The world of big budget movies has traditionally had very little to offer motorcycle enthusiasts. Since the inception of cinema, there have been little more than a handful of movies that told our stories or represented motorcyclists accurately. This is why it is so exciting to see that access to affordable cameras, editing software and online distribution has finally driven motorcycling related film making out of the confines of Hollywood studios and into the hands of people who ride and build bikes and understand motorcycling best. We have seen an explosion of independent movies that capture all that motorcycling has to offer.
The Motorcycle Film Festival in New York was started three years ago by riders and film enthusiasts who wanted to showcase these movies and bring the community together for three days of high quality movies, interviews with film makers, and an opportunity to meet other riders in the city. This year’s selection of 35 films featured everything from slick productions with significant sponsor backing to amateur garage flicks. It was especially thrilling to see movies made by and featuring women and people of color, hitherto almost non-existent in popular motorcycling culture.
These are some of my favorite films from the festival.
THE COAST TO COAST RELAY
The Coast to Coast Relay is a five minute gem of a film about two men riding across England on completely inappropriate vehicles – Montesa Cota 315 trials bikes with 3-liter gas tanks, a top speed of 30 mph, and of course, no seats. They ride from Newcastle upon Tyne to the Irish Sea through rough single track trails, logging roads and frozen snowscapes with minimal gear – handlebar mounted packs, backpacks, and a homemade selfie stick. They take in their stride the various mishaps they encounter, ranging from overheated engines and flat tires to the inevitable running out of fuel.
The fun, upbeat score and the self-deprecating humor makes it impossible to watch this movie without a big smile on your face. By the time it’s done, you want to grab your bike and go have a micro-adventure of your own. Filmmaker Greg Villalobos truly knows how to say more with less as he hits the magic formula to portray the joy of riding and having fun with your buddies. The movie took home the prize for the Best Short Documentary, and deservedly so.
If you enjoyed watching that, check out this interview with the filmmaker Greg Villalobos, where he talks about the making of the movie: http://www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com/blog/2015/9/20/visiting-with-greg-villalobos.
Follow Greg Villalobos’ work at: http://gregvillalobos.co.uk
FIFTY YEARS OF KICKS
“Don’t assume that because people are older than you, they’re going to be slower than you.” This line from 50 Years of Kicks summarizes the message of this twenty minute documentary. The movie follows 60+ year old dirt riders Paul Rodden and Larry Murray from Oklahoma and Ontario respectively. Each of them have almost fifty years of riding experience and many enduro championship wins, which comes across when you see them tearing through ruts, sand, mud, water crossings and hill climbs on their KTMs. They fall, drop their bikes, pick them back up and keep going.
They reflect back to the old days when Husqvarna manuals dedicated half their space to physical conditioning in the rider, paving the way for good workout habits that stayed with them for a lifetime. Habits that served them well in one of the most physical demanding sports there is, especially as your body ages and you lose core strength and balance. During one sober recollection, they talk about a close friend who died of a heart attack while riding on the trails with them. And of that being the best possible way to go – with a smile on your face minutes ago while doing what you loved best.
Motorcycling media tends to focus on young riders as their core target demographic. This leaves us bereft of older role models. It is harder for us to envision riding when we hit a certain age because we see nobody else doing it and doing it well. That’s what makes this movie especially important. It drives home the fact that we don’t have to give up our passion as we age. Here’s hoping that 50 Years leads to more positive representations of old folks riding their bikes and showing the youngsters how it’s done.
Filmmakers: Anthony Kerr and Dallas Shannon
Follow Motojournalism at: http://motojournalism.blogspot.com/
The premise of The Return of the Rattler is simple. Four men decide to participate in the Dirtbag Challenge held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. The challenge involves building a chopper in one month for less than $1000. It needs to be a rideable machine that can run at least 100 miles without breaking down. They have a Yamaha XS650 to work with – the Rattler from the title – but they are complete novices to building choppers, with no prior experience with welding or fabrication. What could go wrong?
The movie is a riot of laughter as you watch the bike evolve from design to final assembly. Our protagonists cuss and laugh their way through all the unanticipated problems they run into. You laugh with them as they mess up, but you also see them learning from their mistakes, thinking through problems and asking for help when they are stuck. Somewhere down the line, you realize that they have passed on to you the secret to creating anything new.
Film maker Paolo Asuncion likens the process of building the bike to his own journey of questioning the belief system he grew up with. “I was put together a certain way but the stock parts didn’t work for me anymore.” he says. As with the Rattler, he had to figure out which parts of that system to keep, which ones needed to be swapped out with something different, and which ones needed to be created from scratch. Moments of reflection like these are interspersed throughout the movie, breaking up the laugh-a-minute ride and keeping it grounded.
You also get to see builds from other participants in the challenge – a Honda CM400 with modified beer bottles for headlamps, a 750 Monster with a girder front end – and understand how much the end vision can vary between builders. The one thing they have in common though is that they want their bike to be like nothing else out on the road. They talk about how satisfying it felt to build something real and tangible, and to ride something that they built with their own hands. Their firm belief is that “Anybody can do this.” By the end of the movie you start to believe them.
This is a movie with soul. You laugh, you learn, you grow, and you come away thinking it’s time to go get a project bike and start wrenching. All you need is a vision, a garage, and a buddy or two by your side.
Read an interview with film maker Paolo Asuncion: http://www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com/blog/2015/9/15/paolo-asuncion
This is a story of four French women who fly to India and ride across the Himalayan mountains on rented Royal Enfields. Women riding across the Himalayas is not a new thing – the Indian all-women motorcycling group Bikerni last did it in 2010. Riders from various countries have done it over the years. For those of us who haven’t yet ventured out there, this film is quite thrilling to watch for some of its incredible footage of gorgeous scenery and the dizzying roads the group traverses.
The movie begins with the four women starting their journey wearing three-quarter helmets, flowing scarves and regular street clothes – no real motorcycling gear between them. You wonder if you’re in for a very short movie because they’re probably going to bite the dust any minute now. As they climb in altitude, you see them adding more layers to keep warm, to a point where one of them is wearing seven t-shirts underneath her flimsy jacket. You wonder to yourself – “Did they just wake up one morning and think – ‘I think I’ll go ride the Himalayas today'”. Yes, that is a Legally Blonde reference.
After the first 45 minutes, you get over their poor clothing choices when they start traversing some incredibly difficult roads. You see them riding down rocky roads with sheer cliffs that make you dizzy even from the safety of your theater seat. You see them dealing with altitude sickness, freezing weather, rockfalls, and some of the most challenging roads in the world. All you can think is – respect!
By the time the credits roll, you know what kind of person you are – the kind who can’t wait to book a plane ticket to India and rent a Royal Enfield, or the kind who is happy to live vicariously through the people who thrive on this kind of adventure. Our ladies have earned some solid street cred and you can’t wait to see what their next adventure is going to be.
Dirt bikers and brothers James and Steven Beatty ride off-road across the Trans-America Trail – a different type of classic American road trip. They ride 5,000 miles from Tennessee to Oregon before reaching their final destination at the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, they ride across forest service roads, gnarly single track trails, slippery water crossings, and get caught in quicksand. They deal with crashes, injuries, getting lost, and breakdowns. This is a must-watch for those who hope to do the Trans America trail someday.
In one breathtaking shot, one of the riders narrowly missing a wild horse that runs across the trail. Another scene shows James working on his bike and getting indirectly zapped by lightning.
The movie does have its weaker points. The first hour is an entertaining narrative that focuses on the riding and the scenery and brings the viewer with them. Towards the end though, it breaks down into reality TV style melodrama, taking the focus away from the riding. The protagonist’s struggle to deal with his father’s death and seeking to expunge those demons during the ride frequently struck a false note, something that could easily have been remedied with a better voice actor. In spite of all this, the movie is worth a watch for the first hour alone.
Filmmaker: James Beatty
The remaining two days were spent descending back down the mountain. I had thought that this would be far easier, and it was, but some of the downhill sections were absolutely brutal on the knees. And no matter what, the distances were long and walking on rocks for hours was tough on the ankles and knees. I was exhausted at the end of each day. We pretty much retraced our steps back along the same trail and spent the first night at Seema, then went down to Taluka the next day and got a taxi back to Sankri when we were done.
Today was a nice, slow rest day. All I did was sit around in a chair, bundled up in warm clothing, reading and looking at the mountains. My jaw had dropped when I first emerged from the hut and looked out at the towering mountains all around us. It was clear now and I finally saw them in all their glory. The tallest peak was almost at 20,000 feet and called Swargarohini. Legend has it that this was where the Pandavas climbed up to ascend into heaven at the ends of their lives. There was a glacier off in the distance. It was called Jaundhar Glacier.
I wasn’t quite sure if I would be in any shape to hike the next morning but when I woke up, I wasn’t at all sore! We had alu parathas and tea for breakfast and set off. This was a day of fabulous views everywhere we looked. It started off with crossing a suspension bridge, then climbing up a steep ascent. From here, it was mostly flat or a gentle uphill trail with gorgeous mountain views. We saw our first dramatic views of snowcapped mountains in the distance.
The next morning, I was woken up by a rap on the door at 6:00 AM. It was morning tea. As far as rude ways of getting woken up go, this wasn’t terrible. I put my stuff together quickly, drank up my tea and got ready to leave. We walked to a little restaurant type place next door to get breakfast. All it was was a small room with a few wood tables and benches set out at the end and a couple of benches along the wall. It was attached to a smaller section of a room with a wood fire and oven where all the food was cooked. We ate alu parathas with mango pickle for breakfast.
We left a few of our belongings in Taluka where they would be held for us until we returned. The mule and porter for the trek had not arrived, so our guide told us to start the trek and that he would catch up with us. He directed us to walk to the end of the town, which took all of two minutes, and follow the steep downhill trail towards the river. He told us to keep the river to our left for the entire day and we wouldn’t go off-track.
The way out of town was indeed extremely steep. This would not be fun to return on! It was also very well maintained and laid with big stones. I would find out in subsequent days that most Himalayan trails were very rocky compared to the ones back home, and would be very hard on the feet.
We took our own sweet time covering the first few kms by which time our guide caught up with us. We also saw a ton of other people from YHA India out on the trail. This was about the time when I realized what piss-poor shape I was in because practically everyone passed me. :P Our guide tried to get us to pick up the pace but I wanted to conserve my energy for the long 14 km distance we had to cover that day. It would suck to go fast in the beginning and run out of steam towards the end.
After having hiked quite a bit in the Cascades for the past two years or so, I thought it would be fun to go hike in the Himalayas while I was still in this part of the world. My original intention was to go hike the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. The day that I booked my ticket to Kathmandu though, Nepal was struck by a terrible earthquake, which led to me scrapping my plans and deciding to go hike in the Garhwal Himalayas of India instead. I picked the Har ki Dun trek from this list because it was listed as a beginner trek, it wasn’t at too high of an elevation, it seemed like the right time of year to do the trek, and the photo looked gorgeous. J I read up a few other blog reports of people who had done it, found a company in Delhi that could do a customized tour for two people, and enlisted my hiking buddy Chris into accompanying me.
Our route would be:
Day 1 – Drive from Mussourie to Taluka
Day 2 – Walk from Taluka to Osla (or Seema)
Day 3 – Walk to Har Ki Dun
Day 4 – Rest day at Har Ki Dun
Day 5 – Walk back to Osla/Seema
Day 6 – Walk to Taluka and drive to Sankri
Day 7 – Drive to Dehradun (we ended up driving to Rishikesh)
I flew out to Dehradun and spent a couple of days there. Chris joined me there and we went on to Mussourie a day later. Mussourie was a cool hill station that was obviously very popular with tourists. I didn’t love it as much people seem to do in India but we did get one really nice day of hiking in Jabarkhet Nature Reserve in the foothills of the Himalayas, in training for the real trek. We saw some great mountain views, some beautiful daisy fields, Tibetan prayer flags, and some black faced monkeys.