You And Your Bicycle

This latest installment of the Bike Safety 101 series, produced by Progressive Pictures, shot on a shoestring budget in and around Oakland, California, is a dull and scolding bicycle safety film, You And Your Bicycle.
Opening title shot from the 1960 version
of You And Your Bicycle.

One thing that makes You And Your Bicycle unusual among bike safety films was that the producers must have been so convinced of its appeal that they actually made the film twice. That's right. You And Your Bicycle was first produced in 1948 (making it one of the earliest films of the genre that I've found), and then re-made almost shot-for-shot with only minor revisions in 1960. Although a couple of sequences simply recycled the exact same footage between 1948 and 1960, the biggest difference between the two versions seems to be the era of the cars that put the hapless riders in peril.

Though no riders ever seem to get seriously injured in the films, the narration seems to highlight -- and even overemphasize -- the potential for death or dismemberment.

Here's one of those shots that's exactly copied between the older and newer versions.
"Bicycling can be a lot of fun, good exercise, and a fine way to go places. But you have to know the rules of safe riding and stick to them, or you'll find it can also be very dangerous."
Yes - very dangerous - but the narrator is only getting started.

The 1960 version encourages viewers to pick up a safety manual, like the one shown, from their local police department.
In such a manual as the one shown, you'd find such images as these, to completely convince anybody that no sane person would even consider riding a bike:
"Another death that might have been avoided." Yikes!
The first lessons, as always, are on keeping the bike properly maintained.

"Handlebars should be approximately as wide as your shoulders." Maybe so, but if the bars on that American heavyweight bomber are shoulder-width, then that kid must be the Hulk. The narrator recommends checking occasionally that the bars are tight.

"Never ride a bike with pedals in this condition. Your foot can very easily slip off, causing a spill. Or you may gouge your leg on the bare metal." They forget to mention that you could be crushed under a truck, but they're saving that for later.
Now that we've made sure our bikes are safe, it's time to get some riding lessons.

Here, a police officer explains to kids the relationship of "reaction time" to "stopping distance."
Another re-created shot from 1948 and 1960 -- this one warning kids about the infamous "right hook" situation (no, the film doesn't use that term). "Never pass to the right. A car may suddenly turn into a parking spot, or around a corner. Many children are injured or even killed in this way." Of course, it's explained in a way that makes it totally the rider's fault for attempting to pass cars on the right -- as opposed to the far more likely scenario where it is the car that is doing the passing. Don't forget who actually owns the roads, kids.

Don't get "doored" 1948 and 1960.
"An automobile is not as maneuverable as a bike. So don't swerve in and out of traffic. Follow a straight line and avoid being run down." Holy cow.
"Don't be a bicycle hitchhiker. An unexpected turn or stop can mean sudden death."
"Riding two on a bicycle means double trouble. You can't see or balance yourself with the efficiency you need for safe travel. Your passenger may stick his heel in the spokes, wrecking the wheel and killing both of you."
For the segment on riding double, the 1960 version adds this horribly crude animation where a little onion-headed kid gets thrown to the pavement face-first:

My favorite part of the whole movie!
There's also a section on riding at night, with admonitions against dressing in dark clothing . . .

. . . as well as recommending that riders cover their bikes in a "coat of white enamel" to help them be seen.

The filmmaker must have had some financial backing from the makers of Krylon.

After admonishing kids about riding in the schoolyard, the narrator adds, "Above all, NEVER be a show off. It just doesn't pay."

There are copies of You And Your Bicycle available on YouTube, as well as on the Prelinger Archive. However, I've found that they often tend to be mis-identified. That is, the 1960 version is often identified as 1948, and vice versa (I'd think the cars would be a pretty clear giveaway which is which). Online copies of the 1960 version that I've seen tend to be pretty poor quality, but there's a pretty decent quality copy of the 1948 edition from YouTube that you can watch right here:



  1. That onion-headed kid is priceless, in his own way.

    The quality, such as it is, of the 1948 version is actually better than the 1960s version. At least, the images are sharper and clearer.

    Is that proof that remakes are never as good as the original?

    1. As far as the video and image quality goes, it may just be a reflection on the care taken in converting to digital. There are several copies of the 1960 edition out there, but they all seem to be taken from the same lousy source, complete with skips, jumps, and bad edits. I'd love to find a better quality copy somewhere.

      But that animation of the onion-headed kid is so bad that I can't take my eyes off it. Yeah, priceless is probably a good word.

  2. So far as I can tell, all the copies on YouTube are downloaded from our collection. The print on the 1948 version was much better quality than the 1960 one, which had experienced more damage during its life as an active educational film. If we still have either of these (that is, if they were not part of our donation to Library of Congress, we'll try and rescan to HD over the next few years, and upload a much better copy). -- Rick Prelinger

    1. Rick Prelinger - it's great to get a comment from you! Your archive has been a great resource for me as a teacher.

      Having been watching and using old educational films in my film class for a number of years now, I know about how the quality can vary a lot depending on how well the print was treated during its life. That print from 1960 must have seen a lot of use and abuse in its day.

      Your collection and efforts at preserving these old films and making them available are greatly appreciated!

  3. Of all the instructional films shared here, this one seems especially designed to exasperate and intimidate riders into getting off the road. And some of these kids are contending with bikes way too big for them. I have a home movie of my father-in-law's 10th birthday around the same year, featuring his new bike and a jaunt by a number of riders out of town for a picnic. Compared to this, there were no cars on the road. This is a total worst-case scenario in every sense. The shrill language you point out is something else!