Monday, November 24, 2014

Bike Safety 101: I Like Bikes, But . . .

As the next installment of the "Bike Safety 101" series, I'd like to give a synopsis of a vintage bicycle safety film that probably left its viewers with the following message: I like bikes, but why can't they just get the hell off the road and stay out of my way? In fact that's practically the title of this 1978 film, I Like Bikes, But . . ., produced for General Motors by Centron Films of Lawrence, Kansas. Centron produced approximately 100 educational films between 1947 and 1981, and was probably best known for their "social hygiene" films such as The Bully, The Snob, and The Trouble Maker -- although my personal favorite is the VD film The Innocent Party, in which Don loses his virginity to a "loose" girl from the city, then later discovers he has some kind of strange sore . . . down there.

I Like Bikes, But. . .
Perhaps the most condescendingly idealized car/bike image ever put on film. The car-bike love bump. When cars hit cyclists, it's because they love them.
If I had to guess, I'd say the intended audience of this film was not bicycle riders, but rather young Drivers' Education students working on getting their drivers license, hopeful that they'd never have to ride a bicycle again. The film combines live action scenes with cheap animation of a riderless bicycle named Ike -- who repeats again and again "I like bikes." Ike is presumably the narrator of the film, but throughout the whole thing we see Ike creating havoc and headaches for motorists everywhere he goes. For roughly the first 5 minutes of this 13 minute film, we see clip after clip of people of various ages riding bikes of practically every type -- including a unicycle and an obligatory "old timey" penny farthing.

The penny-farthing was a minor blip in the evolution of bicycles and basically extinct since the 1880s -- so why are some people unable to think of bicycles without picturing one?
Welcome back, Mr. Kotter. "I like bikes."
In the title sequence, a little kid falls off his bike in the road, almost disappearing under the bumper of a car . . .
. . . then the driver screams at kid for slowing him down.  I like bikes?
From that point, the film focuses on little Lisa as she discovers bicycles. By the way, little Lisa was a toddler in the car above -- riding in the front without a safety seat -- thank you GM!

Lisa gets her first bike at age 5. "I like bikes."
Lisa at 10. "I like bikes."
Lisa at 15. "She likes bikes, but she loves cars."
Next the narrator asks "When Lisa gets her license, will she change her likes? Will she still like bikes?"
She's got her license now. . . .
Cue the music from a low-budget slasher film:
Her first night "solo" in the car, she runs over her bike! It's an incredibly appropriate metaphor in a society that sees cars as "real" transportation, and bicycles as toys for kids -- or maybe for "fringe-dwelling" adults who are too weird to drive.
At this point, it's more than 5 minutes into the 14 minute movie, and there's still been nothing of substance. But no, Lisa really doesn't seem to like bikes anymore. In fact, now that she's a driver, she's quickly discovering all the reasons why bicycles are so infuriating. The film goes on to give us all the reasons why drivers are basically justified in their anti-bike hostility. For one, they're so hard to see! Yeah - but if they were easier to see, then drivers wouldn't have that awesome "get out of jail free" card when they hit one. "I couldn't see him! He came out of nowhere!"

By the way, Ike the bike likes to rhyme:

I like bikes, but they're so hard to see. Oh yeah, they're so hard to see. Look at me! I blend with fog. I hide behind dogs. And when the thunder crashes, I'm out there makin' splashes. I lurk in drives. And when the sun gets in your eyes, Surprise! Oh yes I'm hard to see, so please watch out for me.

Here's one of those "hard to see" cyclists. Lisa narrowly avoids creaming him in the most wide-open, visible intersection in America.

Another "hard to see" cyclist almost gets doored by Lisa. Actually, the way she throws her door open, even with car traffic coming, she's lucky another car doesn't rip the thing off.

And then there's the fact that bicycles can crash so "easily." "A bike is easily upset," we are told -- and they're usually inconsiderate enough to do it in front of cars so they can be a real nuisance.

A bike is easily upset. You bet. It isn't only when I'm wet that I'm easily upset. Just let me try to travel on gravel. Or tangle my chain, or run across a roadway drain. Or fallen leaves. Sheesh! What a pain! Little things upset us!
Another inconsiderate cyclist wipes out on some slick pavement -- probably just to inconvenience drivers like Lisa. 

And then, unlike cars and drivers who ALWAYS pay attention to where they're going and what they're doing -- those pesky cyclists never look where they're going.

Why can't we seem to notice that a sign beside the road was meant for us! The signs all point the way to accident prevention. Oh why oh why oh why can't we pay attention. Until the day we do, I'm afraid it's up to you.
An unruly mob of elementary school students cause chaos for drivers in the school zone. Again I ought to mention that you should pay attention, because sometimes we don't. 
I like bikes. Gliding fancy free. I like bikes. They're number one with me. I like their style. They make me smile. They suit me to a T. But safety-wise please realize you NEVER should trust me.

Untrustworthy Bastards! Unlike a nice, trustworthy corporation like GM that would never put profits ahead of public safety, regardless of anything that commie Ralph Nader claimed.

Any Drivers' Ed students who watched this probably got their drivers licenses and never considered riding a bike again. I wonder how many of them followed Lisa's example and promptly ran over their bikes?

I Like Bikes, But . . . doesn't seem to be out there on YouTube. But I've uploaded a copy of it here -- Enjoy!


  1. "I'm Ike. I'm...a bike!" I'm always scouring for PSA stuff like this and found this one particularly amusing. At least GM acknowledged bicycles back then, albeit from the standpoint of "watch out for those squirrely cyclists, kids!"

    1. The Archive is a good source. I don't know if you've read the other articles in this "series" but I used to teach a film class and I have a pretty good collection of old educational films. They're mostly "public domain" nowadays as the companies that made them are defunct.

  2. I love your posts about films. Old PSA movies are indeed fascinating for what they reveal about attitudes and prejudices.

    One thing I find interesting is that in the beginning, a man is driving the car and a little girl is on a bicycle. But, by the end, the girl becomes a young woman who's crushing the bicycle under the car she's just begun to drive. That speaks volumes about attitudes toward gender and power, not to mention bicycles and automobiles, that prevailed at the time--and, in some places, still prevail.

    1. Thanks, Justine! There may be a couple more installments to the safety film series. I know I've got some more in the collection. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the old educational films intriguing for their hidden meanings or out-dated notions.