Friday, March 11, 2011

Mountain Bike Imagery

I've been thinking lately about the effect mountain bike imagery has on the public image of the sport. Someone recently sparked this thought in reference to the movie "Life Cycles" and how much they enjoyed it. I thought it was pretty entertaining, but somehow the original overview I had heard before seeing it made it sound more like an ambiguous celebration of the bicycle. Instead, with some interesting time-lapsed cinematography aside, it was the standard full-face helmet, goggled, high-speed dash down trails. I think it was the title that sounded so enchanting; similar to "Seasons".

Now before anyone rushes to defend "gravity", "downhill" or "freeride" just know I fundamentally have no problem with this side of mountain biking. I myself own a Santa Cruz Bullit, albeit ancient. My point is the overload of this sort of imagery as "mountain biking" to the rest of the world and its potential effect on public perception. It sells soda, SUVs, energy drinks and countless other "extreme"-slanted products, but does it injure our sport as a whole? I lost count years ago how many times the anti-mountain bike factions (Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, etc etc) have referenced "40-lb bikes screaming past them at 30mph", blah blah blah...

This got me thinking - is the problem the LACK of imagery for the other disciplines within mountain biking? Why can't we make the quintessential mountain bike movie about our harmony with the backcountry and wilderness? Is there a way to show the bicycle as the perfect mode of transportation for exploring our great expanses of nature? I'm no Spielberg, but is it possible to make a mountain bike film in the spirit of books like "Desert Solitaire" or "Walden"...or movies like "Jeremiah Johnson", "Seven Years in Tibet" or "Touching the Void"? Does the documentary "Tour Divide" start down this road a little despite being about a race?

Would love to hear your thoughts....


  1. I don't think there's been a film that touches on this aspect of the riding yet. As someone who has tried to capture the spirit of a ride on more than one occasion (and failed), I have quite a few theories on why it's difficult.

    The first is the lack of a plot. A plot engages people, even if the plot is "look at how awesome this pro rider rides." Tour Divide had a plot, telling the story of a race. Without plot-like high points (or low points), all you have is a guy riding a bike through some scenery. You better have an extremely talented filmmaker to shoot that.

    Secondly, I don't know about you, but I don't want to watch a video about an average guy riding a bike on just any trail. If I wanted that, I would just go ride my local trails. No, I want to see someone that rides BETTER THAN I DO, in waaayyy cooler places than I do. The Huck Yourself Into Oblivion movies are successful because they ride better (bigger, faster, etc) than just about everyone. The Anthill Films guys use speed to their advantage and it works magically. Locations are a big deal as well.

    And lastly, professional riders get paid to hike and ride the same segment of trail, over and over again, to make professional bike porn. Again, I've tried this with people who don't get paid, and it just kills the ride. Not to mention- it usually takes days of shooting to get 5 usable minutes of good video. A good filmmaker wants good light to work with. So now those unpaid people have to spend days *almost* riding, but it's not really riding. I'm blessed that I can sometimes get some friends that I ride with to have the patience for it.

    So instead, we get freeride, or life cycles, or races. We also get shorter clips of professional riders that (thank god) have personality (Atherton Project for example). But that's all we're going to get until someone has the time and/or money to give The Experience Of Riding the treatment it deserves.


  2. I agree %100 with all that has been said... also does the bike industry feed on its self.... ie big $$ goes to the downhill cuz thats the imagery that joe public understands...

    also have customers come in think they NEED to have a downhill bike in order to have fun...

  3. Here's a video we shot on Saturday-

    Average riders, certainly not "freeride", not pro-racer fast. What do you think? Do these types of videos have a place?


  4. certainly not "freeride", not pro-racer fast. What do you think? Do these types of videos have a place?