TCI Friday

As with most sports, cycling’s portrayal in “civilian” cinema has almost always lacked the notes of authenticity that would convince a “real” cyclist they were watching something real and true. Quicksilver comes to mind. BMX Bandits. Both are delightfully terrible movies.

And then there are movies like American Flyers and Breaking Away, films that get so much wrong, but also capture a lot that’s right. I started, just before Christmas, to write a comprehensive review of Breaking Away, but it was ballooning in every direction, from a straightforward treatment of the bike races to the odd paths its stars took after the film became a surprise hit. What I had was less a review and more a treatise. And it’s probably not my favorite cycling movie anyway.

I tend to gravitate toward more documentary style productions, like Stars and Water Carriers, Sunday in Hell, and even Overcoming, starring Bjarne Riis as an ’00s team manager pretending to do more to develop his squad than dose them all with a fine reduction of enriched platelets, rhino horn, and unicorn tears. My favorite scene in that one brings us Carlos Sastre bailing on Riis’s workout for the day, and Riis worrying over whether the Spanish star has what it takes. Little did we know that his real worry was that Sastre refused to be transfused.

Road documentaries are fascinating, but also hold to all the tropes of the classic hardman. I would love to see a documentary on women’s road racing, if only to escape the cliche of a pack of noble savages brutalizing each other over kilometer and cobble.

Mountain bike videos, on the other hand, tend to be more celebratory, a bit looser and zanier. I have enjoyed so many, starting with the original Tread and ending with Accomplice, which I watched last week. That was less a cycling film and more a stuntman audition reel. Very watchable though.

Finally there are the artier pieces, like The Bicycle Thief and The Triplets of Belleville. The frog eating scene in Triplets comes back to me in late night nausea, not because the idea of eating frogs is gross, but because the portrayal was so, sort of, psychedelic, and not in the good way.

This week’s TCI Friday asks, what is your favorite cycling movie? Here I’m really talking about feature length stuff. When you think about it, it’s funny how few bike-centric movies there are, and odd that Breaking Away II – Electric Boogaloo never got made.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    I seem to remember Ride the Divide as being well made and compelling. Or you can watch Cascadia by Danny McCaskill a dozen times in a row to get to an inspiring feature length.

  2. khal spencer says

    I’ve missed most of them. We have Triplets somewhere so I should dig it out.

    Ok, prefacing this by saying I’m not a social scientist/literary critic nor do I play one on TV, Breaking Away is interesting. What stood out in Breaking Away, other than the fantastic Italian music that I crank up when on the rollers, is that it is really a story about class and fate in America. The cutters, of course, are the kids of stonecutters. The old man sells beat up used cars to clueless college kids and is alienation personified. Whereas most of the folks at the university are the region’s fortunate sons and daughters, to steal a line from Creedence Clearwater.

    When I showed up at the U of Rochester as a kid of working class parents, graduating from a small public high school in the weeds of Upstate NY, I found a lot of my classmates were way more refined and prepped than I was. Freshman roommate graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, for example. My wife still wonders why I don’t wear my “nice” clothes except for special occasions.

    So when you gonna finish the review, Emlyn? I suspect it will be a good read.

  3. DaveinME says

    I’ve seen most of these and love them because I find it wicked interesting to watch and learn about all the facets of our sport. The Triplets of Belleville is awesome and Overcoming is hilarious knowing what was going on with that team as you mentioned. 23 days in July and Slaying the Badger are also worth seeing.

  4. bluezurich says

    Slaying The Badger
    Breaking Away
    American Flyers
    The Flying Scotsman
    A Sunday in Hell

    But not The Road Uphill…dreadful.

    1. Padraig says

      That’s a film festival right there.

  5. pjinny123 says

    I loved the movie 2 Seconds about a mountain bike racer–quirky and beautifully filmed.

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