Note: The number of amateur bike movies has exploded thanks to new technology like cheap/tiny camcorders, iMovie/digital video, and YouTube. I have no hope of keeping up with hundreds of short videos and I’m not going to try. The only new videos I’ll list on this page will be either standard-length documentaries (27 minutes or longer), or short videos that are really, really exceptional and outstanding.
Bike Culture Documentaries
B.I.K.E. (2008) “Two filmmakers infiltrate an underground bicycle club. Driven by anti-materialism and a belief that the impending apocalypse will render cars useless and leave bicycles in power, Black Label Bike Club (BLBC) battles mainstream consumer culture and rival gangs for its vision of a better tomorrow. Pulling threads from Critical Mass and the wider bike counterculture, B.I.K.E. explores such themes as radical politics, personal artistic vision, global responsibility, relationships, group formation, and perhaps most prominently, pain and love. Co-directors, Jacob Septimus and Anthony Howard follow the Brooklyn chapter of BLBC for over two years to meetings, parties, jousts, gatherings of the tribes in Amsterdam and Minneapolis, and the protests of the 2004 Republican National Convention to create their masterpiece. This fascinating and gorgeously gritty film provides insight into a passionate subculture, and exposes the darker aspects of living on the wild side. Edited from over 385 hours of footage for over 2 years Fountainhead Films presents B.I.K.E., a riveting look into the ways in which identity is important for a collective of fiercely independent people.” (From the filmmakers’ website)
Bicycle Corps: America’s Black Army on Wheels (2000, 57 min.) “In the 1890s, the United States Army thought it could replace the horse with the newly developed and highly popular ‘safety bicycle.’ Testing this theory, the army sent 20 African-American soldiers on a ride from Fort Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri — 2,000 miles away. This program traces the group’s route across the American West through the eyes of two of its riders: the enthusiastic white officer and a black first sergeant whose experience guided and motivated the enlisted men.” (IMDB)
Bike Like You Mean It (2002) “Bike Like U Mean It, a documentary by Susan Kirr and Rusty Martin about Austin’s bike community, will screen at SXSW this year . Many of Austin’s bike activists are featured in this film, so you will see a lot of familiar faces, and it is our attempt to portray the culture and the issues surrounding Austin’s bike scene: Critical Mass, Yellow Bike Project, Spinning Wheel Project, and Amy Babich’s letters to the Chronicle are all featured, to name a few.” (Description by the producers.) Order from the National Film Network.
More from the producers:
The new documentary, “Bike Like U Mean It,” by Rusty Martin and Susan Kirr, will have its world premiere at SXSW in March 2002. This film is a portrait of Austin’s commuter cyclists, those who ride their bikes as transportation, eschewing cars. Outspoken and iconoclastic, they actively promote not only alternative forms of transportation, but an alternative viewpoint toward cities, urban design, lifestyle, and culture. The film features:
*Critical Mass, a monthly “coincidence” of bicyclists riding through downtown rush hour traffic
*The Yellow Bike Project, a small collective of utopian idealists who are trying to put public bikes on the streets and also educate disadvantaged children about how to work on bikes
*The Spinning Wheel Project, dedicated to biking, peace, and non-violence
*Amy Babich and her years-long letter writing campaign to the Austin Chronicle
*Experts discussing alternative forms of energy, transportation, and urban design
Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective (2005, probably) There is not a whole lot of bikes (or even talk about them) in this video, but since bikes seem important to the filmmakers, and since the film is unusual, I’ll dedicate some space to the review. From the filmmakers’ website and press release: Made in Secret is an enthralling, inspiring and deliciously perplexing labour of love, made over the course of three years by a group of friends who wanted to make a documentary about their local anarcho-feminist porn collective. The only problem was, that collective didn’t exist. And so, in order to make the film, they actually became the anarcho-feminist porn collective that they so passionately wanted to document. So is the resulting film a documentary? A fictional drama? Even the collective doesn’t know anymore. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because the movie isn’t about what happened or what didn’t happen – it’s about what’s possible. And the possibilities are huge, transcending the quest for egalitarian porn and touching at the very heart of how we engage with others and with the world around us.
It’s about a group of arty, punky, queer-positive, bike-riding anarcho-feminist rabble-rousers who decide to make their own sexy little movies to combat the patriarchial, hetero-normative, exploitive garbage being cranked out by Hollywood and the porn industry.
But in a bigger sense, it’s also about the collective process and consensus decision-making. The San Francisco Independent Film Festival described it like this:
“This enthralling movie is something of a minor miracle, tackling some very weighty subjects with an ease and humor that belies the importance of its concerns. It’s an unparalleled depiction of a collective at work; a vehicle for airing issues about sex and porn and representation and body image and consumption and filmmaking; and an inspiring portrait of a really smart, lovely, unlikely group of people pushing themselves way out into the unknown.”
And it’s just plain fun. How many movies have you seen where people talk seriously about the principle of mutual aid one minute and have a mud fight the next? It’s got everything! Funny little songs, heart-wrenching meetings, bikes galore, and some of the sexiest films you’ll never see.
Paperboys (2001, 58 min.) “People often ask ‘are there still paperboys?’ For filmmaker Mike Mills, this was the underlying theme of the film: how traditions stay alive and how they mutate. Were these kids aware that they were part of a long tradition, and how they were changing that tradition?”.
Still We Ride (2006?, 37 min.) “On Friday August 27, 2004 just days before the start of the Republican National Convention, a massive police operation was underway. By the end of the night 264 people were arrested for taking part in the Critical Mass Bike Ride. It marked one of the largest mass arrests in New York City’s history. Still We Ride captures the joyous atmosphere of this ride before the arrests began and also the legal aftermath. It recounts how Critical Mass first started in San Francisco over 10 years ago and chronicles the police crackdown and resulting court battles in New York. The movie takes on issues of civil liberties, surveillance, the power of mainstream media, and the benefits of alternative means of transportation.”
Return of the Scorcher (1992, 30 min.) This half-hour documentary looks at bike culture and bike lifestyles around the world with beautiful and inspiring scenes of bike use filmed in China, The Netherlands, Denmark, and the U.S.
In the 1890’s, before automobiles ruled the roads, bicyclists were referred to as “Scorchers” because of their blazing speed. A century later, in a world filled with car-related environmental and social problems, Return of the Scorcher discovers an inspired and evolving bicycling renaissance.
This documentary touches on a surprising variety of subjects including romance, rebellion, early feminism, and spirituality — all viewed within the context of bicycling. Return of the Scorcher questions our obsession with “progress” and status and presents a diverse cross-section of cycling visionaries who see the bicycle as a life-affirming vehicle for change.
Return of the Scorcher features a scene which led to the adoption of the name “Critical Mass” for the rides which now occur around the world and also served as inspiration for Ted’s other movie We aren’t blocking traffic, We Are Traffic! Bicycle designer George Bliss coins the term “Critical Mass” in describing the flow of bicycle traffic with cars in China.
Suggested University/Classroom use: Environmental studies, Architectural/Urban Design Political Studies, Sociology, Art (public art, performance art, guerilla art). (visit the producer’s website)
Velorution (1996, 27 min.) When the USSR collapsed, Cuba lost 80% of their oil supply. This movie documents how they bought 1.2 million bicycles, switched 5 bus factories to bicycle manufacture, educated riders on how to ride, posting bicycle signs, dealt with cross harbor bicycle ferries and shuttles, doing job swaps to reduce length of commutes. (IMDB)
Shorts (20 minutes or less)
Home on a Tricycle (Reuters news story, 2008, 1:35 min.) A Hong Kong designer has come up with a novel way to beat the city’s soaring housing prices and cramped living conditions. The tricycle home may be small, but it comes with a door, a window, a writing desk and a fold out bed. (YouTube)
White Vans (2007, 13 min.) After having two bikes stolen within a month, Vancouver resident Aren Hansen made this docu-drama. Throughout the film, he rides the (presumably stolen) blue ladies’ bike that a thief left behind after stealing Hansen’s bike. The film won several film festival awards. Here’s the video of a news story about the doc, which is actually more enlightening than the film’s trailer.
Yellow Bike Project (2008, 8:00 min.) An introduction to the Yellow Bike Project in Austin, Texas, an all-volunteer organization which operates community bike shops to teach repair skills to the public. (AustinYellowBike.org)
Contested Streets (2006, 57 min.) From their website: “Contested Streets” explores the history and culture of New York City streets from pre-automobile times to the present. This examination allows for an understanding of how the city – though the most well served by mass transit in the United States – has slowly relinquished what was a rich, multi-dimensional conception of the street as public space to a mindset that prioritizes the rapid movement of cars and trucks over all other functions. Central to the story is a comparison of New York to what is experienced in London, Paris and Copenhagen. Interviews and footage shot in these cities showcase how limiting automobile use in recent years has improved air quality, minimized noise pollution and enriched commercial, recreational and community interaction. London’s congestion pricing scheme, Paris’ BRT (bus rapid transit) and Copenhagen’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure are all examined in depth. New York City, though to many the most vibrant and dynamic city on Earth, still has lessons to learn from Old Europe.”
Road Rage (2008, BBC, 58 min.) Despite the title, this doc is not just about drivers getting pissed off in traffic, it’s about the whole road transportation mix, including bikes, buses, and peds. It’s not dry and scientific, it’s well-done and engaging. (link)
Bike Messenger Documentaries
The Need for Speed (2000, 59 min.) “So you thought you knew New York? Well, get to know an entirely different New York, seen through the eyes of the city’s hippest sub-culture: the hard core bicycle messengers. They adhere to only one motto, ‘Either you get better or you get dead’. THE NEED FOR SPEED propels you into the fast and dangerous lives of these adrenaline addicts and their personal struggle for freedom and independence. They are the last free spirits in America, or as Steve ‘the Greek’ puts it, ‘I’m Marco Polo, doomed to New York!'”
Pedal (2001, 52 min.) NYC bike messengers. (IMDB)
Red Light Go (2002) “For most bike messengers making a living is dangerous enough, but there is a tight-knit community that ride for more than their weekly paycheck. These messengers compete in street races called Alleycats. Speeding through busy streets without rules or sanction from the city, they ride without insurance and sometimes without brakes. These competitors risk their lives for seemingly meager prizes and the respect of their fellow riders.
“In this documentary we take a wild ride alongside a select group of these hardcore New York City bike messengers. We get to know several of them through intimate portraits, and then follow them and their fellow riders in a series of harrowing races through the streets of New York City. Our story culminates witth the annual and much anticipated Halloween night Alleycat, a long and brutal race through rush-hour traffic. We followed this group for nearly two years, at work, on the streets, at home and even in prison.” (website)
Bicycle Touring & BMX Documentaries
Hammer and Cycle (2003, 27 min.) “In the summer of 2003, a group of college friends bicycled across the country, 4000 miles, to raise money and publicity for Habitat for Humanity. Hammer and Cycle is a first-hand account of this adventure, weaving together the stories of four riders as they endure myriad difficulties and celebrate thrilling triumphs.”
Nasty’s World (2002, 69 min.) About BMX champion Cory “Nasty” Nastazio.
Other sites with their own lists:
- Filmed by Bike. A film festival of shorts (8 minutes or less) with bike themes, though not necessarily filmed while riding.