Bicycle Dreams is a full length documentary that chronicles the 2005 Race Across America. As a chronicler of cyclocross racing, a decidedly shorter affair, I was a bit hesitant when the film’s director, Stephen Auerbach, asked if I wanted to review his film.
To hedge my bets, and ensure my ignorance about ultracycling events is kept in check, I recruited Adventures for the Cure’s Adam Driscoll and Patrick Blair, accomplished ‘cross racers and RAAM finishers in the two-person division, to watch and comment on the film.
Cyclocross racing is hard and, if you are doing it right, painful. It’s a redline effort for somewhere around an hour and then it’s over. RAAM, on the other hand, is more of a slow burn. Full-time steady-state efforts, day after day with little time off the bike and almost no sleep. Cyclocross is like a haymaker to the head, RAAM is 15 rounds of rabbit punches, a 45 minute break, and then fifteen more rounds. For nine straight days.
Bicycle Dreams tells a compelling story. From a technical and aesthetic standpoint the film is amazing. The shots are artfully framed and flawlessly executed. The color grading and lighting in the film are breathtaking. For this alone, the film is worth viewing.
The idea of a race across America in itself is, dare I say, epic. Finishing this event is truly an achievement only a small number of bicycle racers will accomplish. The human struggle, exhaustion, will-to-go-on and desire-to-quit is the kind of stuff compelling, edge-of-your-seat films thrive on.
The problem is that once you get beyond the big picture “epicness,” the actual competition is mind-numbingly dull. It’s equivalent to going out and watching an accomplished racer on a long solo training ride. This is not the Tour de France. There are no suicide breakaways, tactical chases, sprint finishes or mountain-top duels. Not to give away any plot points, but there is exactly one instance in the film in which we see a rider passed by a competitor.
To overcome the sport’s inherent lack of on-bike action, the filmmakers focus on the meta. The real drama is found in the racers’ back story, the mind-over-body struggle, and competitors’ interaction with their crew. Continue reading “Bicycle Dreams”