I’m always intrigued by the history of motorcycles and motorcycle riding, particularly when it comes to the off-road variety. John Penton is largely considered the founding father of modern off-road riding and his influence is felt in just about every facet of the discipline. So if any singular rider deserves to have a feature length documentary developed about their life, it’s him. The resulting film is a great testament to not only how significant John Penton was, but also how much he is still revered.
I didn’t know too much about Mr Penton before I saw this movie. I knew he was one of the original bad ass dual sport riders that would hop on his bike at his house and ride hours (or days) on asphalt to compete in an off-road race, then turn right around and ride home with a trophy (or broken bones). No GPS, no fancy gear, and very minimal protection. I knew he was one of the men largely held responsible for the creation of The Orange Cult (officially dubbed KTM, an Austrian acronym which stands for Kosts Too Much). I also knew he was one of the old time tough guys, riding through injuries that would have me couch bound. One of the things I learned about him through this movie was that, luckily for us, he was somewhat of a megalomaniac too.
John Penton believed he knew better than anybody what would work best in the world of off-road motorcycles. As it turns out he was right. When everyone else thought bulldogging big bikes through the dirt was the way to go, he wanted to ride a little bike. By the time everyone hopped on board the little bikes, he was thinking about something else – a purpose built off-road bike. He (and subsequently his sons) influenced the way bikes were built, the way they were sold, where they could be ridden, and what people wore when riding them.
I’m not going to divulge too many details about the movie, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Plus I’m lazy and there’s too many details to divulge. That’s the downside to this movie – it feels too long. The main reason it feels so long is because it is, in fact, long. At 2 hours and 15 minutes it’s 45 minutes longer than the last motorcycle documentary I saw, Why We Ride (the last 20 minutes of which felt 3 hours long). It’s not nearly as annoying as watching Titanic and wishing Kate & Leo would just drown already, or as classically insufferable as Gone With the Wind (which inconceivably ends without Rhett bitch slapping Scarlett around like a coked-up pimp) but this movie definitely feels too long.
As John Penton has led such a full life, I’m not sure what pieces of it could have been left on the cutting room floor. The introduction of the movie was over 5 minutes long but featured some really cool footage of a vintage bike. Perhaps some of the backstory of his childhood could have been left out. Maybe they focused too much attention on his record breaking ride from New York to Los Angeles. Maybe I needed to think more like John Penton – hang on for the (entire) ride and appreciate it for what it is. Or maybe I just should have gotten the extra large bucket of popcorn, it was only $35.