5 essential cycling documentaries

A Sunday in Hell (1976)

Arguably the best film ever made about professional bike racing, A Sunday in Hell chronicles the 1976 Paris-Roubaix one day classic. The visual equivalent of Tim Krabbe’s The Rider (see our list of great cycling reads) this is about as close as most of us will ever get to riding with the pro-peloton. Riders including Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser suffer heat, dust, cobbles, punctures, crashes and even the disruption of protesters before the final sprint for victory.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2ovi_3S82M

Slaying the Badger (2014)

This ESPN documentary tells the story of the 1986 Tour de France, and in particular the rivalry between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, aka, the Badger. Hinault had been helped to  victory by teammate LeMond in the previous year’s Tour and was meant to be returning the favour in order to help LeMond become the first American to reach Paris in yellow. Repeated attacks by Hinault in the high mountains betrayed a different motivation and led to one of the most dramatic Tours of all.

(Available on Netflix)

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist (2014)

The extraordinary talents and tragic death of Marco Pantani (Il Pirata, or The Pirate) are laid bare in this feature length documentary which includes thrilling footage of his early years, as well as his victories in the 1998 Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. Pantani was extravagantly gifted as a climber, and battled back from serious injury, only to face allegations of doping which would lead to depression, and his death from cocaine poisoning. Some have accused the filmmakers of being too sympathetic to Pantani in relation to the question of doping, but the doc does reveal the pressures that were felt by the peloton at the time.

Pedaling to Freedom (2007)

This short film provides a startling case study of how bicycles can change lives. A 1993 project in Tamil Nadu, India, helped 230,000 people to read and write, and also provided mobility by teaching over 100,000 women to ride bicycles. Wages increased 1000% over just one year for an investment of less than two dollars per person.

With My Own Two Wheels (2011)

An uplifting look at how individual lives from different parts of the world can be transformed one pedal stroke at time. In Zambia a caregiver rides from village to village visiting AIDS patients; In Guatemala pedal power replaces diesel engines; In California working in the neighborhood bike shop provides an alternative to gangs; In India bicycles open up education by making the journey to school possible. Inspiring stuff.

 

Changing lives with bicycles

We love cycling as it adds to our sense of freedom, independent mobility and sustainability. For people living in precarious circumstances, these same qualities can make bicycles a life-changing asset, by improving access to basic essentials.

Critical Mass to Calais

Last year Critical Mass organised an event which saw eighty cyclists ride seventy miles through London and Kent and on to Calais. On arrival at the “Jungle” camps they left their bicycles and tents for the use of the migrants who live there. Julian Sayarer, one time record holder for fastest circumnavigation by bicycle, was one of the participants. In his account of the ride, he explains, “Bicycles, judging by the constant stream being pedalled from the Jungle to Calais, are an invaluable aid in lives that have already been made unbearably difficult”.

The camp sits just beyond a motorway bridge a five-mile round trip from the distribution centres. Bicycles make daily movements manageable to access aid, services and asylum offices turning an exhausting and dehumanising five-mile walk into a swift ride.

The Bike Project

London based The Bike Project receive donations of second-hand bikes, fix them up in their workshop, and then donate them to asylum seeking refugees in the capital. Beneficiaries are encouraged to attend the workshop to get actively involved in the process and learn basic bike maintenance to improve self sufficiency. The Project also provides cycle training to women refugees in an all female environment to open up the benefits of cycling to as many refugees as possible.

London is a city that is rich in opportunities. A bike can help people reach the many resources that London has to offer: charities that can feed them, lawyers that can aid their application process, home office appointments, healthcare, education and much more. If they are lucky enough to receive status, a bike can help them find employment.

Anyone wishing to help can find out more here. You can donate a bicycle, money, or your time.

Elephant Bike

Another UK based charity transforming lives with bicycles is the Krizevac Project, through its Elephant Bike initiative.

The charity employs youth offenders to strip down and refurbish unused Royal Mail delivery bikes, building skills and gaining qualifications in the process. The bikes are then put up for sale at www.elephantbike.co.uk. Each bike purchase funds the shipment of a second bike to Malawi, where they provide sustainable transport and create employment opportunities.

Qhubeka

These type of initiatives may seem far removed from elite-level cycling, but the two worlds come together in the form of Team Dimension Data, who ride in support of the Qhubeka project, funding bicycles to change lives in Africa. Qhubeka is an Nguni word that means “to move forward”. The charity believes that mobilising people with bicycles can create access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. Find out more here.

 

5 great bicycle-themed films

Cycling doesn’t perhaps lend itself to the silver screen in quite the same way as other sports. It doesn’t yet have it’s ‘Raging Bull’, or even it’s ‘Escape to Victory’. Nevertheless there are several great movies which feature the bicycle at their heart. Add your own favourites below.

The Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece of Italian neorealism follows the misfortunes of down-on-his-luck Antonio and his young son Bruno. Over the course of the day they embark on a fruitless hunt for the father’s stolen bike, which he desperately needs in order to work and support his family.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjZI2YN0ueY

Jour de Fête

In this classic French comedy, Jacques Tati plays mailman François who regularly chats to the customers while making his rounds. After having occasion to watch a film depicting the United States postal service (who of course decades later sponsored Lance Armstrong) as an organization of great speed and efficiency, François determines to try to emulate them. He decides to use a bicycle to improve the speed of his service, but, as they say, things don’t exactly go to plan.

Belleville Rendezvous

Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville’, to give its original title, tells the story of Champion, a Tour de France cyclist, who is kidnapped by French gangsters. His grandmother sets off to rescue him, accompanied by his enormous dog Bruno, and for reasons too obscure to go into, the titular triplets, music hall singers from the jazz era. The film is particularly notable for it’s unique style of animation and it’s depiction of the physical torture of training for, and riding Le Tour, including an ascent of Mont Ventoux.

BMX Bandits

The IMDB synopsis for this film reads as follows: “Two BMX expert bikers and a friend of theirs (Nicole Kidman) become entangled with a group of bank robbers after discovering a carton of walkie-talkies.” The plot may be fairly thin stuff, but it serves as a good excuse for a series of set pieces showing BMXs being ridden around some of Sydney’s most famous locations.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Tim Burton’s directorial debut follows the eponymous eccentric man-child as he travels across the United States in search of his beloved bicycle. Anyone who’s had a bike stolen will find themselves rooting for Pee-wee, and it’s probably not giving too much away to reveal that he is eventually reunited with his bike, but not before making a host of new friends along the way.

Note: We’ve deliberately excluded documentaries from this list. There are enough great docs about cycling that they deserve a separate list of their own. Watch this space.