Typically when the concept of mountain biking meets up with the medium of film, the first thing that comes to mind are freeride videos. You know the ones- loaded with style, pumped with music but light on substance. Not to suggest there's anything wrong with these of course, the MBT staffers live on the rush they provide for most of the off-season. However, we're here to discuss a different type of mountain bike film, one that riders and non-riders alike can absorb with equal satisfaction. This type of film does more than just glorify our in-saddle efforts and in fact presents its viewer with genuine food for thought.
Enter Pedal Driven: A Bikeumentary. Written and directed by James Howell, this 63-minute 2011 documentary comes packing a whole host of impressive achievements including having been an official selection of the 2011 Wild & Scenic Film Festival as well as BENDFILM, a finalist in the Banff Mountain Film Festival and winner of the Best Cinematography award at DOCUTAH.
Pedal-Driven certainly isn't the first documentary to target the conflict between mountain bikers and federal land management but it is one of the few we've encountered that does so with such an unbiased look at both sides of the quarrel. In fact, what's particularly interesting is that while it boasts sponsorship from many bike industry companies and manages to showcase some pretty intense riding sequences, never does Pedal-Driven take the low road "us verses them" mentality. In fact, the film is rife with examples of riding groups (some with reputations of poaching in fact) who make great things happen by approaching forest rangers and eventually working together toward common goals.
Perhaps the film's greatest strength lies in the fact that it so eloquently reminds the viewer that in the struggle between mountain bikers and land conservation, there can be no indifference. Regardless of whether we, as individuals, fall into the camp of those who ride legal or illegal trails, the simple fact remains that mountain biking literally depends on land as a fundamental necessity. The importance of protecting and preserving untainted wild lands is never lost upon this film but neither does it present the mountain biking community at large as a bunch of hooligans; far from it in fact. Another key aspect of the film's laser sharp narrative arrives in the form of communities positively affected by courting the interest of mountain bikers making frequent appearances and testimonials.
We went into the film half expecting a succession of politician talk, protest footage and boardroom drama but came away quite impressed at the lack of talking heads and abundance of passion for the sport displayed. Ride sequences are rich and beautifully shot with a soundtrack backdrop devoid of cliché wailing guitars and scremo. While we were unable to find out much about Howell's personal connection with the sport, it wouldn't surprise us in the least to discover he's an avid rider himself based on his ability to capture the excitement and beauty of mountain biking on film.
In all, it's almost impossible for us to not recommend buying a copy of Pedal-Driven on DVD. Not only is a valuable resource tool for the realities of our sport and its relationship with conservation, it's also an enjoyable riding film by itself. Further sweetening the deal is the fact that any profits made from the project go back into the sport.
Bonus features include A Guide to Advocacy and a bonus reel of behind the scenes footage from many of the locals used in the film.
$29.95 available wherever DVDs are sold.