I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a movie snob. I reached my saturation point years ago with predictable explosions, ludicrous CGI effects, and convoluted plot lines. I’m most critical when a motorcycle appears on the screen, particularly in an action movie. I find myself counting gears in chase scenes, amazed that the hero is riding a bike that has a 16 gear tranny. Or a 4 stroke that miraculously sounds like a 2 stroke.
A classic example of this is the late ’90s festering pile of poo called Firestorm – where Howie Long bunny hops a 250 2 stroke through the window of a sporting goods store, then proceeds to shift all the way up to 14th gear while starting a chainsaw one-handed like it’s a yo-yo. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.
So lets just say that when it comes to movies, I tend to favor documentaries. But here again my discerning taste can quickly appear when motorcycles are involved.
True to form, I had a fairly cynical attitude when I sat down to watch Why We Ride, which probably had something to do with its title. I fully expected to spend the next 90 minutes watching people state the obvious. Well I was wrong, I only spent the first 10 minutes watching people state the obvious. Had I been playing a drinking game with the trigger word freedom, I could have devoured a pony keg in record time and had the pleasure of getting my stomach pumped.
This 2013 documentary by Bryan H Carroll is meant to celebrate the passion of motorcycling and the camaraderie that can develop between riders through first hand accounts and opinions of real riders and racers. And once you make it past the obligatory explanation of why we do ride (the first 10 minutes), it does just that. What follows is a broad overview of the history of motorcycles and motorcycle racing, followed by light hearted reflections of people’s relationships with their bikes and the subsequent relationships they develop with other riders. Then it wraps up with inspirational stories of people overcoming adversity through their passion for motorcycles.
I’m fascinated by board track racing, so when the movie quickly began to delve into the history of motorcycles with that maniacal discipline it had my immediate and full attention. While I didn’t really learn anything new about board track racing, I did learn a lot about the next generation of racers, including Ed Kretz. Being the preeminent two-wheeled badass of the depression era, the movie paused long enough to focus briefly on Kretz and pay rightful homage more to the type of man he was than to his achievements in racing.
Human interest stories are the true strength of Why We Ride. The movie did a great job of briefly summarizing the intricate history of motorcycles and racing without becoming mired in irrelevant statistics or specifications – the focus always remains on personal experiences.
By keeping the attention solely on the visceral experience of riding, it achieves a continuity between vastly different eras and forms of riding without feeling schizophrenic. Whether you’re into superbikes or hill climbing or Harleys there’s a common thread that strikes a chord.
There’s a snippet segment of industry people and lifelong riders talking about the first time they rode and/or their first bike. Who doesn’t have a fond memory of their first ride? Their remarks were mainly subtle variations of the same answers but everyone could identify with them. This part of the movie could have easily felt as if it were pandering to nostalgia, but it didn’t. It felt intimate and familiar, like a group of life long friends sharing the same old stories over a beer. This was helped in part by some perfectly timed quips by comedian and enthusiast Alonzo Bodden, which kept the metaphysical undertones in check. For a while anyway.
The hard part about this movie is that it takes aim at your heart strings but instead of gently tugging on them, it pounds on them with a defibrillator as the movie wears on. First there’s the soundtrack, an orchestral piece that builds and builds and builds and builds and builds – a relentless crescendo that probably peaks at some point, but I blocked it out after a while. Then there’s the gratuitous slow motion shots of motorcycles in action. Sometimes it’s racing footage, other times it’s sweeping panoramic views of scenic byways. Either way it becomes redundant. It felt like being force-fed Halloween candy, eventually you get sick of it.
While this didn’t ruin the movie for me, by the time Why We Ride turned inspirational it did detract from the very personal experiences that are shared in the film. I was distracted and ready for the movie to be over. I was also bracing for some drawn out superfluous finale, which mercifully never materialized.
This movie did win some awards. Of course, these were at motorcycle film festivals so I’m not sure how stacked the competition was. I remember the last motorcycle centric movie I saw – Supercross: The Movie – which was almost as entertaining as watching my dog crap in the backyard. Almost.
All things considered, this film is worth checking out, particularly if you’re new to riding and unfamiliar with the history of motorcycles – or are just looking for a little insight into other forms of riding. Why We Ride might feel like it runs a bit long, but the first two thirds of the movie is good enough to carry it. If you find the last bit too monotonous you can always play a drinking game.